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Religions Reaffirm Commitment to Peace

 

From: Herder Korrespondenz, 12/2011, P. 601 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation

 

    Exactly 25 years after the first, by John Paul II initiated peace meeting of world religions, their representatives have gathered again in late October in Assisi. They condemned decidedly all violence, especially in the name of God.

 

It was a surprise, when in early January Benedict XVI announced that he wanted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the prayer meeting in Assisi with a similar event there: as prefect of the CDF he had in his time belonged to the most determined critics. In 1986, John Paul II had invited the leaders of world religions to pray in the city of St. Francis for universal peace (see HK, October 2011, 487 ff). In 2002, after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the prayer meeting was repeated (see HK, March 2002, 109 ff.

 

Less Prominent Representatives

When now to the day 25 years later on 27 October the religious leaders with the "Frecciargento" (Silver Arrow) jointly started from the Vatican Railway Station, in order to travel to Umbria, there were more than ever before. About 300 representatives of 12 religions and 31 Christian churches from more than 50 countries took part this time, in order to call for peace in the world. In the first meeting the representatives of other religions had been more famous. This time, besides the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, the President of the Lutheran World Federation, Munib Younan, the Primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Olav Fykse Tveit, but also the General Secretary of the International Conference of Islamic Schools, Kyai Haji Hasyim Muzadi, and David Rosen for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate were among the most important participants.

A total of 50 representatives of Muslims and 67 Buddhists were counted by the Catholic News Agency, along with 17 Shintoists, five Hindus, five Sikhs, three Taoists, three Confucians and one Bahai. Four delegates represented the traditional religions of Africa, America and India, 13 others the so-called new religions of Japan. It goes without saying that the representatives of the religions represent those dialogue-oriented movements with which the Vatican maintains the corresponding relationships.

A novelty of this year's meeting was the invitation of four agnostic intellectuals, as e.g. the literary scholar and psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva, who comes from Bulgaria and lives in Paris.

This certainly indicates also that the emphasis of the by Benedict XVI organized peace meeting should be different from that of 25 years ago: In contrast to 1986, this time there was no common prayer, the principal focus was the appeal for peace. A jointly covered silent pilgrimage corresponded most likely to that element of prayer. The delegates meditated and prayed separately. Any semblance of a mix of religions should be avoided - which also in 1986 had naturally not been the goal.

The final declaration, which then was rendered in several languages by various participants, was all the more remarkable: In it essential points of the speeches of the major religious leaders in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the morning were of importance. Here and there, they condemned decidedly all violence, especially in the name of God. "Never again violence! Never again war! Never again terrorism!" At the end of the declaration they emphasized that, "in the name of God, every religion brings justice and peace, forgiveness and life, and love."

Already at the beginning it says programmatically, "Although we belong to different religious traditions, we affirm that it is necessary to build peace, to love one's neighbor and to observe the Golden Rule." Peace is a gift of God and a common good of humankind, whereas violence and terrorism contradict the authentic spirit of the religions.

In a separate twelfth point, finally, the "humanists in dialogue with the believers" adopt the essential statements of the declaration. Also believers and non believers should live in mutual trust and jointly pursue the search for truth, justice and peace.

The religious leaders want to understand their declaration in front of the Basilica of San Francesco also as a self-commitment to eliminating the causes of terrorism - without going into details. After all, this explicitly includes the intention "to forgive each other's mistakes and prejudices of the past and present."

 

Authentic Religions do Not Promote Violence

In his speech in the morning, Pope Benedict XVI had already acknowledged with great frankness that in history also in the name of the Christian faith force has been used ("We acknowledge it with great shame"). And he added, "But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature."

 


602

While 25 years ago at the peace meeting hosted by his predecessor, the threat of a major war was hanging in the air, today the central threat is global terrorism, the pope made a statement of principle on the current situation. However, religion is perverted if it does not serve the peace but the justification of violence. The world of freedom has proved to be "largely directionless": It is misinterpreted by not a few as somehow including freedom for violence. But where violent actions are connected with religious reasons, this is not least particularly problematic against the background of the history of criticism of religion: "the post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence. The fact that today religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons."

 

Restrained Media Coverage

But Benedict XVI pointed out "a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of Godís absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion." This is a "decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous."

Against this background, the Pope expressly acknowledged the so-called devout atheists. There are "in the growing world of agnosticism" after all also those people "to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God." Their merit: People who suffer from the absence of God take away from militant atheists the false certainty.

In this context, Benedict XVI took up also a theme of the speeches on his journey to Germany. He wants that this kind of search for God is understood as question to the Christians: "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 practised. 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." He has therefore deliberately invited delegates of this group to Assisi.

Despite all the innovations of this year's meeting of Assisi, it was perceived on the whole rather as a copy of the event of 1986. The affirmation of the will for peace by the religious leaders was hardly surprising as regards content. Strong images were missing, and so the coverage in the non-church media was very restrained.

True, it is currently still an open question to what extent the peace summit will cause new conflicts within the Catholic Church and thus disturb the ecclesiastical peace. After all, the prayer meeting of the world religions in Assisi in 1986 belonged at that time to the weightiest points of criticisms by the SSPX, towards which in recent years Benedict XVI attempted to be accomodating.

It was hardly surprising that they in advance also severely criticized the anniversary meeting. Already in January the Superior General Bernard Fellay asked Benedict XVI to explain primarily the religious leaders, who were invited to Assisi, that apart from Christ there is no way to salvation. And in the meantime he has called upon the district superiors in view of the peace meeting to do rosary prayers, the stations of cross, and other atonement church services. The day in Assisi may therefore not inspire the currently still open result of the negotiations on the status of the SSPX in the Catholic Church.

Conversely, one can note that with the day in Assisi the Pope has at least given a sign that it is impossible to go back behind the achieved cooperation with the other religions.

 

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