Today, 30 September 2023, the ecumenical prayer vigil “Together 2023” took place in Rome. In the presence of Pope Francis, St. Peter’s Square hosted representatives of different Churches, united in a journey of prayer and silence, to rediscover the world together. This year, the protagonist of the event preceding the Synod was dialogue as an instrument of reconciliation, to remind us that we need each other as a contribution to peace in the human family.
Organised by the General Secretariat of the Synod, different Dicasteries, and the community of Taizé, the event also involved JRS and Centro Astalli/JRS Italy. From the morning workshop “In the shoes of refugees” at the Gesù Church, to the conclusion of the meeting in St Peter’s Square with the testimonies of two JRS colleagues, Daniela Alba and Wael Halou, who spoke to the audience about the gift of peace.
Read their full speeches below.
Speech by Daniela Alba:
“My name is Daniela, and I was born in Colombia. A country that is still fighting for peace after more than 60 years of armed conflict. One which has caused us to become one of the countries with the highest number of internally displaced persons and refugees in the world. At the moment more than 5 million of us live abroad.
It is with all humility that I come before you to speak for those who have been silenced: those who have died on their journey of displacement and those who are still struggling to safely find a home. I address you, participants in the Synod and to all people of good will gathered here, as St. Paul did to the Romans, with an appeal to embody unity. The apostle speaks to us of a “single body composed of many members”, each with its own function. Truly, each of us has been created with specific gifts, which we are called to use to achieve the peace-building of our global community. During my journey as an immigrant I have witnessed these gifts in people of all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds. As a beneficiary of the accompaniment I received as I found a new home with my family, I would like to ask each of you, and especially those of you who have the privilege of participating in this Synod, to reflect personally on what this call means for the Church.
Peacebuilding, in my experience, is not the expression of constantly being in agreement with one another, but rather walking together, listening, recognizing and learning what is often unknown to us. For this reason, “the other” is a gift in this path, capable of teaching us new methods of coexistence.
The displaced person is more than their condition, more than their circumstances. Lived experience of displacement is not what defines me, but what brings me closer to others. I carry in my heart the gifts of kindness, love and support I received during times of utmost uncertainty, fear, frustration and fatigue. Now as we enter this historic moment, we have the opportunity to foster peace for the well-being of the human family.
I invite you to walk together as artisans of this peace, recognizing the other, in all its different forms as a divine instrument that brings to the world, as organs do to a body, their unique and important function. We have the capacity to build sustainable peace. Not one based on false notions of a homogeneous racial or national unity, but rather one based on the profound recognition of the other as part of the human family and therefore, worthy of love.
Speech by Wael Halou:
I want to extend a warm welcome to each one of you. My name is Wael, and I come from Aleppo, a city in Syria that has suffered greatly from war and earthquakes. Italy became my home for the last seven years. I am grateful for my incredible friends in Italy who welcomed me in their home. In today’s world, conflicts and displacement are still unfortunately common. People risk everything, in the first place, their most important treasure: their lives. They face overwhelming struggles being forced to start over from scratch, seeking peace and safety. It’s like being a baby learning to walk and speak for the first time.
Despite the obstacles encountered on their personal journeys, refugees still face prejudice and discrimination by some of the host communities who live inside their own privileged bubble, making them believe they are superior.
Too often, we build walls that separate us from each other, marking certain individuals as “us” and others as “them,” leading us to the trap of exclusion and a misguided sense of superiority.
I believe that embracing a wider “we” is the key to peace. Let’s break down boundaries and celebrate the value of our shared humanity while appreciating our unique backgrounds. No matter where we come from or what we believe in, every person deserves peace and respect. We should reject prejudgment, stereotypes and bias. Instead, embrace the beauty and richness of our differences.
Together, let’s become artisans of peace and create a world of love and harmony. By having conversations, seeking mutual understanding to overcome the fear that exclude others, we can build a world where each human being is valued, respected, enjoying their right to full dignity.
I invite you to become artisans of peace towards a world where everyone, regardless of their race, nationality, or language, can value the gift of the other and the gift of peace.
Thank you for being here today, united under the power of peace.”