Shimon Peres, a patriarch of today’s Israel, wants to leave a legacy. Most in this mode aim for things like monuments, memoirs and money. Peres’s aim is world peace. And in his opinion, Pope Francis, a man he calls “Holy Father,” is the one to make it happen. Vatican spokesmen concur, as does Italy’s representative for Islam, who “fully agrees.”
Two months after completing his term as Israel’s ninth president, 91-year-old Shimon Peres was pounding stony pavement at the Vatican.
On September 4, 2014, he was granted an impressive 45-minute meeting with Catholicism’s popular pontiff, a man Peres asserts is more powerful than the United Nations for advocating peace.
The problem, as Peres sees it, is that “in the past, most wars were motivated by the idea of nationality. Today, however, they are being waged primarily in the name of religion.”
In an exclusive interview with the Catholic periodical, Famiglia Cristiana (The Christian Family), Peres divulged his plans: “Perhaps for the first time in history, the Holy Father is a leader not only respected by many people, but also by different religions and their leaders.”
“In fact,” Peres clarified, “he is perhaps the only truly respected leader” in the world today.
While Francis has refrained from commenting on Peres’s assessment, that same silence permits it. It also permits the framework of Peres’s idea to be tested in the crucible of world opinion.
“The United Nations has had its day,” Peres opined. “What we need is an organization of United Religions, a United Nations of religions.”
“This will be the best way,” he continued, “to fight terrorists who kill in the name of faith.”
Accordingly, “there should be a Charter of United Religions, just as there is a UN Charter. This is what I have proposed to the pope.”
Fulvio Scaglione, deputy managing editor of Famiglia Cristiana, asked, “Would you see the pope as the leader of United Religions?” “Yes,” Peres replied. And not only because Francis is a globally respected leader. He is also the best choice because the world needs “an indisputable moral authority that says out loud, “No, God does not want this and will not allow it. We must fight against exploitation in the name of God.”
Scaglione did not challenge Peres with the question begging to be asked: If abuse of God’s name is condemned in God’s name, could this not also be, or become, abusive? There is not a public transcript of the meeting between Peres and the pope. But a significant few who are close to Francis had a lot to say about it. All of them were cautious about an institutionalized United Religions organization.
They did not reject it, but they were careful not to endorse it.
The Vatican spokesman for the encounter is Frederico Lombardi, a Jesuit priest. The pope listened to Peres, he said, but “made no personal commitment.” He also reminded Peres that the Vatican already has two “suitable” offices for interreligious initiatives.
Andrea Riccardi is founder of Sant’Egidio, an international Catholic lay community committed to ecumenism. He praised Peres for “giving so much weight to the spiritual dimension” in an “encounter with all religions.” At the same time, however, Riccardi cautioned against a United Religions organization, calling it “difficult to see an institutionalization of meetings” between religions.
While Catholic spokesmen were cautious about Peres’s organizational proposal, they were unambiguous in support of his assessment of their pope. Riccardi agreed that Francis “has very strong moral leadership” that “should continue in service to the unity of the human family.”
The Vatican’s representative to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, was effusive about Peres’s “perception of Pope Francis, not only as leader of the Catholic Church, but also as a symbol of all religion in the modern world. This is,” he said, “a significant turning point in history.”
Italy’s spokesman for Islam liked everything that Peres said. Handsome, articulate and Western in his manner, Yahya Pallavicini is imam of the al-Wahid Mosque in Milan and vice president of the Islamic Religious Community of Italy, a.k.a. Coreis, a community solicitous toward Christians and Jews.
Pallavicini praised Peres as “a man particularly inspired, combining Jewish faith with political experience. I fully agree” with his proposal to the pope, he said.
In fact, he continued, “Pope Francis may be the most authoritative representative” of “spiritually sensitive” religious leaders in the world today. “I, a Muslim, have much to learn from him,” he said.
If one of the Vatican’s objectives was to test worldwide reaction to Peres’s proposal, response to date indicates mild interest. Outside Italy, mainstream media has barely acknowledged the encounter. Those that have reported it treat it more as a human interest story than hard news.
Here and there voices in pulpits and cyberspace cry danger, but Internet statistics indicate that very few are listening.
If Peres’s proposal to the pope gains traction, it will create a global religious union initiated by representatives of the world’s three monotheistic religions, a United Religions organization that blends its expression from one-third Judaism, one-third Christianity and one-third Islam. And apparently led from the seven hills of Rome.The author is the Middle East correspondent and Jerusalem Bureau Chief for IRN-USA Network News. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSchrauger. Originally published at BridgesForPeace.com.