Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace in Assisi
(©L’Osservatore Romano-6 April 2011) pp 3-4 of 8




On 1 January 2011, after the Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI announced that he wished to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the historic meeting that took place in Assisi on 27 October 1986, at the wish of the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II. On the day of the anniversary, 27 October this year, the Holy Father intends to hold a Day of reflection dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world, making a pilgrimage to the home of St Francis and inviting fellow Christians from different denominations, representatives of the world’s religious traditions and, in some sense, all men and women of good will, to join him once again on this journey.
The Day will take as its theme: “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”. Every human being is ultimately a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness. Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism. To the extent that the pilgrimage of truth is authentically lived, it opens the path to dialogue with the other, it excludes no one and it commits everyone to be a builder of fraternity and peace. These are the elements that the Holy Father wishes to place at the centre of reflection.
For this reason, as well as representatives of Christian communities and of the principal religious traditions, some figures from the world of culture and science will be invited to share the journey - people who, while not professing to be religious, regard themselves as seekers of the truth and are conscious of a shared responsibility for the cause of justice and peace in this world of ours.
The image of pilgrimage therefore sums up the meaning of the event. There will be an opportunity to look back over the path already travelled from that first meeting in Assisi to the following one in January 2002, and also to look ahead to the future, with a view to continuing, in company with all men and women of good will, to walk along the path of dialogue and fraternity, in the context of a world in rapid transformation. St Francis, poor and humble, will once more welcome everyone to his home town, which has become a symbol of brotherhood and peace.
The delegations will set off from Rome by train on the morning of 27 October, together with the Holy Father. Upon arrival in Assisi, they will make their way to the Basilica of S. Maria degli Angeli, where the previous meetings will be recalled and the theme of the Day will be explored in greater depth. Leaders of some of the delegations present will make speeches and the Holy Father will likewise deliver an address. There will follow a simple lunch, shared by the delegates: a meal under the banner of sobriety, intended to express fraternal conviviality, and at the same time solidarity in the suffering of so many men and women who do not know peace. There will follow a period of silence for individual reflection and prayer. In the afternoon, all who are present in Assisi will make their way towards the Basilica of St Francis. It will be a pilgrimage in which, for the fmal stretch, the members of the delegations will also take part; it is intended to symbolize the journey of every human being who assiduously seeks the truth and actively builds justice and peace. It will take place in silence, leaving room for personal meditation and prayer. In the shadow of St Francis’ Basilica, where the previous meetings were also concluded, the final stage of the Day will include a solemn renewal of the joint commitment to peace.
In preparation for this Day, Pope Benedict XVI will preside over a Prayer Vigil at St Peter’s the previous evening, together with the faithful of the Diocese of Rome. Particular Churches and communities throughout the world are invited to organize similar times of prayer. In the coming weeks the Cardinal Presidents of the Pontifical Councils for the Promotion of Christian Unity and of Interreligious Dialogue and the Pontifical Council for Culture will write in the Holy Father’s name to all those invited. The Pope asks the Catholic faithful to join him in praying for the celebration of this important event and he is grateful to all those who will be able to be present in St Francis’ home town to share this spiritual pilgrimage.




CW: The Vatican has released details of next October’s interreligious gathering for peace in the Italian hill town of Assisi. Pope Benedict convened the “spiritual pilgrimage” to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first Assisi meeting by Pope John Paul II in 1986. Today we’ll look at how Pope Benedict is continuing a tradition, but also reshaping it in his own style. I’m Cindy Wooden.

JT: And I’m John Thavis. Twenty-five years ago, the world’s religious leaders joined Pope John Paul in the birthplace of St. Francis to pray for peace. In some ways, it was like a world’s fair of religious expression: Buddhist monks meditated, American Indians chanted and an African chief invoked the Spirit of peace. It was a controversial event, even inside the Vatican. Some thought it risked giving the impression that all religions were equal. One Vatican official who did not attend was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, who was said to have deep reservations about the encounter.

CW: So it surprised some people when Pope Benedict announced he was convening another Assisi meeting. This time, too, representatives of the world’s religions are being invited. But there are a couple of key differences. For one thing, there is no joint prayer service. There are spaces for individual prayer, a shared meal and a final meeting to renew the commitment to peace. This time around the Vatican is emphasizing that the participants are praying in their own distinctive ways.

JT: Does that means Pope Benedict thinks people of different faiths cannot pray together? Not exactly. You may remember that when the German pope went to Turkey in 2006, he stood and prayed next to a Muslim cleric in a mosque. But Vatican organizers of the Assisi gathering want to avoid the impression that prayer is like a melting pot where distinctive religious identities are dissolved. The prayer at this year’s event will also be more private than in 1986, when some felt there was a “performance” atmosphere.

CW: Another big difference this year is that Pope Benedict is inviting those who do not profess any religion to take part in the Assisi pilgrimage. The Vatican said it’s important for religious faiths to dialogue not only with each other, but with all men and women of good will, including unbelievers. The idea is to widen the grounds for dialogue to include all those who regard themselves as seeking the truth and trying to build justice in the world.

JT: In fact, the theme of the day is: Pilgrims for truth, pilgrims for peace. It begins with a train ride –which journalists will of course call the “peace train.” Pope Benedict will host the other delegations on the train that departs Vatican City’s own terminal and arrives in Assisi a few hours later. After speeches, the group will share a simple meal in the spirit of St. Francis,  then have time for silence and personal prayers. At a final gathering, participants will solemnly renew their joint commitment to peace.

CW: This joint declaration will no doubt include a principle that Pope Benedict, like his predecessor, has underlined many times: That violence in the name of religion can never be justified. I’m Cindy Wooden.



 Proclamation and Dialogue exist in creative tension. The following article from Columban Missions, Nov. 2007, p. 11 challenges us.

by Fr. Pat McCaffrey

.....A difficulty in promoting interracial harmony in Fiji is the reluctance in recent years of some Christian churches to participate in interfaith prayer gatherings. All groups, it seems, are willing to be involved in interfaith social work, but some consider interfaith prayer a compromise of their Christian beliefs.
.....Some see interfaith prayer as an endorsement of the belief that followers of different faith traditions are like people swimming in different rivers that will eventually flow into the ocean of God's love. But others believe there is only one river that will take us safely into the haven of God's love.
.....Since Pope John Paul II's charismatic invitation in 1987 to all faith leaders to gather in Assisi to pray for peace, the Catholic Church has made special efforts to promote interfaith prayer for peace. This initiative has been recently endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI.
....The distinction is made that we come together to pray, but we do not pray together. At first blush, this may seem to be nothing more than wordplay. But it does express a truth; it is important to come together to pray, but it is equally important that we do not reduce our separate beliefs to a common denominator in prayer, thereby concealing elements of our faith.
.....Recently in Fiji, we began a monthly interfaith prayer gathering to promote peace in Fiji and throughout the world. The response from Muslims, Hindus, Baha'is, Christians and Mormons has been encouraging.
.....At each meeting, a theme is chosen for the next month's prayer gathering. Each faith community is requested to choose a reading from their respective scriptures and forward this to the coordinator who distributes copies of the readings to everyone who attends. When readings are in an unfamiliar language, such as Arabic, Hindi or Sanskrit, translations are provided.
.....The meeting begins with a common interfaith prayer. Each faith community then shares the reading from their sacred scriptures. This may be a reading hymn or bhaja (a Hindu devotional song). A period of silence, accompanied by soft music, follows each meeting.
.....The prayer time ends with a common prayer. Then, we reflect on what we have accomplished and how we can improve the next time we gather.
.....These prayer gatherings are an important way to help us understand the differences and commonalities in religious beliefs and cultures in Fiji and move closer to the elusive goal of religious harmony.





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