I usually don’t pay much attention to appearances by the Pope, but his visit to Naples today was directly relevant to conflict resolution. Apparently he met with religious leaders from around the world who are in town for a few days to discuss “the role of religion and culture in creating a violence-free world” in an annual peace conference started 21 years ago by Pope John Paul II. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071021/ap_on_re_eu/pope_peace
Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how religion must never be used to justify violence, and told the religious leaders that they must work for peace and reconciliation. He urged the creation of school and workplace programs to change a mentality of violence. He talked about poverty, unemployment, inadequate housing, and lack of future prospects aiding a culture of violence, “insinuating itself into social life” and attracting young people in particular.
When Pope John Paul II invited world religious leaders to Assisi in 1986 for a World Day of Prayer and Peace, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was opposed to the meeting and skipped it altogether. Then last year as Pope he skipped it again. It was only a few days after he skipped last year’s event that his words, delivered in a lecture on faith, reason, and violence, provoked serious criticism from Muslims, and sparked acts of violence. (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1673774,00.html).
As it turns out, it looks like he isn’t participating in the peace conference again this year, but that he just timed his visit to Naples to be there while the religious leaders are there, and that he met with them ahead of the conference’s commencement.
Although he has been skeptical about interfaith dialogue in the past, supposedly the Pope “has made reaching out to other faiths – particularly Muslims and Jews – a priority of his pontificate.” (http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2007/10/20/europe/EU-GEN-Vatican-Pope-Peace.php) Although his lecture last year, and his actions in July (expanding the use of a Mass which contains a prayer that offends some Jews) seem to be working against this effort.
It sounds like his speech today might have been a step in the right direction, but I wish he would actually participate in the conference and make more serious efforts in interfaith dialogue or peacebuilding. I think we need this now more than ever.