Pope Francis should head a new UN-style “Organisation of United Religions”, or “United Religions”, to “combat violence in God’s name”, said former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, on Thursday.
The 91-year old Peres, whose term as president ended in July, met the pope at the Vatican on Thursday, and discussed the proposal for an international body representing the world’s major religions, as a moral force able to intervene in conflicts.
Peres said the Arab world recognizes the growing threat of terrorism that is being carried out by groups like the Islamic State (IS) whose brutal methods to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria include beheadings, mass executions and crucifixions of minorities such as Christians, and non-Muslims, or those which it deems not Islamic. It has also taken over several cities in both Iraq and Syria.
Peres said the Arab world “can join forces with Israel, the United States, and the European Union in the united front against terror in which religious leaders play a pivotal role, led by Your Holiness.”
The idea is based on the fact that the wars around the world today “are sparked above all with the excuse of religion”, Peres said in an interview with the Italian Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana hours before he met the pope.
“In the past, the majority of wars were motivated by the idea of nationhood. Today, instead, wars are sparked above all with the excuse of religion,” Peres said.
He added, “Now, given the fact that the United Nations has had its day, what is needed is an Organisation of United Religions, a U.N. of religions. It would be the best way to combat these terrorists who kill in the name of faith because the majority of people are not like them.”
Peres, whose meeting with the pope lasted 45 minutes, said pope Francis should head such a united organisation of religions because “perhaps for the first time in history, the Holy Father is a leader who’s respected, not just by a lot of people, but also by different religions and their representatives.”
“[He] is perhaps the only leader who is truly respected,” Peres said.
“People who shoot the most these days, nearly always say they are doing it in God’s name,” Peres added. “What is needed is an unquestionable moral authority that says in a strong voice ‘No, God does not want this and does not permit it’.”
Peres said the United Nations and its peacekeepers “do not have the force or the effectiveness of any one of the Pope’s homilies, which can draw half a million people just in St Peter’s Square alone.”
Vatican spokesman, Federico Lombardi, confirmed that Peres had told the Pope about his idea for United Religions. However, the Pope, who praised Peres as a “man of peace”, did not commit himself to the proposal.
“The Pope listened” to the idea just as he always does with any peace initiative, “showing his interest, his attention and encouragement,” Fr Lombardi said.
But “the Pope made no personal commitment” for the idea.
The Vatican has the Pontifical Councils for Interreligious Dialogue and for Justice and Peace — two offices “that are suitable” for supporting or following such initiatives, Father Lombardi said.
In August, the Vatican called on Muslim leaders worldwide to “unequivocally condemn” the violence being carried out by terrorist groups like the Islamic State against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.
Last June the pope hosted a service in the Vatican where Peres, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders prayed for peace in the Middle East.
Peres was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1994, together with the late Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman, Yasser Arafat, and then Israeli Premier, Yitzak Rabin.