Rome provides a “neutral brokerage” where religious leaders can work together for peace, says Jerry White, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations.
In an interview with Vatican Radio, White spoke of the need for faith leaders to work harder to prevent religiously motivated violence. Islamic state extremists have brought the question of faith and violence to the fore, and the world religions must be in the forefront of the peace process.
The type of violence growing in the world is “religion related,” says White. “Religion is a vocabulary that is being used, even every day as we look in the paper, to justify violence.” For this reason, “religion has to be part of the solution.”
“How can we isolate that virus?” asks White. How could we all work together to prevent the killing of innocent civilians in the name of God?”
White himself is an amputee because of a landmine explosion when he was a 20-year-old hiking in the Holy Land. He developed gangrene after a month in the hospital and amputation became necessary.
White applies the analogy of gangrene to the present situation in the Middle East, and the “cutting off” of ISIS. “What is happening in the Middle East?” he asks. “There are times when the sickness is so sick that it must be dealt with.”
In Rome to promote “a conversation about a new covenant, an interreligious peace treaty,” White said we need to overcome the cynicism that questions whether anything new and effective can be done in this area.
Our time is different, says White, “when the violence proliferated so explicitly in the name of God, that can come into this ‘convert or die’ type of energy, that is the urgency that is new.”
“We have to actually go beyond photo opportunities, beyond interfaith conferences, and say: What would our agreement look like in terms of an interreligious fatwa against violence?”
White believes Rome is important because it is “an address by which people are projecting perhaps on to Pope Francis, the Catholic Church, but again the archetype of Saint Francis” a space where effective dialogue can take place.