No peace without God

Or, the things we (must) do for peace.

Pope Benedict XVI has done it again. With utter clarity, he placed the finger on the sore spot of what is required for peace. Not that he gives an easy recipe for world peace (a nigh impossibility, in any case, since, “violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world”), but he does indicate where we go wrong and what we need to get that much closer to achieving the seemingly impossible (a very Catholic attitude, by the way).

The text, which can be read in English, here, and in Dutch, here, is rich and deserves a thorough reading. Let’s highlight some key points:

  • There are two types of violence and discord, “which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation”: religiously-motivated terrorism on the one hand, and the loss of humanity which comes from the denial of God and which leads to limitless cruelty and violence.
  • Religiously-motivated terrorism challenges everyone who is religious. It asks us what the true nature of religion is and how we can know it.
  • In order for religion to serve peace in the world, despite the fallibility of its adherents, it must continuously purify itself.
  • Denial of God leads to the flourishing of a counter-religion: “The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency.”
  • Force is taken for granted and destroys people.
  • How can we know God and show Him to humanity in order to build true peace?
  • In addition to terrorism and the denial of God there is the growing phenomenon 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.” They ask question of both the atheist and the religious camps.
  • Agnostics seek God and truth, and it is our duty to reveal Him to them true an always purified religion.

But don’t take my word for it, and certainly not the word of the mainstream media, but read what the pope said.

Peace is also joy, as these Franciscan monks seem to want to make clear as they free white doves

Photo credit: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Why I am not against Assisi

Pope Benedict XVI disembarks the train that brought him to Assisi

I haven’t paid much, if any, attention on the blog to today’s interreligious meeting at Assisi, hosted by the pope. The main reason is that I am somewhat taken aback by the onslaught of negative comments about this meeting, even after the program and the intentions have been made public. Even now, as the religious leaders are gathering in the town of Saint Francis, I read tweets warning of dark clouds gathering. And, I’m sorry top say, it’s mostly the ultra-orthodox among us who are so against the whole affair that they are seemingly unable to have some faith in the intelligence and intentions of our Holy Father. From the announcement of the meeting, given during the Angelus of 1 January:

“It will aim to commemorate the historical action desired by my Predecessor and to solemnly renew the commitment of believers of every religion to live their own religious faith as a service to the cause of peace. Those journeying to God cannot but transmit peace, those who are building peace cannot but draw close to God. I ask you, from this moment, to accompany this project with your prayers.”

Now, I do understand some of the concerns that people may have. The 1986 meeting at Assisi did see a mingling of religious traditions, which is at least inconsiderate and at worst a blasphemy. But that is a concern that the Holy Father shares! That is why, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he did not attend the 1986 meeting. But these concerns do not merit an all-out boycott of today’s meeting.

In the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions Nostra Aetate, the Church declared that:

“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (Cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-19).” [2]

Buddhist dignitaries arrive at the Assisi train station

Although they are different and contain less than the full truth, the Church nonetheless recognises that other religions and faiths can contain glimmers of that truth. God, after all, is not limited, and He can reveal Himself to all men of good will, regardless of nationality, affiliation or faith. This does not diminish the fact that He has given the Church as the way to His eternal love, but nor does it doom people who have been unable to come in contact with the Church to eternal damnation.

Other faiths and religions exist. That is a fact of life. All people, and believers especially so, are called to promote peace and justice in the world. What power, what enormous grace must a committed meeting to pray for that peace and strengthen one another in our commitment to it have!

So, no, I am not against Assisi. Its goal is a worthy one, and I have full confidence in our Holy Father that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated. That confidence is confirmed by the program of the meeting: there will gatherings of all kinds of religions, people of different faiths speaking to and with one another. There will be no denying, as mixing them up does, the uniqueness and identity of each faith or religion, least of the Catholic Christian faith.

Photo credit: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images