Sant'Egidio Founder on 1986 Assisi Meeting of Religious Leaders

“Twenty-five Years Have Passed … and the World Is Much Changed”

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ROME, JULY 13, 2011 ( Here is the statement of Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, that was published Tuesday in the L’Osservatore Romano, on the meeting to be held this October in Assisi with representatives of the world’s religions and non-believers titled “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.”

The meeting is the third in a series of similar gatherings held in the Italian town, the first two were held in 1986 and 2002. The 1986 meeting was called by John Paul II on the occasion of the U.N. International Year of Peace, and the next meeting, on Jan. 24, 2002, was convoked by John Paul II following the Sept. 11 attacks, and it was geared especially to ward off the danger of a confrontation with Islam.

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Twenty-five years have passed since the event in Assisi in 1986 and the world is much changed. Then, western culture considered religions a reality which modernity had done away with. Blessed John Paul II, on the contrary, intuited the public force of religions, despite secularization. He knew that religions could be attractive to war-like passions. Worried about the cold war, he invited leaders of Christian religions and other world religions to Assisi.

There was no shortage of encounters between religions: often dialogue that did not respect the substance of faith alternated with calls from religious leaders for this or that political cause. John Paul II stood apart from such models of encounter. He wanted Assisi to be a day of prayer and silence: different from interreligious conferences. It hinged on an invocation for peace: “More perhaps than ever before in history,” he said, “the intrinsic link between an authentic religious attitude and the great good of peace has become evident to all.”

The event surprised the world, struck by the image of the Pope amongst religious leaders. Some spoke of it as a television performance. Even peace needs to touch the hearts of people. The event of 1986 was, as Benedict XVI has written, “an accurate prophecy.”

It is useful to look at the path marked out by Benedict XVI with his encounters from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, to the Synagogue in Rome and which, in October 2011 will reach Assisi. Speaking in Naples in 2007 at the meeting of religious leaders promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the Pope said, “we are all called to work for peace and to be effectively committed to furthering reconciliation among peoples.

This is the true “spirit of Assisi” which opposes every form of violence and the abuse of religion as a pretext for violence.” The logic of fighting is not the future of humanity. We need to direct hearts and minds not towards a clash of civilizations, but towards the civility of living together.

The Pope concluded, “In the face of a world torn apart by conflicts, where violence in God’s Name is at times justified, it is important to reaffirm that religions can never become vehicles of hatred…On the contrary, religions can and must offer precious resources to build a peaceful humanity because they speak of peace to the human heart.”

This is the challenge of Assisi but it is also a challenge of living together in peace amongst people of different traditions and identities. In the difficult crossroads of history, the Catholic Church, while it witnesses its faith in Jesus Christ, serves the unity of nations hoping to encourage a sense of the holiness of peace and of human life in the hearts of followers of all religions.

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