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Thirst for Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue September 18, 2016

From the Lyrick Theatre in the valley outside Assisi

Glass windows to my right provide a majestic view of the hillside city of Assisi.  The Rocca Maggiore towers above us, and the graceful arches of the basilica and monastery complex of San Francesco extend as a kind of bridge.  There are 5000 of us gathered from scattered nations, united by our “thirst for peace.”  People from all walks of life, many of us well-placed professionals.  We are the overflow.

The rest of the crowd, another 10,000, are gathered in the auditorium, where a distinguished panel inaugurates the most recent dialogue for peace involving world religious leaders, state officials and professionals from many countries.  The result is not entirely a prayer, in the traditional sense, but a dialogue of heartfelt speaking and intense listening–what this conferences hopes to model for the planet.

Hilde Kieboom, Vice President of the Sant’Egidio community, chaired the panel, which included remarks by Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio community; Bartholomew, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople; Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman; Faustin-Archange Touadéra, president of the Republic of Central Africa; Baleka Mbete, chairperson of the National Assembly of the Republic of South Africa; Dominique Lebrun, archbishop of Rouen; Avraham Steinberg, rabbi from Israel; Mohammad Sammak, political advisor to the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and others.

In the midst of the remarks, Ms. Kieboom called our attention outdoors: above our earnest conversation, an exquisite rainbow had settled over the valley, and we fell silent for a moment, watching its color illuminate the gray clouds behind.

The presenters’ speeches are available at


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About the author
Gillian Ahlgren
Dr. Ahlgren has been teaching the Christian mystical tradition to college-age students, graduate students, and adult learners for over 26 years. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of the tradition, an experienced spiritual director, and engages a regular practice of contemplative prayer. A popular teacher, public speaker and writer, she also gives several retreats per year. She is the Founding Director of Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice.

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