This year, Sweden commemorates 200 years of peace. This reminds us of the fact that peace is a gift and a task. Peace is not a state of passivity, and never is it achieved once and for all. It demands continuous maintenance. “Peace is the way to peace”, as one of my predecessors has put it.
2014 has been a year of many conflicts and war zones, some of them in the center of media attention, others barely noticed by the public eye.
Today, I am honored to meet again one of our generation’s brave and persistent peace workers. As a gynecologist, Dr Denis Mukwege has for many years helped victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This week, you were awarded the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for your work - congratulations! You may feel that the well-deserved prizes that you have received do not change the world, and in some sense we may all long for a world where prizes of certain kinds will have become superfluous: a world with ever-decreasing violence and ever increasing peace. And a world where we no longer close our eyes to the connection between, for instance, our consumption of cell phones and violence in the D R Congo.
Peace is a challenge that requires joint efforts - cooperation between decision-makers, experts, academia and the civil society, including religious communities. This is a reason why the Örebro Peace Day is so important: it brings together agents from all those areas.
We are too well aware of the fact that religion sometimes causes violence and contributes to war. Religion, as most aspects of human life, has its shadow sides. However, we must not succumb to the temptation so prevalent in overly secularized environments, to judge religion by its negative potential only. Fanaticism and fundamentalism are not the true faces of religion! As history has shown, religion is also a strong tool for peace. Religious communities are an asset, because they can create networks of people deeply engaged for the common good. Furthermore, unless there is peace among the world religions, there can be no world peace! This applies especially to Christianity and Islam: together, these two religions comprise more than 50 % of the world population.
Hospitality is important in all of the major religious traditions. To welcome the stranger is a sacred duty. All ambitious programs for integration and social cohesion boil down to a very basic thing: to learn to live as good neighbors with each other. It is the rather simple, yet sometimes so difficult things that provide the key for a prosperous society – like learning to live as good neighbors in our global village.
The notion of hospitality also challenges a rather thoughtless use of the word “we”, the majority. In days to come, we are likely to see more examples of “super-diverse” places, such as for example the city of Amsterdam where the largest group in the city is less than 50 %. Hence, there is no majority to be integrated into. As a result, “hospitality” and “diversity in search of connections” replaces “unity in diversity”.
It is encouraging to see the engagement and energy from young people in peace-building. Today, in Örebro, the scouts were a sign of this dedication. We read that the number of young people engaging in political parties and - admittedly - religious communities is decreasing. Still, through political parties, religious communities and other NGO:s, many young people work hard for new ways of communicating and implementing new visions for peace and justice. When I see for instance young Muslims, Christians and Jews working together against poverty or climate injustice, I realize that new visions are possible. There is no reason to allow ourselves to get paralyzed by the sheer size of the challenges humankind is facing these days. There is every reason to allow ourselves to be inspired by the example of peace-builders, young and old – and by the hope, faith and love handed down to us through the great traditions of humanity. May God bless us all in our efforts towards peace, shalom, salaam!