Why this Assisi meeting will be different

The interfaith prayer gathering happening next week will carry Pope Benedict’s own stamp, according to CNS, and welcome into dialogue in a special way nonbelievers and agnostics:

The Oct. 27 event marks the 25th anniversary of the first such gathering. As in 1986, it is expected to draw representatives from many Christian denominations and more than a dozen other faiths.

In convening the prayer summit, Pope Benedict XVI is clearly reaffirming the ecumenical and interreligious outreach of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II. But the German pope has also marked out his own course, with modifications and additions that, in the Vatican’s view, leave the event less open to misinterpretation.

For one thing, the participants will not pray together — at least, not in a formal fashion. They will gather at the end of the day for a moment of silence and testimonials to peace.

Although the border between prayer and reflection may be ambiguous in such encounters, it appears that Assisi 2011 will not repeat the formula of 1986, when representatives of each major religion offered a prayer at a final joint service.

Just as 25 years ago, participants will break off during the day for separate prayer services. But the difference is that this time around the prayers will be private moments in a cloistered monastery, not public performances throughout the town of Assisi…

…The third and perhaps most striking element of Pope Benedict’s Assisi gathering is that the Vatican has invited five prominent nonbelievers to participate. The group includes the well-known British philosopher A.C. Grayling, who has argued that religion has had a disproportionately large influence in society.

The Vatican made a point of inviting them because, although nonbelievers, they are seen as actively engaged in a debate over ethics, metaphysics and truth. That reflects the aim of the Vatican’s new “Courtyard of the Gentiles” project, which seeks to promote discussions between Christians and nonbelievers around the world.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, is coordinating the Vatican project. He will host a round table discussion in Rome with the five nonbelievers and Catholic intellectuals the day before the Assisi encounter. In Assisi, one of the five, Bulgarian philosopher and feminist Julia Kristeva, will speak at the main papal event.

This is a riskier dialogue gamble than the Vatican normally takes, but it does seem to reflect a priority of Pope Benedict. On his recent trip to Germany, the pope shocked many listeners when he declared that agnostics who struggle with the question of God are closer to the kingdom of God than “routine” Catholics whose hearts are untouched by faith.

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33 responses to “Why this Assisi meeting will be different”

  1. St. Francis of Assisi, started the dialogue with a Sultan during the crusades. He was trying to make peace then…as we should try now.
    To begin, we need to be able to dialogue..to talk with each other…
    even to pray together.
    Lets hope that, like Francis of Assisi, we find a way.

  2. In 1986 the various religious leaders prayed together. In 2011 they will not pray together. this is a big step back… Francis, JPII, Jesus will not be pleased…. What is the moral/ doctrinal basis to refuse to pray together? How many times have the leaders of the Catholic church howled when pubic prayer has been blocked by atheists?
    SSPX will be pleased though..
    Laity of attending faiths should hold hands and pray together.. What can happen?? the Italian Prime Minister slob will call out the Carabinieri?

  3. Why would anyone be upset about not praying together? For cripes sake, people, folks from other religions are praying to different god(s), god(s) whose existence Catholics reject (just as they reject our God). Work towards a coomon goal of peace: good. Discussion and mutual understanding: good. Everyone holding hands and praying to each other’s false gods (from their own perspective): not so good.

    Let’s get a grip here.

  4. Deacon Den #5

    Hate to tell you, guy, but you stay for the same reason I do. Our own personal faith commitments brought us to this point in our lives at the same time that many others in our church have reached a different point.

    To all those who have not thought about it much, our church is a “universal” church — that is what the Greek word “catolicos” really means. We are big enough and broad enough and wide enough to welcome everyone. PERIOD!

    The real problem however, is that the component constituencies WITHIN our very diverse church do not like each other very much. Quiet mystics tend to get angry with the loud and noisy Catholic Charismatics; center-right Catholics tend to condemn center-left ones and the feeling is often mutual; rural parishes created by German-American Catholic farm-owners tend to be very un-hospitable to Mexican-American Catholic farm laborers. And we still have bitter feuds going on between historic Irish “nationality” parishes and those of almost every other European group (in our town, it is the Irish versus the Germans; in a neighboring town it is the Germans versus the Italians).

    Welcome to the real world! Glad Benedict XVI is trying to “get folks to get-along.” I have no idea whether it will work any better this time than last — I’ll leave that up to the Spirit of the Living God.

  5. vox ,Who would get upset about people praying together?? The Anglican God does not like the RC God? And the Reformed God doesn’t like either one of them? Yahweh is older than all of them. Is Allah a false God or is he Yahweh viewed from another perspective? Same God I think. If our Church is really interested in Christian unity and just not offering lip service, then it should take the lead. I am one of those who thinks prayer is a good thing, and in fact Christian unity will never come about without it. But some peoople really don’t care about it anyway.
    Norb, I like the inclusive big tent thing, but don’t like being told by people who don’t think like me that I am a bad deacon. Where did these people come from?

  6. Jesus ate with everyone, worked with everyone, prayed with and for everyone…He didn’t care if they were Samaritan Women, Roman Centurions, Sinners, Lepers, etc. People didn’t need to prove their worthiness or produce documentation demonstrating that they were part of the “in” group. St. Francis was exactly the same. The more we follow the example of Jesus and St. Francis, the better off we will be.

  7. Thanks Mike, for making it so clear! Yes, we are to follow Jesus and his teachings. We get into trouble when we lose sight of him.

  8. @ 8 Deacon Den,

    well, Yahweh is certainly not older than all of them, given that God (from an RC perspective) is unchanging and triune. hence, the RC God is as old as Yahweh. Allah is most certainly not the same god viewed from a different perspective, unless by different perspectiev you mean denying the divinity of Jesus. I’m pretty certain that the Buddhist and Hindu gods are not even in the same ballpark.

    Prayer is wonderful. But I don’t think it is a good idea at all for religious leaders to pray to the gods—including pagan gods—of other belief systems. I’m pretty sure God, the one who inspired the ten commandments, isn’t happy about that. Moreover, I am pretty sure that it’s a bad idea for religious leaders to concoct silly prayers that avoid any specifics about their God so that wishy-washy ecumenical prayers to all god(s) can be offered. It is silly at best, scandalous at worst.

    Now, if praying togetehr means we all stand in the same room and silently pray to wahtever god or gods or God we happen to worship, fine. Five minutes of silent prayer and reflection is perfect. hey, isn’t that what they are doing this time!?

    But I sure as heck don’t want to see Buddha on the altar, just as I am sure Muslims don’t want to see a statue of Jesus in the mosque. And I surely do not want some bishop invoking a call to prayer (Islam-style), nor do I want catholic clerics giving the impression, theologically erroneous, that Buddha and Allah and Gaia and Zeus are all just God wearing a Halloween costume. We’re all just a little bit smarter than that, I hope.

  9. Deacon Den #8,

    Assisi isn’t about Christian unity. People who had a problem with Assisi 1986 weren’t bothered about praying with Anglicans, Lutherans, or Calvinists. Common prayer with Jews is fine, and considering that Muslims worship the God of Abraham, there is no problem there either. But for a Christian to pray to Brahma, Krishna, Vishnu, and Shiva would seem to be the equivalent of offering incense to Zeus. It is the polytheistic religions that make joint prayer problematic.

  10. I’m confident that this wont go down like the last one. Too many people will be watching this time. No chicken guts will be thrown around and no idols will be placed on top of a tabernacle. Talking is fine. Praying to false gods is not.

  11. Hmmm, perhaps I did not understand what happened last time. I did not read about idols on the tabernacle etc. I will always support people who pray to the same God being allowed to do it together. Something we rarely see anymore.

  12. The ‘righties’ will be talking about clown Masses next.

    “No chicken guts will be thrown around and no idols will be placed on top of a tabernacle. ‘

    Photos please or stop libel on JPII

  13. Hang in there, folks! What do we have to fear from common prayer?

    As has been pointed out, “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “YHWH” — NOT a “different” God, for goodness’ sake! In fact, Arabic speaking Christians offer their prayers to — gasp! — “Allah”!!!!

    And, with regard to religions other than Judaism, Christianity and Islam: religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, may I remind folks that the official position of the Catholic Church, as expressed so well at the Second Vatican Council and in her documents, that the Church “rejects nothing that is holy and true” in those religions!

    While we’re praying to our God at Assisi, why wouldn’t we be willing to kneel next to a Buddhist raising prayers as she sees fit?

    The current decision is most unfortunate, in my personal opinion.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  14. Could we stop talking about “false gods”? Good heavens, it’s 2011. I think God is big enough and generous enough to sort through whatever confusion we may bring to the whole process. I would bet He’s extraordinarily pleased that people are getting together and no longer using Him as a reason to increase division or hatred in this world.

  15. friscoeddie, it’s not libel on JPII. I don’t think any decent person believes that he knew was going to happen at Assisi II. If anyone is to blame it was the local monks and the planners who should have anticipated a few things.

  16. Just went to the blog linked from an earlier post. Hmm, was the background of tiled Pius XIIs a give away. It said the blog was “Catholic without Compromise” I am beginning to think anyone who considered JPII too liberal may have inhaled too much incense.

  17. @ 20

    The blog may be crazy…the picture of pagans worshipping their idol on the altar is real. But, hey, it’s easier to avoid the evidence. I guess.

  18. @18 Deacon Mike,

    No, I will not stop talking about false gods. So long as there is that little prohibition in the ten commandments about idols, I have no need to stop talking about false gods. The romans worshipped Jupiter and Mars and any other number of false gods. Hindi worship false gods today.

    What’s the problem, unless you have a problem with objective truth? Sorry, I don’t by into your theistic premise.

    For the record, I have no problem with a Hindu thinking that my God is a false god. He is wrong, of course, but if he is a Hindu of conviction he can not think otherwise, and I would respect his conviction.

  19. @16 I’m sorry, but that is a facile analysis. The issue is not the name of God (Allah v. Yahweh, etc), but the conception of God. It is eminently clear that although Islam derives from the Judeo-Christian tradition, its concept of god is radically different. Worshipping Allah is simply not worshipping God the Father under another name.

  20. @ 24

    And I’m sure he didn’t pray to Allah when he was there.

    @23

    to clarify my previous post, Nostra Aetate 3 does affirm that the god worshipped by Muslims (known commonly as Allah) is the same one true God worshipped by Christians. That being said, Muslims do have a very different concept of monotheism (for starters, no trinity), and it poses great potential for scandal for Catholic leaders to worship Allah as if such differences don’t exist.

  21. From reading the comments of some above, it would appear that there is little confidence in the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. In reading the article (if what we see is correct and complete) it would seem that the Pope wants to see some changes to “leave the event less open to misinterpretation.” Seems like a worthwhile reason to make whatever changes are made if the last conference produced misinterpretatin about what the Catholic Church actually teaches.

    I also see that at the end of each day “They will gather at the end of the day for a moment of silence and testimonials to peace.” The left in this country has been all for this type of practice to avoid those of different faiths or no faith from being offended or maybe to avoid misinterpretation.

    It also states that the prayers will be held in private monistary setting and “not public performances; where Assisi seemed like a spiritual kaleidoscope, with clouds of smoke, sheep-hair amulets, tambourines and multi-colored robes. And it left some critics with the impression that Christian and non-Christian elements were being mixed together inappropriately.”

    Seems like a reason for the change is being well laid out with some very good thought? What is the purpose of prayers, to make a public statement of some kind, or for the praise and glory of God.

    And finally, Pope Benedict’s Assisi gathering is inviting five prominent nonbelievers to participate. The group includes the well-known British philosopher A.C. Grayling, who has argued that religion has had a disproportionately large influence in society.

    What is wrong with what the Pope is doing with these changes? You guys are certainly not very clear about the complaints.

  22. Vox,
    I tried to make out what was in the picture, but could’nt. Is this something in contention or do the people involved with the event admit that there were Buddha (or whatever) statues on Catholic altars?

  23. There are tens of thousands of people lying ill today because of our church’s flirtation with other gods. (I know this, I was one of those sick people while I was still deceived.) And that is the least of the evils flowing from this betrayal in our church. Within weeks of the publication of Nostra Aetate (sections 2&3 eulogize the non Judaeo Christian religions of the world, the beginning of the betrayal) our priests began falling like flies, our seminaries began emptying, homosexuality and pedophilia entered into the holy places … I could go on. There is a spiritual root to these problems and our leaders have missed it.
    I am sorry, you cannot achieve good effects by disobeying the word of God. God is revealed throughout Scripture as a jealous God who wants his people to have no truck whatever with other gods. The deepest insult you could offer to the saving Blood of Jesus is to honour other gods in any way whatever.
    Pope Benedict, please stop the betrayal.

  24. Vox borealis, I totally agree with what you say. I think it is important to remember that Nostra Aetate 2&3 does not contain definitive church teaching. As it conflicts with Scripture and with previous definitive church teaching we are in no way bound to accept it.
    Re the gods of other religions, including Islam: It is not up to us to tell God who he is. God tells us who he is and he does so in his word, in Scripture. A god who did not send his Son Jesus into the world is not the God who creates us and who saves us. Period.

  25. paul #28 and #31

    Your comment:
    “Within weeks of the publication of Nostra Aetate (sections 2&3 eulogize the non Judaeo Christian religions of the world, the beginning of the betrayal) our priests began falling like flies, our seminaries began emptying, homosexuality and pedophilia entered into the holy places … I could go on.”

    There is a principle in science:

    “Correlation does not imply causation.”

    Your comment:
    “I think it is important to remember that Nostra Aetate 2&3 does not contain definitive church teaching.”

    True, that Vatican II does not claim to be infallible teaching but, as Pope John Paul II said at the end of the Jubilee Year 2000:

    “Now that the Jubilee has ended, I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning… . What a treasure there is, dear brothers and sisters, in the guidelines offered to us by the Second Vatican Council!” (Apostolic Letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte)

  26. HMS (32) – Thanks a lot for your response. The science I speak of is not learned in the laboratory but in the word of God.

    Have you read the Bible through from beginning to end? I have, many times, and the more I read the more I see a single, central message running through every page of it: Worship the only living God and your every moment will be blessed; turn aside to other gods even to the smallest degree and you lose his blessing and come instead under the spiritual authority of those useless spirits who have nothing to offer us except destruction, those demon spirits who seek to exalt themselves to take God’s place in our worship. They are identified in 1 John 4:1-4. They are all those spirits who reject the truth about Jesus.

    Five times I count the prophet Jeremiah asking the question: Why? Why has God allowed such utter disaster to overtake his people? Five times the answer comes back the same … other gods … other gods … other gods … other gods … other gods.

    This is the spiritual root cause of our church’s current troubles. The moment our church began honouring other gods in October 1965 (sections 2&3 of Nostra Aetate), at that moment we allowed sinister spirits to enter our church and cause havoc in it. You can appeal to science against what I say if you like, but I speak on a higher authority than science. I speak on the authority of the word of God.

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