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Pablo Blanco, Professor of Canon Law

A train to peace

Thu, 27 Oct 2011 11:52:00 +0000 Published in Alpha and Omega

Unlike that old locomotive that took him to John XXII (times have changed), the train that will take Benedict XVI to Assisi this Thursday, on pilgrimage to pray for peace, will be an Italian high-speed train model . Joseph Ratzinger will return to Assisi, twenty-five years after the meeting interreligious prayer for peace convoked by Karol Wojtyla. In 1986 the meeting was criticized, even within the Roman Curia: "Doesn't this open the way to indifferentism and religious relativism?" was the question asked by some. And today, why was Benedict XVI going to Assisi now? Why was he taking that train again?

A train to peace, that was what John Paul II had said. The historian Giovanni Maria Vian, director of the Osservatore Romano, said in his assessment of the event: "Assisi is a symbolic event, which nevertheless gave rise to misinterpretations that were clarified with the Dominus Iesus declaration of 2000. And in 2002 it was Cardinal Ratzinger who accompanied the Pope [John Paul II] to the city of St. Francis. On April 20, 2005, the day after the election, Benedict XVI called for "an open and sincere dialogue" with other cultures and religions. So they are going to the same thing.

The meetings in Assisi have a history. "In 1986 the world was under the threat of nuclear war. Pope Wojtyla wanted to show that religions are factors of peace, not of division and hatred. And he prayed for peace. In January 2002, four months after the American attacks [of September 11], he called for another meeting to show that the sacred name of God cannot be used to justify hatred and violence. Now, his successor, the great pope-theologian, is going to repeat the same gesture, and indicate to us the need to pray more for peace in a world where violence in general, and violence against Christians in particular, is increasing." "Christ is our peace", was the motto. One cannot kill in the name of God: it is madness and a great contradiction.

The event will also be attended by Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, the Anglican Primate Rowan Williams, Olav Tveit of the World Council of Churches committee , among many other representatives of all world religions. They are joined by some representatives of non-believers, among them Julia Kristeva, linguist, writer and psychoanalyst. As the Spanish Monsignor Sanchez de Toca indicated, for the first time the Pope has invited non-believers to a religious meeting , because "he is convinced - and this is the basis of this innovative decision - that the human being, believer or not, is always in search of God".

The German pope sent a letter staff last March 4 to the Lutheran pastor, Professor Peter Beyerhaus, a former colleague of his in Tübingen, who had sent him a letter last February in which he expressed his perplexity about the syncretistic risk of a new convocation of the workshop of Assisi. In it he asked Benedict XVI what his intentions were for participating in it. I understand very well," Benedict XVI wrote to him, "your concern about my participation in the meeting of Assisi. But this commemoration had to be celebrated anyway and, after all, it seemed best to me to go there personally so that I could try in this way to determine the direction".

Which direction? It is possible that, especially in 1986, there were gestures that led to certain misunderstandings, but much has happened since then: among other things, the so-called "religious pluralism" (more relativist than pluralist) and the declaration Dominus Iesus, which takes its degree scroll from the exultant and decisive affirmation of St. Paul: "Jesus is Lord" (Phil 5:21), the Son of God and, therefore, the Savior. We are all saved in Christ, even a Muslim, a Buddhist or a Jehovah's Witness. In the face of possible fears of a possible religious relativism, perhaps this is an opportunity to trust once again in the pope-theologian. "It would be better in any case," a French correspondent predicted, "to pay attention to the Assisi 2011 vintage. A wine of this subject, refined by the maturation of time can surprise".