On January 24, the Day of Prayer for Peace in the World took place at Assisi, Italy, with about 250 religious leaders participating from 12 religions around the world. This meeting was called for by Pope John Paul II in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. It was the third time that the pope issued his invitation to religious leaders to come to Assisi to pray for peace. The two previous prayer days were held in 1986 during the Cold War and in 1993 during the Balkan conflict.
Tenrikyo sent its delegation consisting of Rev. Zensuke Nakata, vice head of the Religious Affairs Bureau; Rev. Noriaki Nagao, head of Tenrikyo Europe Centre; Rev. Hideo Yamaguchi, head of Tenrikyo Dai-Roma Mission Station; and a translator from the Overseas Department. Rev. Nakata was the delegation head. In this day-long event for world peace, they performed the seated service and part of the Teodori, praying for the divine blessing of bringing a settling to the world. In addition, on January 23, the day before the prayer meeting, Rev. Nakata delivered his message of the Joyous Life in a forum entitled “The Contribution of Religions to the Cause of Peace,” which was attended by the religious leaders. This forum was organized by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Synod Hall in the Vatican.
Other religions that sent representatives were: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, African Traditional Religions, Hinduism, Shinto, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and Confucianism.
In the forum held on the 23rd, about 25 selected speakers contributed their reflections for world peace. Rev. Nakata was the fourth speaker. His speech was simultaneously interpreted into English, Italian, French, and Arabic.
He began by offering a brief overview of the current situation of the world, saying: “The world today is still very far from realizing true peace whereby all people on earth live according to the principle of mutual help and consideration. At various places in the world, conflicts take place incessantly, whose reasons are so complicated that they refuse an easy solution.” He moved on to refer to the events of September 11 last year, which greatly influenced people’s attitude toward religions, because “after September 11 last year, a great number of people have come to develop a strong feeling that religions could be the cause of an unprecedented terrible war.”
He then explained the purpose of human existence, the intent of God the Parent at the time of human creation. He said: “God the Parent created human beings so that by seeing us live joyously through helping one another, God could share in that joy. That is to say, the meaning of our existence, or the purpose of our life, lies in our practice of the Joyous Life in which we help one another as brothers and sisters. Human beings are thus born with the potential to realize true peace.”
However, the Joyous Life is not easy to realize because “we have spent many years accumulating ‘dust’ in our mind. . . . It is never easy to find a way out of the morass of conflicts caused by such dust of the human mind, as we are unfortunately witnessing today.” Rev. Nakata continued, “Nonetheless, we must overcome these difficulties. We really must do so. We have to strive to heal people’s wounds and help cleanse the dust from the mind.”
He then maintained: “The path to the Joyous Life opens before us when we save others. When we live a life of saving others, awaken to the truth that all people in the world are brothers and sisters, then we are able to sweep dust from the mind, feel the reality of the truth of mutual help, and experience true happiness. We can thus begin stepping towards the path that leads to true peace.
“As pioneers of the path to true happiness, we religious people have been endowed with the mission to strive for the salvation of all. For this purpose, we need to take the lead in reciting our daily prayers for peace throughout the world, wishing everyone a blissful and joyful life.”
Rev. Nakata concluded his message as follows: “We hope and pray that the great blessings of God be received so that people in the world think not just of themselves but also of others and of the entire world, so that they continue their sincere dialogue, and so that individuals, nations, and cultures join hands to form mutual ties. We are willing to continue our efforts to realize these goals.”
On the 24th, after a two-hour train journey from the Vatican, the pope and other religious leaders arrived at Assisi. The Day of Prayer for Peace was held at the square outside the Basilica of St. Francis. Its program comprised four parts: Welcome and Testimonies for Peace; Prayer in Different Locations; Fraternal Meal; and Commitment to Peace.
The ceremony began around 11 a.m. after the pope and all the representatives, including Rev. Nakata, had taken their seats on the dais prepared in the square (at the entrance to the Lower Basilica of St. Francis). After some representatives of different Christian denominations and other religions read their testimony in favor of peace, the pope delivered his address to the assembly which he opened by saying, “We have come to Assisi on a pilgrimage of peace. We are here, as representatives of different religions, to examine ourselves before God concerning our commitment to peace, to ask him for this gift, to bear witness to our shared longing for a world of greater justice and solidarity.”
After the pope’s address, leaders of each religion were guided to the places set aside for them to make their prayer for world peace. A worship hall within the Basilica was assigned to Tenrikyo. Facing toward the Jiba, the Tenrikyo delegation members performed the seated service, the Yorozuyo, and the first six songs of the Teodori, praying that the Joyous Life be realized even a day sooner.
After partaking of a fraternal meal at the refectory in the Basilica, the pope and other world religious leaders, as well as the Italian President and Prime Minister, returned to the square to make their common commitment to peace. In this final part of the program, some of the representatives took turns reading their commitment in their own languages. After all the representatives on the stage placed their lamps on the pedestal located at the center of the stage, the pope concluded the commitment to peace by proclaiming: “Violence never again! War never again! Terrorism never again! In God’s name, may all religions bring upon earth justice and peace, forgiveness, life and love!”