Cardinal Turkson present at both 1986, 2011 Assisi meetings

ROME– As president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson played a major role in the organization of the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi held on Oct 27.

Cardinal Peter Turkson welcomes delegates to Assisi last week. (CNS/Catholic Press Photo)

What many people do not know is that Cardinal Turkson served as a guide and translator for a traditional religious leader from Ghana, his home country, at the original World Day of Prayer for Peace convoked by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

The cardinal described that experience in an editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, saying, “A scene remains vividly engraved in my mind: that man, another Togolese religious leader and myself, in a room, each one recollected in prayer.”

Here is the full text from Cardinal Turkson’s editorial in Saturday’s Osservatore Romano:

Twenty-five years ago, I served a traditional religious leader from Ghana as guide and translator and accompanied him throughout the World Day of Prayer for Peace convoked by Blessed Pope John Paul II. A scene remains vividly engraved in my mind: that man, another Togolese religious leader, and myself, in a room, each one recollected in prayer.

The 25th anniversary commemoration of that historic “first Assisi” had as its theme Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. I could not help but be struck by the evolution, the development, which was taking place before my eyes on Thursday 27 October under the guidance of Pope Benedict XVI, and although there were many innovative elements, for me the most striking is expressed in the word pilgrimage.

The notion of pilgrimage, common to nearly all the world’s religions with non-religious examples as well, connotes the notion of a desire, an effort, a pursuit, a search, a yearning – and all of these in common with others who share the same – getting everyone involved into motion. Visibly and tangibly so, it was still dark on Thursday morning when we began gathering at the Vatican Train Station and boarded the special Frecciargento.

It would not have been a pilgrimage without prayer, which we find in the title, Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world. Prayer began already on the train as, here and there, one could notice a pilgrim discretely using a rosary or other traditional expression. In Assisi, after a frugal lunch in the Convent Refectory, everyone was invited to observe a time of quiet for personal reflection and prayer.

Another innovative contrast now emerges. Certainly in the Christian tradition and probably in many others, the most effective thing we can do for peace is to pray for conversion, beginning with the conversion of each one’s own heart. But “effective” is not the same as “active”. And in 2011, it seems to me that by going on pilgrimage together, all of us participated in a common quest and were together involved in the hard work of peace-making. Thus everyone testified in deed that it is possible to come and work together for a more just and solidary world.

In 1986 all the Heads of Delegation were religious leaders. There is no statistic to express what proportion of mankind they represented but certainly it was less than 100% as some who are not religious would not identify with the World Day of Prayer. In 2011, inviting a politician and three philosophers publicly declared not to be religious, the Holy Father deliberately included the whole of the human family. The quest for peace is a yearning of all hearts. For indeed, “now that vital goods shared by the entire human family are at stake,” the whole human family should come out and demonstrate.
From among the many Witnesses to Peace, what struck me was, above all, the humble truthfulness of the Holy Father who “as a Christian [admits] that in history there has been recourse to violence in the name of Christian faith. Shamefully, we recognize it.” Then the admission on the part of Julia Kristeva, spokesperson of agnostic humanism, of the need for “a new reflection on the choice and responsibility of motherhood. Secularization is today’s only civilization which has nothing to say about the reality of being a mother.” And then Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, denouncing the fact that the high level of unemployment among young people throughout the world is a great obstacle to a just peace.

“The genuine search for truth, the awareness of a common origin, a common earth, a common destination,” commented a thinker close to our Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “can really be the ground for a new era of durable harmony among all the nations.” Words to share, while remembering above all that, without God’s help, no authentic pilgrimage of peace is possible.

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