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Friday, April 2, 2021

Interfaith Prayer: Pathways Towards Peace and Reconciliation | By Msgr. Gregory Fairbanks

Pope Francis recently completed an Apostolic visit to Iraq. Among the many memorable moments in that historic visit, the one that stood out for me was the interreligious meeting on the plains of Ur, the ancestral home of Patriarch Abraham. Abraham is revered by three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

As I watched that important meeting, and listened to the words of the participants, my thoughts went back to the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 2011. There have been several of these events, begun by St. Pope John Paul in 1986. Subsequent gatherings have occurred there since then in 2002, 2011 and 2016. I had the privilege of having a small part in the 2011 gathering.

A few days before the 2011 gathering in Assisi, many of the participants (which included approximately 60 Catholics, 60 Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant Christians, 65 Muslims, 65 Buddhists, eight Jews, seven Hindus, six Shintos, five Sikhs, four non-believers, three Confucists, three Taoists, one Jain, one Baha’i and one Zoroastrian) began to arrive at the Rome Airport. Three Vatican offices coordinated the welcoming of the delegates. I was working at the time in the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and my ‘desk’ had responsibility for Christians of the Reformed tradition, Baptists, Anabaptists, Church of Scotland and the Salvation Army. The airport was filled with delegates of all the world’s religions, all gathering in Rome. One of the delegates quietly remarked to me as he witnessed the arrivals of so many religious leaders that he was astonished that such a gathering could be “pulled off.” We spoke several times over the next few days, and my initial pride in the event gave way to a deeper understanding of one of the many roles of the Papacy – an office of unity.


As a Catholic, I look to the Catholic Church for guidance and teaching. I look to the Pope as a spiritual leader, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. I know non-Catholics would not acknowledge this, and that is OK. The Pope, however, is in a unique position as the spiritual leader of the world’s largest religion. The Catholic Church is “catholic” – the word catholic means universal. It is present on every continent and is in almost every nation on earth. It was a gift to be a part of such of a gathering – and to have meet and prayed alongside so many religious leaders. It was the most “catholic” (universal) thing I have ever done!

If we cannot pray together or alongside each other – how can there be peace on earth and goodwill towards all? We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we can come together and pray for peace and understanding. That is being truly catholic.

It can happen – if we dare to try.


Monsignor Fairbanks is on Interfaith Philadelphia's Board, and is currently serving as the Dean of the School of Diaconal Formation and as a professor of Church History at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA.

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