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Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace View Comments
By Pat McCloskey, OFM

In the piazza outside the Lower Basilica of St. Francis, Pope Benedict XVI and participants renew
their commitment to work for peace and justice in the world.

ATTRACTED BY the peacemaking St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI, 300 representatives of Christianity and other world religions and four philosophers who identify themselves as nonbelievers gathered in Assisi on Oct. 27. This was the 25th anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s historic gathering to commit religious leaders to work for world peace. The day was organized by the pontifical councils for justice and peace, culture, interreligious dialogue and the promotion of Christian unity.

Official participants went by train with the pope to Santa Maria degli Angeli, the Assisi suburb named for the nearby small chapel that St. Francis rebuilt in 1206. A video of the 1986 ecumenical and interfaith event was shown. After representatives of the Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, World Council of Churches, Grand Rabbinate of Israel, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists gave testimonies for peace, professor Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-born humanist, philosopher and psychoanalyst, spoke.

Writing for Catholic News Service, John Thavis reported Kristeva’s call to create forms of cooperation between Christian humanism and the humanism of the Enlightenment, a risky path but one worth taking. She called Pope John Paul II “an apostle of human rights.”

Pope Benedict XVI then observed that the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall was a victory of freedom, “which was also, above all, a victory of peace.” Noting that some people have used freedom for violence, the pope admitted “with great shame” that some Christians have tried to promote religion violently, contradicting religion’s true purpose. He said that gross violations of human rights have occurred when God’s role in human development has been denied.

Following a frugal meal in the adjoining St. Mary of the Angels Friary, official participants went to rooms in a nearby guesthouse for reflection and personal prayer.


Pat McCloskey, O.F.M., the Franciscan editor of this publication, attended the 1986 event in Assisi. His 12-talk series, “Sinful Priests, Scandal in the Church and the Hope of St. Francis,” was recently published by Now You Know Media.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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