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Gillian Ahlgren attends World Religious Leaders summit on Global Peace and Dialogue in Assisi (September 2016).

I am sending this brief dispatch from here in Assisi, where I have come, along with thousands of others, for “Thirst for Peace,” an international meeting of religious leaders and faithful. 30 years after the gathering convened by John Paul II in 1986, we live in a very different world, yet one in which, as the French say, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same… The thirst and quest for peace goes on, perhaps with more intensity than ever. It is a deep blessing to be here, nameless among the crowds, standing with hope and fidelity and calm strength, gathered in a common prayer that transcends language, nation, and denomination and now seeks to find deeper expression in our common humanity.

I arrived yesterday on a train packed full of people from all over the world. Although some of us had no language in common, we could all smile and say “Assisi.” The streets here are full of some of the most precious of human feelings: hope, commitment, fidelity, even perplexity, as we look out on a world caught up in a spiral of violence and want, deeply, to create something more.

I woke and went to mass, surrounded again by people from more countries than I could name, and then sat down over lunch to the news of so much terror unleashed all around. As we look ahead to the inauguration of the conference in a few hours, I ask you to be in solidarity with us as we gather, speak, listen, and pray. May all of our prayers and works unite ever more effectively as we try to foster and integrate wisdom, understanding, love, and action in a world that needs us so.

I hope, upon my return, that we can work together with even greater effectiveness, to bring about the kind of world where we can live as one people, stronger than anything that might divide us, and model the solidarity and communion that brings life, joy, and new possibilities.

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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.