Washington, DC (BWA)--Baptist World Alliance (BWA) President John Upton and General Secretary Neville Callam were among approximately 300 religious leaders who gathered in Assisi in Italy to participate in the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World.
The event was held on October 27 and was hosted by Pope Benedict XVI. It marked the 25th anniversary of a similar event called by Pope John Paul II in 1986 in the birth and burial place of St. Francis of Assisi, whose life was marked by a commitment to peace and reconciliation.
"We had an invitation to be part of the world gathering and felt that Baptists should be in the midst of the celebration," said Upton. "It was good for Baptists to be there. They needed us there and we needed to be there. We're going to be good neighbors without compromising our core convictions. We can do this while holding to our evangelical convictions."
Callam said the event was significant because a commitment to peace can only lead to improved relations. "The attitude people of the various religions adopt toward one another has vast potential for ameliorating conflict between peoples", he said. "The meeting convened by the pope in Assisi reflected the concern for peace shared by all religions. As Baptist Christians, we continue to commit ourselves to honoring our Lord's command to love our neighbors."
Activities of the day included speeches by some of the religious leaders, a time of silence dedicated to personal prayer and/or reflection, the sharing of a "frugal" or "poor" meal intended to be a symbolic participation in the sufferings of persons and populations deprived of peace, and a solemn renewal of the pledge of peace.
In the pledge of peace, participants promised to reject violence and terrorism; to foster a culture of dialogue that is frank and patient; to defend the right of everyone to live a decent life; to take the side of the poor and the helpless, speaking out for those who have no voice; to encourage all efforts to promote friendship between peoples; and to forgive each other for past and present errors and prejudices.
It was worthwhile that religious leaders could come together "and instead of being symbols of destruction, be symbols of peace and unity," Upton said.