Cardinal Levada on October Assisi Meeting

«The Church Must Be Leaven of This Unity for the Whole of Humanity»

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 8, 2011 ( Here is a translation of a statement by Cardinal William Joseph Levada, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, that was published Wednesday regarding the day of prayer for peace that will be held in Assisi. The October event will gather representatives of the world’s religions, as well as nonbelievers.

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The announcement that next Oct. 27, Benedict XVI will go as a pilgrim to Assisi for a «day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world» shows that the religious experience in its different forms is the object of the Church’s attention in the third millennium. Given the present spread of atheism and agnosticism, man must be helped to safeguard and rediscover the awareness of his elementary bond (re-ligio) with the origin from which he stems. This awareness, which naturally makes itself prayerful, is also a condition of peace and justice in the world.

In his book-interview of 1994, Blessed John Paul II recalled the Assisi meeting of 1986, stating that, together with his numerous visits to countries of the Far East, it convinced him more than ever that «the Holy Spirit works efficaciously even outside the visible organism of the Church.» Nevertheless, well aware of the delicacy of the issue, shortly after that meeting, on Dec. 7, 1990, he taught in his encyclical «Redemptoris Missio,» that the Spirit «manifests himself in a special way in the Church and in her members. Nevertheless, his presence and activity are universal, limited neither by space nor time.» Recalling the Second Vatican Council, he recalled the work of the Spirit «in the heart of every man through the ‘seeds of the Word,’ to be found in human initiatives — including religious ones — and in mankind’s efforts to attain truth, goodness and God himself,» who prepares us «for full maturity in Christ» (No. 28). Hence, in the same encyclical not only did he reaffirm the need and urgency of the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, but he opposed energetically an «indifferentism, which, sad to say, is found also among Christians. It is based on incorrect theological perspectives and is characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another'» (No. 36).

In complete harmony with this concern is also the theological and pastoral reflection of Joseph Ratzinger: Already in 1964 he manifested his intention to «show more clearly the place of Christianity in the history of religions and thereby to reinvest with some concrete and particular meaning theological statements about the uniqueness and the absolute value of Christianity» (J. Ratzinger, Fede, Verita, Tolleranza. Il Cristianesimo e le Religioni del Mondo, 17 (Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, 19)). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by him, would take up this topic again with the declaration «Dominus Iesus» about the oneness and the universality of Jesus Christ and of the Church. The document, published on Aug. 6, 2000, was not intended solely to refute the idea of an interreligious coexistence in which the various «beliefs» would be recognized as complementary ways of the fundamental one which is Jesus Christ (cf. John 14:6); it intended, more profoundly, to lay the doctrinal basis of a reflection on the relationship between Christianity and religions.

Because of his unique relationship with the Father, the person of the Incarnate Word is absolutely unique; the salvific work of Jesus Christ is prolonged in his Body, the Church, and the Church is also absolutely unique ordered to the salvation of all men. To accomplish this work, both in Christians as well as non-Christians, it is always and only the Spirit of Christ that the Father gives to the Church, «sacrament of salvation»: that is why there are not, ordered to salvation, complementary ways to the one universal economy of the Son made flesh, even if outside the Church of Christ elements are found of truth and goodness (cf. Nostra Aetate, 2; Ad Gentes, 9).

The Assisi meeting had a follow-up on Jan. 24, 2002. On that occasion Cardinal Ratzinger felt the need to clarify further its meaning, making himself the voice of those who questioned themselves seriously on this matter: «Can this be done? Is it not the case that the majority of people are given the false illusion of an association that in reality does not exist? Is not relativism thus fostered, the opinion that at bottom there are only penultimate differences that arise between the ‘religions’? Is not the seriousness of the faith thus weakened and in this way, in the end, God distances himself further from us? Is not the sentiment reinforced of being left alone?» (Fede, Verita, Tolleranza, 111). The reader can refer to the precise definitions which have not lost their topical interest.

Here we would rather ask ourselves: Why, if he was so aware of the possible misunderstandings of the gesture of his blessed predecessor, has Benedict XVI felt it opportune to go as a pilgrim to Assisi on the occasion of a new meeting for peace and justice in the world?

We find a first indication in Cardinal Ratzinger’s recollection regarding the meeting of 2002. On the day after the meeting he recalled the figure of the man dressed in white, now elderly, seated together with the others on the train to Assisi: «Men and women, who in daily life too often confront one another with hostility and seem divided by insurmountable barriers, greeted the Pope who, with the force of his personality, the profundity of his faith, the passion that derives from it for peace and reconciliation, brought about through the charism of his office what seemed impossible: to bring together in a pilgrimage for peace representatives of divided Christianity and representatives of different religions» (30Giorni, 1/2002).

Religion, far from deterring the building of the earthly city, drives rather to a commitment to it. For us Christians, this means first of all interceding with God, leaving to others, despite their diversity — believers and non-believers, who are also invited to the forthcoming Assisi meeting — to join us in the quest for peace and justice in the world. And, the cardinal added at the time, «if we as Christians undertake the path to peace in the example of St. Francis, we should not fear losing our identity: it is really then that we find it» (ibid.). In short it is not a question of hiding the faith for the sake of a superficial unity, but of confessing — as John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch then did — that Christ is our peace, and that precisely because of this the path of peace is the path of the Church. The face of the «God of peace» (Romans 15:33), again said Joseph Ratzinger, «made itself visible to us through faith in Christ» (ibid.). And this peace is a fullness not only offered and transmitted (cf. John 20:19), received already always by the «Ecclesia sancta et immaculata» (Ephesians 5:27), at the same time as gift and as task in confrontations with the world, which is the «theater of man’s history» (Gaudium et Spes, 2).

We are reminded of this by Vatican II: «obeying the command of Christ and influenced by the grace and love of the Holy Spirit, [the Church is] fully present to all men or nations, in order that, by the example of her life and by her preaching, by the sacraments and other means of grace, she may lead them to the faith, the freedom and the peace of Christ» (Ad Gentes, 5). Because «all men are called to union with Christ» (Lumen Gentium, 3), the Church must be leaven of this unity for the whole of humanity: not only with the proclamation of the Word of God, but with the lived testimony of the profound union of Christians with God. This is the authentic path of peace.

The title chosen for the next Day of Assisi — Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace — gives us a second indication: to be able realistically to hope in the building t
ogether of peace, it is necessary to put truth as criterion. «Ethos without logos does not hold» (J. Ratzinger, Vi ho chiamati amici. La compagnia nel cammino della fede, 71). Instructed by the painful experiences of the totalitarian ideologies, the Pope abhors every form of subordination of reason to practice. But there is much more to it. The original bond between ethos and logos, and between religion and reason, lies ultimately in Christ, the divine Logos: precisely because of this, Christianity is able to restore this bond to the world, participating, as real and effective sign of Jesus Christ, in his unique mission of salvation (cf. Lumen Gentium, 9). Hence, «that relativism that affects clearly to a greater or lesser degree the doctrine of the faith and of the profession of faith» (Vi ho chiamati amici, 71) is to be refuted decisively. However this, far from constituting a belittling of the different religious expressions or the ethical dimension is, rather, their appreciation: «We must try to find a new patience — without indifference — with one another and with the others; a new capacity to let be what is other and another person; a new willingness to differentiate the levels of unity and, hence, to realize the elements of unity that are possible now» (ibid.). Peace without truth is not possible, and vice versa: the attitude to peace constitutes an authentic «criterion of truth» (J. Ratzinger, Europa. I suoi fondamenti oggi e domani, 79).

[Translation by ZENIT]
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