Vatican Intent on Avoiding Any Hint of Syncretism in Assisi

Next Week’s Event Presented as a Pilgrimage

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 19, 2011 ( With a procession to St. Francis Square next week, 176 religious leaders and representatives of nonbelievers will show that anyone and everyone can and should be a pilgrim seeking truth.

The Oct. 27 event, focused on reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world, commemorates the gathering Pope John Paul II held in Assisi 25 years ago. The theme this year is «Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.»

This year, however, the Vatican is being careful to avoid any suggestion of syncretism, which was a criticism after the ’86 gathering.

A press conference Tuesday was held by a variety of Vatican officials to present the event.

The president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, explained that each representative of world religions will pray according to his own beliefs. 

In addition to Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Shintoists and other representatives of different religious traditions, non-believers have also been invited to Assisi, linked to the Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative.

Muslims will have greater representation than in the past, despite the that arose with Egypt after the Holy Father appealed for protection of Coptic Christians attacked on Christmas Eve.

The Assisi event will conclude with the representatives of the delegations receiving a lamp they will light together.

Cardinal Turkson will be one of the pilgrims, «inviting Christians of different confessions, representatives of religious traditions of the world and, ideally, all men of good will, to join them on this path,» he said.

Common answers

While in Germany last month, Benedict XVI spoke of the objectives for the Assisi meeting.

«Through this gathering,» he told a group of Muslims in Berlin, «we wish to express, with simplicity, that we believers have a special contribution to make towards building a better world, while acknowledging that if our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem.»

Cardinal Turkson observed how 25 years after John Paul II’s initiative, «the world needs peace.»

«After 25 years of collaboration between religions and of common witness it is time to take stock and to re-launch the commitment, given the new challenges,» he reflected. «The challenges are the financial and economic crisis, which is lasting longer than foreseen; the crisis of democratic and social institutions; the food and environmental crisis, the biblical migrations; the more subtle forms of colonialism; the continuous scourge of poverty and hunger; the uncontrollable international terrorism; the growing inequalities and religious discrimination.»

And after last Sunday’s violence against Copts in Egypt, the cardinal continued, «we must say ‘no’ to any instrumentalization of religion.»

«Violence between religions is a scandal that perverts the true identity of religion, veils God’s face, and estranges from the faith,» he declared. «The path of religions to justice and peace, as a primary commitment of conscience that longs for the true and the good, can only be characterized by a common search for truth.»

«The search for truth is a premise for knowing one another better, to overcome all forms of prejudice, but also to overcome syncretism, which clouds identity,» Cardinal Turkson continued. «For all of us to participate on a common path in search of truth means to recognize one’s own specificity on the basis of what makes us equal — we are all capable of truth — and different at the same time.»

The 63-year-old Ghana native added that the search for truth is a condition to «defeat fanaticism and fundamentalism,» which seeks to obtain peace by imposing «one’s own convictions on others.»


Cardinal Turkson outlined the program for the day:

Upon arrival in Assisi, delegates will go to the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, where there will be a moment of commemoration of earlier meetings and further reflection on the topic of the day. The Pope and a few other representatives will give an address there.

This will be followed by a light meal: «a meal that reflects sobriety, which aims to express our coming together in fraternity and, at the same time, participation in the sufferings of so many men and women who know not peace.»

There will then be a time of silence for personal reflection and prayer.

The silent pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Francis will be in the afternoon; those participating in the event will walk to the basilica and the leaders of the various groups will join the pilgrimage for the final stretch.

Cardinal Turskon said that the pilgrimage is an attempt to «symbolize the journey of every human being in the assiduous search for truth and the effective building of justice and peace.»

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