Assisi 1986 - 2011: reform in continuity

Source: FSSPX News

On October 26, 2011, the day before the interfaith meeting in Assisi, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in L'Osservatore Romano went back to the October 27, 1986 meeting convened by John Paul II: “Assisi made an extraordinary leap in the dialogue among religions, still in its infancy and unceasingly deepening.”  For the French cardinal who was the longtime president of the Pontifical Councils “Justice and Peace” and “Cor Unum,” there exists a continuity and not a rupture between the meeting organized by John Paul II and that planned 25 years later by Benedict XVI. The prelate insisted in affirming that John Paul II had done “everything possible to avoid the appearance of any syncretism” at the 1986 meeting, going so far as to say that “there was no trace of communal prayer” in Assisi, but that “each religion was able to hear the murmur of its own relationship with God.”

On October 27, 2011, there was no “common prayer” or “murmur,” but one could hear the public prayer of an animist and the profession of the pantheist creed of a Hindu in the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, to the applause of 300 representatives of the world’s religions.

Prayer to Olokun

Indeed, during the morning of this “Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world” happening under the theme “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace,” the representative of African religions and beliefs Wande Abimbola stated that “indigenous religions claim the same respect and consideration as other religions,” urging participants to “always recognize that our own religion—like other religions—is valid and precious in the eyes of the Almighty, who created all of us with such diversity and plurality of ways of life and belief systems.”

Twice during this session presided over by Benedict XVI, Wande Abimbola sang a Yoruba prayer of worship while accompanying himself on a small percussion instrument. The second time he invited those present to “make (theirs) these verses to Olokun” and “to receive them into the depths of the oceans” –  Olokun is the Nigerian god of the sea. Read the notes in the study done by RP Noël Baudin on the Foreign Missions of Lyons (1844-1887) on the practice of animist cults at the time of evangelization.[1]

Then intervened Shri Acharya Shrivatsa Goswami, the representative of Hinduism, who also sang a prayer: “infinite god who took shape in humanity I see you in each hand and each foot, in each eye and each head, in each name and each person, and I will revere you in each one.” After this pantheistic statement, he indicated that there is “ a Hindu prayer for peace,” but that “there is no way to peace, because peace itself is a way.” Referring to the prayer of a Hindu spiritual master of the sixteenth century, he told the audience: “I bow and revere god in

each one of you,” recalling that in the Veda, “the truth is one,” but “announced in different ways.”[2] This profession of Hindu faith was as warmly applauded by the audience as the previous one.

Then the spokesman for non-believers, Julia Kristeva, declared that she spoke in the name of “humanism” and affirmed that: “The diversity of our meeting here in Assisi, shows that this hypothesis of destruction is not the only possible one,” before proposing this “wager,” not on the existence of God as did Pascal, but on man: “The age of suspicion is no longer enough, Faced with increasingly grave crisis and threats, the time has come to gamble. We must dare to bet on the continuous renewal of the capacity of men and women to listen and learn together. So that, in the ‘multiverse” surrounded by a void, mankind can continue to pursue his creative destiny for a long time to come.” The Bulgarian born French psychoanalyst then stated the need to do something new with the heritage of the different traditions: “Memory does not regard the past: the Bible, the Gospels, the Koran, the Rig Veda, the Tao, live in the present. In order that humanism might develop and re-found itself, the moment has come to take up again the moral codes built throughout history: without weakening them, in order to problematize them, to renew them in the face of new singularities.[3]”  This humanist syncretism also received the approval of those present, before the intervention of Benedict XVI.

"Continually Purify the Christian Religion"

The Pope then offered a form of repentance for Christians on the misuse of their faith in the past, “Yes, in history, we also resorted to violence in the name of the Christian faith. We shamefully admit to it.” And asked for a “continual purification” of the Christian religion.

“The post-Enlightenment critique of religion,” said Benedict XVI, “has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.”

“In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all? We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue—an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting.”

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. . . . For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put ‘suffering-with’ (compassion) and ‘loving-with’ in place of force. His name is ‘God of love and peace’ (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God's peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans.”

Non-believers Invite Believers “to Purify Their Faith”

The Pope justified his personally-initiated-invitation to representatives of non-believers, indicating that agnostics can bring much to both militant atheists and believers—the latter being, according to him, encouraged by non-believers precisely to “purify their faith.”

“In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: ‘There is no God.’ They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are ‘pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.’ They ask questions of both sides.”

“They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it.”

“But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practiced. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions.”

The intervention of Julia Kristeva, before that of Benedict XVI, brought to him an anticipated response: “the Bible, the Gospels, the Koran, the Rig Veda, the Tao, live in the present.  In order that humanism might develop and re-found itself, the moment has come to take up again the moral codes built throughout history.” The French psychoanalyst affirmed that her humanism emerges strengthened and restructured thanks to the syncretistic recovery of diverse religious traditions. Nothing, however, on any ‘inner struggle,’ nor a ‘question’ in search of the ‘true God.’ So it appeared that the presentations of Julia Kristeva and Benedict XVI followed each other chronologically, but at their core remained juxtaposed, compartmentalized. So one wonders on what common doctrinal basis has a commitment to peace been made by all these participants who in the afternoon expressed their agreement on words that, for each of them, have a different meaning.

The Renewal of the “Commitment to Peace” Made in 1986

A frugal meal in the Franciscan convent brought together the various representatives of the religions. It was followed by a moment of silence dedicated to prayer, reflection and rest; each representative being assigned a cell in the monastery to avoid any common prayer, as was made clear.

Early in the afternoon, songs and dances were performed by an international group, inspiring peace, joy . . . and symbolically tying together colorful fabrics. Irenical choreography that would have been suitable for UNESCO or the opening of the Olympics.

Then each speaker read a text in his language demonstrating his commitment to peace in the name of his religious community. Mounib Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation, condemned all violence in the name of religion.  MarGregorios, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, wished for mutual forgiveness of errors and prejudices of the past and present. Regarding the past, he wanted to teach that peace without justice is not a true peace.

Then Wai-Hop Tong, the Taoist representative,  pledged to be on the side of those who suffer in poverty and neglect. And Tsunekiyo Tanaka, the Shinto representative, said he wanted to encourage all initiatives to promote friendship among peoples, in opposition to that which would expose the world to a growing risk of destruction and death. Guillermo Hurtado, the Mexican atheist, echoed the humanists in dialogue with believers, committed to building a new world where everyone can enjoy the freedom to act according to his convictions.

Then Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, asked the religious representatives to make a gesture to seal their commitment to peace “proclaimed by many voices.” Benedict XVI gave an example by turning to welcome his two neighbors, while doves were released by the Franciscans.

Before the choir of the diocese of Assisi began to sing the Canticle of Creatures of St. Francis, Benedict XVI addressed a speech to the assembly to close the meeting: “We are not being separated; we will continue to meet, we will continue to be united in this journey, in dialogue, in the daily building of peace and in our commitment to a better world.” Afterwards, the Pope engaged in private prayer before the tomb of St. Francis, beside Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Mounib Younan, the Lutheran, and accompanied by a large group of the representatives of the various delegations, who observed the crypt but did not pray there.

In a message sent to 300 participants in the interfaith meeting, Barack Obama, the President of the United States, wanted to give his support to this new meeting of Assisi. “Through interfaith dialogue, we can unite in common cause to lift the afflicted, make peace where there is strife, and find the way forward to create a better world for ourselves and our children,”  he said in a note published by the United States Embassy to the Holy See. This message was relayed by Suzan Johnson Cook, U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, present at Assisi.

In an audience at the Vatican on October 28, the day after the meeting, Benedict XVI praised his predecessor in front of the delegations who had participated in the meeting. He then stated: “Looking back, we can appreciate the foresight of the late Pope John Paul II in convening the first Assisi meeting.”  In 1986, this interfaith meeting expressed  “the continuing need for men and women of different religions to testify together that the journey of the spirit is always a journey of peace.” This is why, according to the Pope, Assisi could become “the common home of those who are convinced that faith is synonymous with peace and values, and not with hatred and prejudice . . . Through this unique pilgrimage we have been able to engage in fraternal dialogue, to deepen our friendship, and to come together in silence and prayer.” He concluded: “We are not being separated; we will continue to meet, we will continue to be united in this journey, in dialogue, in the daily building of peace and in our commitment to a better world, a world in which every man and woman and every people can live in accordance with their own legitimate aspirations.”

Assisi in Light of Mortalium animos

On October 26, the eve of the meeting in Assisi, in a “Liturgy of the Word” in the Paul VI Hall of the Vatican, the Pope recalled that the sword which has traditionally represented the apostle Paul signifies not only the instrument of his martyrdom by beheading, but also “the power of truth, which can often wound, can hurt: the Apostle remained faithful to this truth to the end; he served it; he suffered for it; he gave over his life for it.” And Benedict XVI added: “It is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, but the sword of the sufferer, of he who knows how to give his very life.” Without a doubt Jesus reminded Peter during his Passion: “Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” (Mt 26:52). But St. Paul served and also used the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), “for the word of God is living and effectual, and more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”(Hb. 4:12).

In Assisi, all remained in a confused irenicism, an irenicism which depended on the doctrinal confusion that at no time does the sword of the Spirit come to disentangle. Publicly the Word of God was placed on the same level as that of Olokun; the Word of God was placed at the level of  the Vedas; the Divine Wisdom was placed on an equal footing with the humanist syncretism.

Once again the relevance and timeliness of the teaching of Pius XI in Mortalium animos (1928) can be verified: “For since they hold it for certain that men destitute of all religious sense are very rarely to be found, they seem to have founded on that belief a hope that the nations, although they differ among themselves in certain religious matters, will without much difficulty come to agree as brethren in professing certain doctrines, which form as it were a common basis of the spiritual life. For which reason conventions, meetings and addresses are frequently arranged by these persons, at which a large number of listeners are present, and at which all without distinction are invited to join in the discussion, both infidels of every kind, and Christians, even those who have unhappily fallen away from Christ or who with obstinacy and pertinacity deny His divine nature and mission. Certainly such attempts can nowise be approved by Catholics, founded as they are on that false opinion which considers all religions to be more or less good and praiseworthy, since they all in different ways manifest and signify that sense which is inborn in us all, and by which we are led to God and to the obedient acknowledgment of His rule.”

Three years before the issuance of the encyclical, Pius XI instituted the feast of Christ the King thereby making clear the Catholic response to all initiatives towards peace between nations. The Collect of the Mass of this feast expresses it with clarity:  “Almighty everlasting God, Who in Thy beloved Son, King of the whole world, hast willed to restore all things anew; grant in Thy mercy that all the families of nations, rent asunder by the wound of sin, may be subjected to His most gentle rule.”

(Sources : VIS/Apic/Imedia/Zenit/KTO/ - DICI du 03/11/11)

[1] Excerpt from the works of RP Noël Baudin, Fetichism and Fetich Worshipers (Fétichisme et féticheurs), New York, 1885, pp. 18: “Olokun, the god of the sea and of the ocean, the negro Neptune, dwells in an immense palace under the sea. Seven enormous chains now hold him captive. In a moment of anger he attempted to destroy mankind because of their propensity to lie.  He had almost exterminated them when Obatala (Editor’s note: one of the first deities, with Odudua and Ifa, the Yoruba pantheon) interfered and forced him back to the sea, where he remains chained in his palace forever. From time to time his efforts to break his chains create the storms on the ocean. Animals are sacrificed to him, and sometime human beings.”

"His wife is Olos (the lagoon), who also has her palace under the waters. The crocodile is sacred to her, and is supposed to be her messenger. Sacrifice is offered to Olos in small temples on the lagoon;  sometimes they also immolate to her human victims to make her favorable to the fisheries.”

“But sacrifices are more frequently offered to her messenger the crocodile, who is supposed to carry to his mistress the offerings of the faithful. To this end the fetich-priests hold up for the adoration of the people the monster who is invested with this charge by the goddess. When the crocodile having the necessary marks is seen, a little cabin is made for him, or rather a few pickets with some palm-branches designate the place chosen for his dwelling, and every five days the fetich priests and priestesses bring him food.”

[2] The Veda is  “revealed knowledge” transmitted orally from Brahmin to Brahmin within Vedism, Brahmanism, and Hinduism. The ‘sacred science’—the Veda—is understood as a unique and eternal consciousness, which over time, successively integrates its multiple manifestations. The evolution  towards contemporary Hinduism leads to the integration of the Upanishads to the Veda, which can finally be described as the  Multiple-Veda without this term signifying that the eternal Veda has lost its fundamental unity. It is a form of unity in multiplicity that Hindu evolution assumes, ignoring the principle of non-contradiction.

[3] VATICAN - ASSISI 2011. Julia Kristeva: The humanism of the Enlightenment must dialogue with Christian humanism.…

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