THE spirit of St Francis was present in Assisi this week, as Anglican and Orthodox church leaders joined Pope Francis and representatives from other faiths at the small Italian town to pray for peace.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, invited to address participants, spoke of the illusion of wealth. “Our money and wealth is like the toy money in a children’s game: it may buy goods in our human economies that seem so powerful, but in the economy of God it is worthless.”
Instead, he said, God speaks to us through those who have nothing, the most helpless, and the poorest. “We need to be reminded daily of our poverty in spirit, to thirst for the riches of God’s mercy.”
Archbishop Welby was joined by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Mohamed Ahmed el-Tayeb, the leading religious authority in Sunni Islam. All took part in a conference, “Thirst for Peace: Religions and cultures in dialogue”, organised by the Community of Sant’Egidio and the diocese of Assisi.
The visit on Monday and Tuesday marked the 30th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in Assisi in 1986.
In all, several thousand people took part. Archbishop Welby’s remarks were made during an ecumenical service on Tuesday, at which both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope spoke.
Patriarch Bartholomew said: “We have come to this holy city from various corners of the world, together as Christians in this holy place to invoke the Lord for the greatest of his gifts — peace from him, the King of Peace.”
Pope Francis reflected on a reading from St John’s Gospel, in which Jesus said from the cross: “I thirst.”
“Thirst, more than hunger, is the greatest need of humanity, and also its greatest suffering,” the pontiff said. “Let us contemplate the mystery of Almighty God who in his mercy became poor among men.
“What does the Lord thirst for? Certainly for water, essential for life. But above all for love, that element no less essential for living.
“We are all to drink daily of that mercy in order to overcome our sin and anger, and to bear mercy to others.”
Archbishop Welby also took part in several panel discussions on Christian unity during the conference.
The president of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Professor Marco Impagliazzo, said that, in today’s climate of instability and violence, the meeting at Assisi was a “necessary encounter”.
“It will be to show to all that religions are not indifferent to this cry which rises up from the people and to distance ourselves from preachers of hate, working in favour of the integration which is the key to defending our societies from violence.”