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

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