Meetings in the 'Spirit of Assisi' amid ‘global scepticism’
by Bernardo Cervellera

This afternoon an interreligious meeting will be held in Rome, at Santa Maria in Ara Coeli and then in Piazza del Campidoglio, on the theme “No-one is saved alone. Peace and Fraternity". Pope Francis, Bartholomew I, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist representatives will be present. The scepticism of a part of the Christian world, which fears the birth of a "universal religion". The scepticism of the technocratic world, for which God has become useless.

Rome (AsiaNews) - This afternoon, the 34th international meeting in the "Spirit of Assisi" will be held in the Eternal City organized by the community of St. Egidio. Today’s appointment is in the wake of the historic 1986 meeting in the city of the Poverello St Francis, where dozens of members of the world religions gathered together with John Paul II to pray for peace.

This time - albeit within limits imposed by current health restrictions - Pope Francis will be joined by Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders. At 4 pm there will be a moment of prayer for Christians in the basilica of Santa Maria in Ara Coeli, attended by the pontiff and the patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople. At the same time, Jewish guests will pray in the synagogue in Rome and Buddhists and Muslims will pray in some rooms of the Capitoline Museums.

At 5.15 pm, all the religious leaders will gather in the Piazza del Campidoglio for a final moment, in which the signing of a common appeal for peace is also expected.

The theme of the day follows a sentence pronounced by Pope Francis, at the beginning of the pandemic, together with a few words of his new encyclical "Fratelli tutti", also signed in the "Spirit of Assisi", on the tomb of the St Francis and with the contribution of the great imam of Al Azhar. The theme of the day is “No one saves himself alone. Peace and Fraternity". It is presumable that the gathering will focus on how we must confront the pandemic and post-Covid situation, by taking care of each other, taking care of our common home ...

Since the first meeting in 1986, these interreligious gatherings have met with two types of scepticism. The first is widespread among many Christians, who see the relationship with members of other religions as an automatic questioning of the truth of Christianity, a slide into a universal common "religion" made up of political correctness and pacifist or ecological slogans.

In reality, since the time of John Paul II attempts have been made to explain that the members of religions "meet to pray" and do not "pray together". In other words: each remains faithful to his or her tradition, which however does not distract them or oppose them to the religious search for the other. Of course, the many episodes of violence that occur in the world because of religions, or with religions used as a smoke screen, do not facilitate the fraternity hoped for and signed by Pope Francis and the great imam of Al Azhar, but the fact remains that people who look beyond outside of themselves, to God, and who walk in religious enthusiasm are also important for Christians who have known the human face of God in Jesus Christ and for this reason they know how to welcome the seeds of the Word scattered in humanity.

The second type of scepticism comes from the atheistic, or secularized world which perceives God as useless in their world where modern technology is all powerful. This type of mentality, which is dominant in the political, economic, cultural world, regards the "Spirit of Assisi" as a kind of feel-good accessory, full of good will and sentiments, but ineffective in the hot buttom issues that haunt the planet. Yet the popes - from Paul VI to Pope Francis - have continually shown that steps towards peace and coexistence are impossible without safeguarding the dignity of oneself and of the other, which can only be guaranteed by a religious vision of reality. At the same time, they have also illustrated how the contradictions in which the world is mired (ecology, war, coexistence, justice, economy, ...) are the fruit of a mentality which, precisely because it denies God, is engulfed up in violence, in isolation, indifference, in the danger of destroying the entire planet, while congratulating itself on achievements in science and technology. It is worth remembering that Benedict XVI's Regensburg speech touched on precisely this point: positivist reasoning risks being unable to face the problems of coexistence on the planet, if it does not also open to the religious dimension, considered to all intent and purpose as an essential part of human reason.

Either way, precisely because of these scepticisms, celebrating moments in the "Spirit of Assisi" means continuously laying the foundations for a truer development for the faith and for the world.