Bruno Forte on the Penitential Practice of Fasting

Believers and Nonbelievers to Sacrifice for Peace on Ash Wednesday

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ROME, MARCH 4, 2003 ( John Paul II’s invitation that Ash Wednesday be observed as a day of prayer and fasting for peace is acquiring an interreligious dimension.

In an interview on Vatican Radio, Monsignor Bruno Forte, president of the Faculty of Theology of Southern Italy and member of the International Theological Commission, explained the meaning of fasting and the reasons for the favorable reception of the Pope’s initiative.

Q: What are the reasons for the success of this initiative?

Monsignor Forte: Many reasons. Because the Pope has increasingly made himself and is the voice of the whole of humanity that says «no to war» and «yes to peace.» Because his appeal to ethical exigency as a priority, in contrast to mere calculation and economic and political interests, finds a response in the depth of the consciences of a great part of humanity. Because the war, just as it is proposed — a sort of preventive war — has no moral foundation and, therefore, in no way can be justified by man’s conscience.

This is why, when the Pope proposes fasting and prayer, that is, a concrete sign of participation in invoking God for peace but also of commitment to peace, the consensus around him is so great, not only on the part of Catholics, but equally on the part of believers, Christians of other denominations and also nonbelievers who recognize in this voice the voice of the depths of humanity’s conscience that is crying out «no to war» and «yes to peace.»

Q: What is the meaning of fasting for peace?

Monsignor Forte: Fasting has two great meanings in biblical and Christian tradition. On one hand, a penitential meaning — it is a sign of mortification. In the second place, an eschatological meaning — it is the sign of desire, of expectation, of hope.

When one expects someone important in one’s life, it is as if even hunger and thirst take second place. Well then, the two meanings are combined in the Pope’s proposal.

There is need for purification, because what is happening in the world is certainly the result of the logic of egoism and therefore of a burden of guilt that we must expiate and of which we have to purify ourselves in a certain measure before God.

On the other hand, there is this great expectation, this hope of peace, that exists in the depth of humanity’s heart and of which, precisely, the Pope has made himself the echo.

Q: Is fasting a practice that Christians share with other believers? Does it mean that it might help interreligious dialogue?

Monsignor Forte: I am increasingly convinced that the most authentic, profound meeting place at the level of the interreligious dialogue is that of mystical experience, namely, the living encounter with God.

Fasting is a means for this type of encounter and certainly the fact that believers of other religious traditions have adhered to the Pope’s proposal does no more than confirm that the commitment to peace can be an area of real ecumenical and interreligious convergence.

Q: What does fasting mean for a nonbeliever?

Monsignor Forte: I think that in this case it means, above all, an unconditional «yes» to the line that the Pope has reflected of «no to war» and of «yes to peace.» A «yes» to the ethical exigencies that are involved, but I would also say to the spiritual exigencies of renewal that the Pope sees joined to a commitment of this type.

Q: Can fasting and prayer really change the course of history?

Monsignor Forte: What I believe is that God can change the course of history, and fasting and prayer are certainly a strong sign directed to his heart so that he will have mercy on this humanity.

Thus, the impossible can be possible: what seems humanly secure — that the logic of arms, and of economic and political interests prevail — might be profoundly shattered by this movement of conversion, renewal, prayer, invocation, of which the Pope is voice for the whole of humanity.

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