Italy: Interreligious congress “For a world of peace” in Assisi

Source: FSSPX News


The congress ‘Religion and Culture in Dialogue’ organized by the Sant’Egidio community took place in Assisi on September 4 and 5, 2006. This congress commemorated the interreligious meeting called in Assisi on October 27, 1986, on the initiative of John Paul II. And this time it gathered around 100 religious representatives from the world over. The Catholic Church was represented by Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Councils for Culture and Interreligious Dialogue, and by Cardinal Stanislas Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and former private secretary of John Paul II.

“We live today in a multicultural and multireligious society, which unfortunately bears the earmark of violence and of a ceaseless instrumentalization of religions,” declared Cardinal Poupard at the opening of the congress. “Peace, where it does exist, is threatened” and “religions are often accused of fomenting hatred and creating violence. On the contrary,” he explained, “far from being a problem, they are part of the desirable solution to bring peace and harmony into society.”

The faithful from all religions, affirmed the cardinal, have a first challenge to accept: “to meet faithful from other religious traditions in a spirit of mutual respect, confidence and friendship. In this meeting with other faithful, it is not absolutely necessary to look for common denominators in the various religions. Interreligious dialogue does not aim at reaching a common agreement on doctrines.” On the contrary, he continued, “believers in their meetings with others are called upon to understand the fundamental differences which exist between the religions and to learn to respect them.”

The second challenge to accept, said Cardinal Poupard, is the promotion of “a greater collaboration in order to create a more peaceful and harmonious society. Concretely this means fighting for the promotion of the dignity of each person, through commitment to justice.” Thus “before being a policy, peace is a state of mind,” and it seems necessary that “religions teach peace through purification of memory, reconciliation and forgiveness.” As a matter of fact, “the way to peace begins in the heart of man, when he overcomes his disordered impulsions, his passions, and in pedagogy.” And, “man, the artisan of peace, needs God to be fully a man of peace,” concluded the cardinal.

At the end of the congress, the representatives from the various religions proclaimed a call to peace, after having kept a minute’s silence for “the victims of war, terrorism, and all forms of violence.” Having affirmed that “war was not unavoidable,” this appeal asked that: “those who sow terror, death and violence in the name of God,” may remember that “peace is the name of God,” that “God is stronger than those who want war, cultivate hatred, and live in violence.” Thus, “religions never justify hatred and violence” and “those who use the name of God to annihilate their neighbor depart from pure religion.”

Benedict XVI’s message

Benedict XVI addressed a letter to Bishop Domenico Sorrentino, of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Interreligious Prayer Meeting for peace. This message was read on September 4, 2006, at the opening of the congress “For a world of peace – religion and culture in dialogue” organized by the Sant’Egidio community in Assisi.

“This year is the 20th anniversary of the Interreligious Meeting of Prayer for Peace, desired by my venerable Predecessor John Paul II on 27 October 1986 in Assisi.

It is well known that he did not only invite Christians of various denominations to this Meeting but also the exponents of different religions. The initiative made an important impact on public opinion. It constituted a vibrant message furthering peace and an event that left its mark on the history of our time. Thus, the memory of those events continues to inspire initiatives of reflection and commitment.. (…)

Unfortunately, this dream of peace never came true. On the contrary, the third millennium opened with scenes of terrorism and violence that show no sign of abating. Then, the fact that armed conflicts are taking place today against a background of the geographical and political tensions that exist in many regions may give the impression that not only cultural diversity but also religious differences are causes of instability or threats to the prospect of peace. (…)

Despite the differences that mark the various religious itineraries, recognition of God’s existence, which human beings can only arrive at by starting from the experience of creation (cf. Rom 1: 20), must dispose believers to view other human beings as brothers and sisters. It is not legitimate, therefore, for anyone to espouse religious difference as a presupposition or pretext for an aggressive attitude towards other human beings.

(…) The gathering that the Servant of God John Paul II organized in Assisi appropriately puts the emphasis on the value of prayer in building peace. (…)Among the features of the 1986 Meeting, it should be stressed that this value of prayer in building peace was testified to by the representatives of different religious traditions, and this did not happen at a distance but in the context of a meeting. Consequently, the people of diverse religions who were praying could show through the language of witness that prayer does not divide but unites and is a decisive element for an effective pedagogy of peace, hinged on friendship, reciprocal acceptance and dialogue between people of different cultures and religions.

We are in greater need of this dialogue than ever, especially if we look at the new generations. Sentiments of hatred and vengeance have been inculcated in numerous young people in those parts of the world marked by conflicts, in ideological contexts where the seeds of ancient resentment are cultivated and their souls prepared for future violence. These barriers must be torn down and encounter must be encouraged.

I am glad, therefore, that the initiatives planned in Assisi this year are along these lines and, in particular, that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has had the idea of applying them in a special way for young people.

In order not to misinterpret the meaning of what John Paul II wanted to achieve in 1986 and what, to use his own words, he habitually called the "spirit of Assisi", it is important not to forget the attention paid on that occasion to ensuring that the interreligious Prayer Meeting did not lend itself to syncretist interpretations founded on a relativistic concept.

For this very reason, John Paul II declared at the outset: "The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs" (ibid., n. 2).

I would like to reaffirm this principle which constitutes the premise for the interreligious dialogue that the Second Vatican Council was hoping for, as is expressed in the Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. (Cf. Nostra Ætate, n.2)


It is worth recalling that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, declined to participate at this Assisi Meeting.