In a message marking 20 years since the Assisi meeting, Benedict XVI stressed that no one can use faith to justify violence. The inter-faith meeting did not have, nor should it have now, any streaks of syncretism. There was a reference to St Francis: his activities were the fruit of his conversion.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) Religion "cannot be but a herald of peace" and no one may use it as a reason for violence towards other human beings. The statements of John Paul II, which made famous an inter-faith prayer meeting for peace in Assisi in 1986, were echoed today by Benedict XVI in a message to mark 20 years since that event.
Throughout these years, said the pope, the "dream of peace" hoped for at the end of the Cold War did not come about. "If anything, the third millennium started with scenarios of terrorism and violence that do not seem about to go away. Further, the reality that armed conflicts are today unfolding especially against a background of ongoing geo-political tensions in many regions, can give the impression that not only cultural differences but also religious differences may constitute a motive for instability or threats to peace prospects."
In this context, said Benedict XVI, "the initiative promoted 20 years ago to date by John Paul II takes on the mark of a timely prophecy". "Despite the differences characterizing the various religious journeys, the recognition of the existence of God, that mankind can grasp first of all from experiencing creation (cfr Rm 1:20), can only prompt believers to view other human beings as brothers. Hence, it is not legitimate for anyone to use the motive of religious differences as a presupposition or pretext for a warlike attitude towards other human beings." The very wars of religion "cannot be attributed to religion as much, but to cultural limits with which it was lived and developed over time."
The meeting in Assisi was marked by the value of prayer in peace-building. "Peace is a value in which many parts merge. To build it, cultural, political and economical channels are certainly important. In the first place, however, peace must be built in people's hearts. Here in fact, feelings develop that could fuel peace or, on the contrary, threaten, weaken or suffocate it." The "value of prayer in peace-building was highlighted by representatives of different religious traditions," recalled the pope. "This did not happen across long distances but in the context of a meeting." Already in 1986, continued Benedict XVI, attention was drawn to the fact that "the inter-faith prayer meeting should not lend itself to syncretistic interpretations, founded on a relativistic concept."
Pope Ratzinger did not mention them but at the time, and even later, there were controversies about this. It was probably these controversies that prompted the pope to emphasize, when greeting people attending events in Assisi organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio, "the duty" even now to "avoid inopportune confusions. This is why even when people come together to pray for peace, prayer should unfold according to the distinct journeys that belong to each religion. This was the choice of 1986 and it was a decision that cannot but remain valid still today. The convergence of what is different should not give the impression of ceding to that relativism that denies the very meaning of truth and the possibility of drawing from it."
Benedict XVI drew attention to St Francis, for the third time within a few days. "The witness he gave in his time," he wrote, "makes him a natural point of reference for all those who today also cultivate the ideal of peace, of respect for nature, of dialogue between people, between religions and cultures. All the same, it is important to recall, if one does not want to betray his message, that it was the radical choice for Christ that gave him the keys to understand the brotherhood to which all men are called, and to which even inanimate creatures from 'brother sun' to 'sister moon' participate in some way."