By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service     5/12/2015

ROME (CNS) — Religious believers and, especially, religious leaders need to make an “examination of conscience” about how well they promote the values of their faith that are essential to building a cultural of peace, said the Vatican’s foreign minister.

With some 84 percent of the world’s population identifying themselves as members of a religion, faith has a huge role to play in promoting peace, said Archbishop Paul R. Gallagher.

The archbishop spoke May 11 at a conference that was part of a six-day study abroad program for 28 students from England’s Cambridge Muslim College and the Center for Islamic Theology at Germany’s Tubingen University. The program was hosted by the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, an international and interreligious residence for lay students at pontifical universities in Rome.

“We rightly recall the horrors of war lest we forget the senseless slaughter, lest we forget that it could easily happen again,” the archbishop told the students, who were joined by a dozen ambassadors to the Holy See.

Remembering the wars and the mistakes of the past, Archbishop Gallagher said, is particularly important so that “present and future generations may be spared the heartache of war.”

The act of remembrance, he said, “is a crucial part of creating a culture of peace. To put it in religious terms, it is an examination of conscience so that humanity’s sins might not be repeated.”

Neither Archbishop Gallagher nor the other panelists speaking at the May 11 event denied that religions have sparked or added fuel to the wars in the past. But the archbishop insisted that such a use of faith to foment conflict was an abuse of the most fundamental teachings of all major religions, particularly Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

In addition, he said, believing in the “inevitability of war” actually contributes to destroying a culture of peace because it frees individuals, as well as their leaders, from accepting personal responsibility to contribute to peace through respect and dialogue within their families, their communities and their nations.

However, the archbishop said, it is clear that “religion can be manipulated and it is to justify extremism and violence.”

Religious leaders and all believers, he said, have an obligation to preach and teach those basic values that proclaim God as creator of all men and women deserving of respect and of peace as a reflection of the order God wills for the world.

Creating a culture of peace “begins with each of us,” Archbishop Gallagher said. History shows that “the personal witness and prayer of individual members of faith communities can be transformative,” promoting reconciliation and forgiveness.

For Christians, he said, Christ’s peace is “a gift meant to transform our lives so that we may in turn be bearers of that peace in the world in which we live so that it, too, may be transformed by the gift of peace.”

Nigel Baker, the British ambassador to the Holy See, and Annette Schavan, the German ambassador to the Holy See, also addressed the gathering, focusing especially on the importance of education, including religious education, in creating a culture of peace.

Often, Baker said, a lack of education is at the root of both fundamentalism as well as of fear and hostility toward others. When believers are not educated in their own faiths, he said, “extremists peddling nonsense can be deadly.”

The ambassador insisted that no priest, imam, rabbi or other religious leader today should be assigned to a congregation without first having received education about what other faiths really believe.