Assisi to revive John Paul II's inter-faith "dream of peace"

St Francis is still the model for those who "cultivate the ideal of peace, of respect for nature, of dialogue between people, between religions and cultures", Pope Benedict said yesterday in a message for the 20th anniversary of the 1986 inter-faith World Day of Prayer for Peace gathering with John Paul II.

Describing the 1986 gathering convoked by Pope John Paul as "a timely prophecy", Pope Benedict echoed his predecessor's warning that no-one can use faith to justify violence, AsiaNews reports.

The World Day in St Francis' city in October 1986 was unprecedented. It saw, gathered alongside the late Pontiff, representatives of the great world religions, from the Dalai Lama to the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury.

The Pope, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, had expressed reservations about the original gathering at Assisi, which gathered representatives of the great world religions.

Pope Benedict thus also took the opportunity to note that the original inter-faith meeting organised by the Community of St Egidio avoided any "streaks of syncretism" and its successors needed to continue to do so.

"Peace is a value in which many parts merge. To build it, cultural, political and economical channels are certainly important. In the first place, however, peace must be built in people's hearts," the Pope said.

Greeting participants at the 2006 St Egidio conference For a World of Peace, Religions and culture in dialogue, Pope Benedict again warned of "the duty" even now to "avoid inopportune confusions.

"This is why even when people come together to pray for peace, prayer should unfold according to the distinct journeys that belong to each religion. This was the choice of 1986 and it was a decision that cannot but remain valid still today", he said.

However, John Paul II's "dream of peace" at the end of the Cold War was not realised, Pope Benedict said.

"If anything, the third millennium started with scenarios of terrorism and violence that do not seem about to go away. Further, the reality that armed conflicts are today unfolding especially against a background of ongoing geo-political tensions in many regions, can give the impression that not only cultural differences but also religious differences may constitute a motive for instability or threats to peace prospects," the Pontiff noted.

The challenges of a multicultural society

Taking up from where the Pope left off, Cardinal Paul Poupard, President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, told the St Egidio gathering yesterday that inter-faith dialogue can play an important role in building a peaceful world, according to Catholic World News report.

"We live today in a multicultural and multi-religious society," Cardinal Poupard observed at the opening session of the meeting; "but it is unfortunately also one marked by violence and by the constant exploitation of religions."

True religious faith, the Cardinal said, is always a force "for harmony and peace." Religious leaders should encourage "respect for other believers, and extend lines of friendship to people of other religious traditions."

The first challenge for believers in a multicultural world, Cardinal Poupard said, is "to deepen one's own tradition - not in a selective manner, but in full fidelity to one's own religious tradition."

The next challenge, the Cardinal continued, is to find means of building "a greater collaboration to build a more peaceful and harmonious society." Believers of all faiths, he said, should unite to promote human dignity and respect for all persons.

Kyoto's World Assembly of Religions for Peace

The Assisi gathering also picks up on many threads from the 8th World Assembly of Religions for Peace which brought together 800 religious leaders from more than 100 countries in Kyoto, Japan, last week, Zenit reports.

"At a time when religion is being hijacked by extremists, the religious leaders gathered in Kyoto to demonstrate [to] the entire world the power of religious communities to illuminate the path to peace when they work together," said William Vendley, secretary-general of Religions for Peace.

A "Kyoto Declaration" adopted during the 26-29 August conference on Confronting Violence and Advancing Shared Security offers "a new vision of shared security that properly places religious communities at the centre of efforts to confront violence in all its forms," he added.

Pope: religion can only bring peace (Asia News, 4/9/06)
Faith builds peace, cardinal tells Assisi gathering (Catholic World News, 4/9/06)
Religious Leaders Focus on Peace (Zenit, 3/9/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
For a World of Peace, Religions and culture in dialogue (Community of St Egidio, Assisi, 4-5 September 2006)
World Conference of Religions for Peace

Interreligious Meeting Planned in Assisi (Zenit, 23/8/06)

5 Sep 2006