VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As Benedict XVI bid farewell today to the delegations that had joined him Thursday in Assisi, he reflected that the pilgrimage highlighted a genuine desire to contribute to the good of humanity, and “how much we have to share with one another.”
“As we go our separate ways, let us draw strength from this experience and, wherever we may be, let us continue refreshed on the journey that leads to truth, the pilgrimage that leads to peace,” the Pope said to the representatives of world religions and non-believers.
On Thursday, some 176 people — representing not only the world’s religions, but all people of good will, everyone seeking the truth — gathered in Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the event convoked there by Blessed John Paul II in 1986.
The German Pontiff styled the commemoration a pilgrimage, with the theme “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace.”
The Pontiff and members of the various delegations left the Vatican by train at 8 a.m. Thursday, reaching Assisi at 9:45 a.m. where they were greeted by the civil and religious authorities in front of the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. As the ceremony unfolded inside the basilica, the large numbers of faithful present were able to follow events on giant screens set up in the square outside.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, greeted everyone and a video was shown in commemoration of the 1986 meeting.
Then, one after the other, the representatives of the various religions rose to speak: His Holiness Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople; Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury; Archbishop Norvan Zakarian, primate of the Armenian Diocese of France; Reverend Olav Fyske Tveit, secretary-general of the World Council of Churches; Rabbi David Rosen, representative of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel; Wande Abimbola, spokesperson for the Yoruba faith; Acharya Shri Shrivatsa Goswami, representative for Hinduism; Ja-Seung, president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism; Kyai Haji Hasyom Muzadi, secretary-general of the International Conference of Islamic Schools, and Julia Kristeva, representing non-believers.
Benedict XVI’s address reflected on all that has transpired in peace-seeking in the last 25 years. John Paul II’s Assisi gathering was held just before the fall of the Berlin Wall, he noted, and today, the forms of violence are different.
“Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely,” he suggested. “It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail.”
The Holy Father first spoke of terrorism, a phenomenon in which religion “does not serve peace,” but is “used as justification for violence.” A type of discord in which “everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled.”
He then spoke of another religiously-motivated violence: when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others.
But this, the Pope affirmed, “is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction.”
“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” he continued. “We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature.”
Benedict XVI then turned his attention to another basic type of violence, precisely the opposite of the first, that occurs “as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it.”
“The denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion,” the Pope observed.
Though mentioning the concentration camps in this regard, he clarified that he would not speak about state-imposed atheism, but rather “about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous.”
The Pontiff warned of the “worship of mammon, possessions and power” saying this “is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency.”
Ever the professor, Benedict XVI offered a synthesis of his reflection: “I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.”
Then, he moved to a consideration of agnosticism, and those who “suffer from [God’s] absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness.”
“These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practiced,” the Pope said. “Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.”
Benedict XVI described the Assisi event as a “case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. (…) We are animated by the common desire to be ‘pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.'”
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