VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI confirmed the importance of interreligious prayer meetings for peace and emphasized that, to be coherent, they must respect the various religious traditions while avoiding syncretism.
The Holy Father explained this in a lengthy message sent to Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi-Nocera, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Interreligious Prayer Meeting for Peace, which Pope John Paul II convoked in the city made famous by St. Francis.
To commemorate that event, the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, in cooperation with the Diocese of Assisi, organized a two-day meeting of leaders of various religions, whose theme is “For a World of Peace — Religions and Cultures in Dialogue.” The meeting ends Tuesday.
In his message, Benedict XVI recalled that, with the Assisi meeting John Paul II “underlined the value of prayer in the building of peace.”
Of importance to build peace, the papal message acknowledges, are “ways of a cultural, political and economic character. However, in the first place, peace must be built in hearts.”
“Here is where the sentiments are developed that can encourage it or, on the contrary, threaten, weaken and suffocate it,” Benedict XVI wrote. “Man’s heart, in fact, is the place where God acts.
“Therefore, together with the ‘horizontal’ dimension of relationships with other men, of fundamental importance in this matter is the ‘vertical’ dimension of each one’s relationship with God, in whom everything finds its foundation.”
That is why, he recalled, John Paul II “appealed for an authentic prayer, which would involve the whole of existence. For this reason, he wanted it to be supported by fasting and expressed through pilgrimage, symbol of the journey to the encounter with God.”
Such a prayer, “entails on our part conversion of heart,” clarified Benedict XVI. “In this way, the worshippers of the different religions were able to show, with the language of testimony, that prayer does not divide but unites, and constitutes a determinant element for an effective pedagogy of peace, based on friendship, mutual acceptance [and] dialogue between men of different cultures and religions.”
This lesson, Benedict XVI stated, is essential today, when “many young people, in areas of the world characterized by conflicts, are educated in sentiments of hatred and vengeance, in ideological contexts in which the seeds of old resentments are cultivated and spirits prepare for future violence.”
However, so as not to betray the spirit of John Paul II’s prayer convocation in Assisi for peace, it is necessary to recall the importance he gave to avoiding “syncretistic interpretations, founded on a relativist conception,” contended Benedict XVI.
According to these conceptions, in which there is no absolute truth, all religions are valid, so that no essential differences exist among one another.
The Bishop of Rome clarified that interreligious prayer meetings do not seek “a religious consensus among ourselves or negotiation of our convictions of faith.” Rather, they manifest that “religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project that exceeds them all.”
Thus they are not “a concession to relativism in religious beliefs,” contended Benedict XVI.
He noted that “it is a duty go avoid confusions. … When we are together to pray for peace, it is necessary that prayer be developed according to those different ways that are proper to the different religions.
“This was the choice made in 1986 and this choice cannot but continue to be valid also today. The convergence of diversity must not give the impression of being a concession to that relativism that denies the meaning itself of truth and the possibility to attain it.”