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.