My friend Archbishop Malkhaz Songulashvili sends this report of the Interfaith Peace Vigil in Georgia
Last Sunday the Peace Cathedral hosted an interfaith vigil in support of peace in Ukraine. Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Lutheran, Armenian Apostolic, Baptist bishops and clergy participated in the liturgy along with Muslim and Jewish clergy laity. In the service the Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Yazidi scripture readings were read by Isralei Ambassador and hus wife, UN representative to Georgia and Sheikh of Muslim Suprime Council of Georgia. The Papal Nuncio, Archbishop José A. Bettencourt deliveded a moving homily.
The service was held in English, but certan prayers and suplications were offered in the Georgian, Armenian, Ukrainian, Italian, German, Aramean, Hebrew and Arabic languages.
The service was attended by American, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Romanian, Norwegian, Japanese, South Corean, Israeli, UN ambassadors and other members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited in Tbilisi. There were in attendance some representatives of academic, artistic and political communities as well as the faithful from Orthodox, Baptist, Catholic, Chaldean, Shia and Sunni communites. It was certainly a moving celebration of the unity in diversity.
The liturgy for the service was designed by the Baptst Metropolitan Bishop of Tbilisi and the Papal Nuncio.
The Norvegian Ambassador Helene Sand Andresen and the Ukrainian Deputy Ambassador (the ambassador had been recalled) lit a candel of peace on the alter of the Cathedral and the Ukrainain Deputy Ambassador addressed the congregation.
After the service H.E. Ran Gidor, the Israeli Ambassador to Georgia wrote a rather moving thank-you letter:
„…thank you for granting us the opportunity to partake in such a moving event. As I said last night, only Peace Cathedral could have pulled off such an inspiring tribute to humanity and peace. The fact that so many religious leaders, foreign ambassadors and ordinary worshippers turned up last night was indicative of the need for spiritual comfort.“
After the prayer vigil the Peace Cathedral offered an Iftar meal to all the Muslims attending the vigil.
At the Iftar, the Sheikh Mirtag Asadiov of the Supreme Cpouncil of Muslims of All Georgia maintained:
„We are thankful to the Peace Cathedral for being always on the right side of history and always leadeing us in prayer for peace.“
Other participants were equally moved and encouraged by the service. The participants of the vigil were deeply moved by a small exibition of paintings by Gishop Rusudan Gotziridze who had painted four watercolours on the theme of war against ukraine. „She seems to be a multiple talanted person“ – commented US Ambassador Kelly Degnan viewing Bishop’s paintings.
The whole service could be watched on the following Facebook site: Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia.
With best wishes and gratitude for your very kind suppoort of the people of Ukraine,
P.S. Please find enclosed the text of the Papal Nuncio’s homily.
Words of H.E. Archbishop José A. Bettencourt
Apostolic Nuncio and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps
Eminent Religious Leaders,
Distinguished Representatives of Religious Denominations,
We gather today in The Peace Cathedral at the gracious invitation of The Most Rev. Prof. Dr. Malkhaz Songulashvili, Metropolitan Bishop of Tbilisi of the Evangelical Baptist Church, for this Interfaith Prayer for the Peace in Ukraine. We hear sacred texts from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Yazidi Religious traditions, at a time when Jews will be celebrating Passover, Christians are in Lent, Muslims have just started their holy month of Ramadan and Yazidi have just celebrated their New Year. The war in the Ukraine is on its 43rd day. We gather because each of our Faiths tells us that the War in Ukraine is wrong, that War is wrong, and that our World is in need of Peace!
With the images on the walls of this Cathedral, I make Pope Francis` appeals for peace, my own: “Rivers of blood and tears flow in Ukraine”. It is a war unfolding before our very eyes sowing death, destruction and misery. It is madness. It is unleashed human cruelty. Waging war is forgetting humanity. It is diabolical and a perverse abuse of power for partisan interests. War does not resolve disputes.
Stop the war! Open a constructive dialogue to put an end to this colossal humanitarian tragedy, barbaric displacement and killing of children, innocent and defenseless humans. Cities are turned into cemeteries.
There is no God of war. God is peace. Those who support violence profane the name of God. We implore that armed attacks cease, common sense prevail, real and decisive negotiations for peace take hold in respect for international law. Humanitarian corridors must be respected.
Through the backdrop of this darkness, we hear the light contained in the sacred texts of the many religions. Hearing these sacred texts allows us to understand truths of peace. That purifying light is an echo to the local community and the global human family. In order for it to shine, we cannot allow it to be eclipsed by the scandalous darkness when the religious belief of some turns sacrilegious and used to justify actions against the sacred dignity of human beings.
How often do we raise monuments to remember tragedies of wars? At times it seems that they cover our cities like tombstones in cemeteries to remind us of horrific histories. Yet how often would it have been appropriate and just that religious leaders and believers raise their voices in favour of dialogue and peace.
We are meant to be builders of peaceful co-existence. We are called to be the most compelling living commentaries of the ʺGolden Ruleʺ — common in one form or another to all religions. We wish to foster understanding, respect, trust and solidarity among all. We wish to leave no one behind and lift everyone up. Each person of faith is called to be a beacon of light.
We cannot find rest. We appeal “in the name of God, stop this massacre!” Hence, We pray. We pray to God. We pray for a change of minds and hearts of warlords. We pray for the protection and safely of the beloved Ukrainian people from further warfare and bloodshed. We pray for all who suffer , whose fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children fall victims to this barbaric war.
Here tonight, a broad stratum of society is united in solidarity and support, praying for peace. The sacred texts we hear this evening is the wisdom of the ages. The light that has guided people through times of peace and times of tragedy. Our faith teaches us that something better will come of our present pain – that the triumph of good is stronger and it will prevail.
In the words of Shota Rustaveli: “Evil is vanquished by good, for the essence of good is enduring”