This was the third such meeting. The first took place 25 years ago, the second shortly after the events of 11 September 2011. This time, the much discussed moment of common prayer was not included, rather leaders were each given an opportunity to make a contribution, and then separately each had time for prayer and reflection.
The Holy Father's message was that there should be no more violence in the name of religion, that we as Christians have the shameful task of acknowledging that violence has in the past been used in the name of Christianity, and that the contributions of each religion in this life should be "Justice and Peace, Forgiveness and Life, Love"
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. 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. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put "suffering-with" (compassion) and "loving-with" in place of force. His name is "God of love and peace" (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans
The Holy Father also included agnostics in the guest list, picking up on the theme of the homily preached last month in Germany, where he pointed out that agnostics who seek God are closer to the heart of God than those who are ostensibly believers but whose life in faith is lived solely through routine and convention.
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: "There is no God". They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace". They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others.It is important not to misunderstand the events of yesterday. This was not (and neither were the previous Assisi meetings), a watering down of Catholicism, or even of Christianity in any sense, in order to have a 1960s style pow-wow. In no way did yesterday contradict what many, including Blessed John Henry Newman, have said about relativism. Rather, it was a meeting of all those who lead world religions, held with a view to dedicating themselves to peace. Indeed, the Holy Father, when talking of agnostics, commented that each us must seek the truest sense of our faith :
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.This is entirely consistent with what he said in the first quotation above, that violence committed in the name of Christianity contradicts its very nature, and is based on incorrect and falsified understandings.
Regular readers of this blog with keen eyes will note that in some of the footage included above, the Porziuncola can be seen. We have previously talked of the Porziuncola here and here.
St Francis of Assisi, Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.