Ks. Franciszek Kardynał Macharski

Opening Remarks

1998-05-18 Oświęcim, Centre for Dialog and Prayer, Conference „Religion and Violence, Religion and Peace”*

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I wish to cordially greet all the participants of the conference on “Religion and Violence, Religion and Peace” sponsored by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, participants who represent the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Could there be anything in the world more precious and dear to humanity than religion which binds us to God, our Creator and Lord, which gives meaning to our lives? Only religion is able to offer us a comprehensive outlook on humanity and on reality. What was our origin? Where are we going? How should we live to gain our final goal of eternal life in God? Therefore, we should not be surprised that there were, and still are, people willing to give their lives for their religious beliefs. The history of the great monotheistic religions is marked by a commitment to the dignity of life and by the sacrifice of those who kept faith with God.

Unfortunately, one must ask and wonder how it was possible in the past and how it is possible now – so on a smaller scale than in the past – that people who believe in God, or who say they believe, could take the lives of believers of different religions or people representing different visions of the world. That is why religion means intolerance for so many people. In fact there are some people who think that religions are the main source of the conflicts and violence in today’s world.

Such an opinion is not correct. The very spot where the meeting is held belies that opinion. We are at Auschwitz, where evil took place in unimaginable measures. Many hundreds of thousands of people were atrociously killed here. They were killed not by the hands of believing people. On the contrary, they were killed by those who considered themselves to be the masters of other people’s lives and deaths.

Sincere authentic faith in God must be considered as an important factor for bringing peace among people, the best guarantee of peaceful, mutual relations between people. Religions unite people of all faiths who take deeply into their hearts God’s commandment: “Thou shall not kill.”

Standing in this place, it is impossible not to quote the words spoken here in Auschwitz nineteen years ago by Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father pronounced these words commemorating the Auschwitz victims: “This inscription awakens the memory of the people whose sons and daughters were intended for total extermination. This people draws its origin from Abraham, our father in faith, as was expressed by Paul of Tarsus. The very people who received from God the commandment ‘Thou shall not kill’ experienced in a special measure what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this inscription with indifference.”

The three great monotheistic religions are in accord as to the image of God showed in the sacred books. The Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and the Qur’an reveal that God is gracious and full of mercy and he desires life and peace, not death and violence. Should not humanity, made in God’s image, imitate God and also bring peace and not do violence? To authentically follow God is to live in peace, graciousness, and mercy.

Dear participants of this conference, I whish you fruitful deliberations marked by God’s peaceful blessings.

*Religion and Violence, Religion and Peace. Essays from the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding Conference in Auschwitz, Poland May 1998. Edited by Joseph H. Ehrenkranz and David L. Coppola. Sacred Heart Uniersity Press, Fairfield, Connecticut, 2000, s. 7.