What peace means… ‘Peace’ is an overused word, like love and freedom. But what does ‘peace’ mean? There are many nuances and interpretations, and “absence of conflict” is not enough for me. The Indo-European root is pak or pag, from which comes Latin pax, and words like agree, fix, pay. Peace therefore recalls the concept of establishing a pact in which everyone is satisfied, establishing a balance between the parties, creating a peaceful climate for all. If one party suffers an injustice, is not satisfied, peace is called into question. As well as when one party wants to overpower the other, causing the agreement to fail.
What ‘peace’ means between nations and societies
I tried to deepen the meaning of peace when I received the Golden Lion for Peace in Venice in 2017 and felt the weight of responsibility.
Peace between states and peoples is the basic condition for creating prosperity for all. Very interesting insights can be found in ancient history and philosophy. Mahatma Gandhi links it to truth and non-violence. Peace between peoples is not a stable condition, it is rather a ‘pact’ that is like a garden, to be guarded and cultivated constantly. Peace between peoples is not just the absence of war, it is the condition, the pact, by which all parties can live in dignity. With Women of Faith for Peace we try to promote dialogue between women in conflict areas, creating sisterhood and concrete joint projects.
What ‘Peace’ means for religions
I experienced the sense of peace and religions on a boat on Lake Constance, where 800 people of all religions were gathered for the World Assembly of Religions for Peace (which I represent at FAO-UN). All personal interpretations and claims vanished in the harmony on the boat. And the words took on a profound meaning.
Shanti, the peace of the Hindus, was chanted by the guru at the stern. Nirvana was in the eyes of the Buddhist monk as he smiled on deck. The Jewish women and the rabbi were talking about the jaguar that will live together with the lamb with their Shalom. Pax was the inscription around the neck of the Orthodox Christian Pope. The Sufi sheikh explained the root of Islam, slm, meaning ‘peace’.
‘Peace’ in the community and family
Moving from the highest systems to the concrete life of all of us, we need to bring the word “peace” into our daily lives and thus into the community in which we live and into the family. This can be a very complicated path, and here it depends on each person’s history. Peace in one’s own community faces a thousand obstacles. So trying to build it from agreements that satisfy the parties is fundamental. Do you want to put the well-being you experience from getting along with your neighbours?
In the family things are even more difficult. Each family is its own story. I can only suggest the way of justice, forgiveness and non-violence. So let us embrace the ability to let go and rejoice in moments of peace. Those who are lucky and have a wonderful family that knows how to live in peace can count on unspeakable strength.
‘Peace’ of heart
The way of ‘peace of heart’ is common to many religious and mindfulness paths. It is the necessary way to live well. I do not believe there is a permanent situation of “peace of heart”. Rather, I see different paths, with different ways to reach the same summit. Here I only note a few very brief considerations:
It is always worth committing to a path to grow and cherish ‘peace of heart’;
‘Peace of heart’ is not a point of arrival, but a dynamic path that accompanies us throughout life;
we must not wait until we have ‘peace of heart’ to try to practise peace in families, communities, peoples and nations.
What ‘peace’ means: my teachers of peace
I have always liked the figure of the master, perhaps in memory of my grandfather, Master Perini. My first teacher of peace was Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, a Naqshabandi Sufi master who lived on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. He taught me to love peace and to look at the ‘enemy’ not as an obstacle, but as an opportunity for growth. Sheikh Bukhari founded the Jerusalem Peacemakers, took Muslim groups to the Holocaust Museum, organised youth marches for non-violence. He looked at the ‘enemy’ with deep, gentle eyes, the kind that cover with love, like that drop that with every breath scratches the heart, engraving ‘God is love’.
A true teacher of peace for me is Dr Alganesh Fessah, who is on the front line for the release of kidnapped refugees, and in many dangerous situations. Her determination is beyond imagination, she always achieves what she wants. Her NGO is called Gandhi, and Gandhi inspires her to walk in the world. Alganesh teaches me every time to be able to see love before ideological positions, to have no inner boundaries and barriers, to practice peace on truth, not on smiles of comfort.
And of my third teacher of peace, I will soon talk about him in an article dedicated to him, Dr Carlo Spagnolli, A lover of life, truth and peace.