Benedict Visit to Assisi  (October 2011)

 

Pope's Homily at Vigil in Preparation for Assisi
"It Is Not the Sword of the Conqueror That Builds Peace, But the Sword of the Sufferer"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 26, 2011 - Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave today at a liturgy in preparation for Thursday's day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace in Assisi.

The liturgy replaced the customary general audience held on Wednesdays.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today our customary meeting for the General Audience takes on a special character, for it is the vigil of the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, which will be held tomorrow in Assisi -- 25 years after the historic first meeting called by Pope John Paul II. I wanted to give this day the title "Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace" in order to signify the commitment we solemnly wish to renew -- together with members of different religions and also with those who are non-believers but who sincerely seek the truth -- to the advancement of the true good of humanity and for the building up of peace. As I have already had occasion to recall, "He who is on the journey towards God cannot help but transmit peace; those who build peace cannot help but draw close to God."

As Christians, we are convinced that the most precious contribution we can make to the cause of peace is that of prayer. For this reason, we find ourselves gathered here today, as the Church of Rome together with pilgrims who are present in the city, in order to listen to God's Word, and to invoke the gift of peace in faith. The Lord can enlighten our minds and hearts and guide us to be builders of justice and of reconciliation in our everyday lives and in the world.

In the passage we just heard from the Prophet Zechariah, an announcement resounds full of peace and light (cf. Zechariah 9:10). God promises salvation; He issues an invitation to "rejoice greatly," for this salvation is about to be realized. A king is spoken of: "Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious" (Verse 9), but the one who is announced is not a king who presents himself in human power with the strength of armies; nor is he a king who dominates through political and military force; he is a gentle king, who reigns with humility and meekness before God and men, a king who is different than the great rulers of the world: "humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass," says the prophet (ibid.). He comes riding the animal of the common people -- of the poor -- in contrast with the war chariots of the armies of the great powers of the world. Indeed, he is a king who will cause these chariots to vanish; he will cut off the battle bow; he will announce peace to the nations (cf. Verse 10).

But who is this king of whom the Prophet Zechariah speaks? Let us go for a moment to Bethlehem and listen to what the Angel says to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. The Angel announces a great joy which will come to all the people, and which is tied to a sign of poverty: a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger (cf. Luke 2:8-12). And a multitude of the heavenly host sings "Glory to God in the highest and on the earth peace among men, whom He loves" (Verse 14), to men of goodwill. The birth of that child, who is Jesus, carries with it an announcement of peace to the whole world.

But let us also go to the final moments of Christ's life, when He enters Jerusalem welcomed by a jubilant crowd. The Prophet Zechariah's announcement of the coming of a meek and humble king returned to the minds of Jesus' disciples in a particular way after the events of the Passion, Death and Resurrection -- of the Paschal Mystery -- when they reconsidered with the eyes of faith the Master's joyous entrance into the Holy City. He rides upon an ass, which was borrowed (cf. Matthew 21:2-7): He does not ride in a stately carriage or on horseback like the great ones. He does not enter Jerusalem accompanied by a powerful army of chariots and charioteers. He is a poor king, the king of God's poor. In the Greek text, the word praeîs appears, which means gentle, meek; Jesus is the king of the anawim, of those whose hearts are free of the lust for power and material riches, free of the will and the search for dominion over others. Jesus is the king of all those who possess that interior freedom that enables them to overcome the greed and egoism of the world, and who know that God is their only wealth.

Jesus is the poor king among the poor, meek among those who desire to be meek. In this way, He is the king of peace, thanks to the power of God, which is the power of good, the power of love. He is a king who causes the chariots and charioteers of battle to disappear, who will shatter the bows of war; He is a king who will bring peace to fulfillment on the Cross by joining heaven and earth, and by throwing a bridge of brotherhood between all peoples. The Cross is the new bow of peace, the sign and instrument of reconciliation, of forgiveness, of understanding, a sign of the love that is stronger than all violence and oppression, stronger than death: Evil is conquered with good, with love.

This is the new kingdom of peace whose king is Christ; and it is a kingdom that extends over all the earth. The Prophet Zechariah announces that this humble, peaceful king will have dominion "from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth" (Zechariah 9:10). The reign inaugurated by Christ has universal dimensions. The horizons of this poor and gentle king are neither a territory nor a state, but rather the very ends of the earth; transcending every barrier of race, language and culture, He creates communion; He creates unity.

And where do we see this announcement fulfilled today? The prophecy of Zechariah shines with splendor in the great nets of the Eucharistic communities that extend over all the earth. These form a great mosaic of communities in which this gentle and peaceful king's sacrifice of love is made present; they form a multitude of "islands of peace" that radiate peace. Everywhere, in every circumstance and reality, in every culture, from the great cities with their palaces to tiny villages with their humble abodes, from towering cathedrals to little chapels, He comes, He makes Himself present; and in entering into communion with Him, men are also united with one another in one body, overcoming division, rivalries, and resentment. The Lord comes in the Eucharist to take us away from our individualism, our particularities that exclude others, to form of us one body, one kingdom of peace in a divided world.

But how may we build this kingdom of peace, of which Christ is king? The command that He leaves to His Apostles, and through them, to us all is: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations … and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Matthew 28:19). Like Jesus, the messengers of peace in His kingdom must take to the road, they must respond to His invitation. They must go, but not with the power of war, nor with the force of power. In the Gospel passage we heard, Jesus sends 72 disciples into the great harvest that is the world, and He invites them to pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (cf. Luke 10:1-3); He does not send them with powerful means, but rather "as lambs in the midst of wolves" (Verse 3), without purse, or bag or sandals (cf. Verse 4). St. John Chrysostom, in one of his Homilies, comments: "As long as we are lambs we will conquer; even if we are surrounded by many wolves, we will succeed in overcoming them. But if we become wolves, we will be defeated, because we will be deprived of the help of the Shepherd" (Homily 33, 1: PG 57,389).

Christians must never yield to the temptation to become wolves in the midst of wolves; it is not with power, with force or with violence that Christ's kingdom of peace is extended, but with the gift of self, with love taken to the extreme, even toward our enemies. Jesus does not conquer the world with the strength of armies, but with the strength of the Cross, which is victory's true guarantee. Consequently, for the one who desires to be the Lord's disciple -- His messenger -- this means being ready for suffering and martyrdom, being ready to lose one's life for Him, so that good, love and peace may triumph in the world. This is the condition for being able to say, upon entering into any circumstance: "Peace be to this house!" (Luke 10:5).

In front of St. Peter's Basilica there stand two great statues of Sts. Peter and Paul, which are easily identifiable: St. Peter holds keys in his hands, and Paul instead holds a sword. One who is unfamiliar with the story of the latter might think he is a great captain who commanded powerful armies and subjected peoples and nations with the sword, procuring for himself fame and riches by others' blood. Instead it is exactly the opposite: The sword he holds is the instrument with which Paul was put to death, with which he underwent martyrdom and shed his own blood. His battle was not one of violence and of war but of martyrdom for Christ. His only weapon was the proclamation of "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). His preaching was not based "on plausible words and wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power" (Verse 4). He dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel's message of reconciliation and peace, spending all his energy in order that it might resound to the very ends of the earth.

And this was his strength: He did not seek a tranquil, comfortable life, far from difficulties and contradictions; rather, he wore himself out for the sake of the Gospel, he gave himself entirely and without reserve, and in this way he became the great messenger of Christ's peace and reconciliation.

The sword that St. Paul holds also recalls the power of truth, which can often wound, can hurt: the Apostle remained faithful to this truth to the end; he served it; he suffered for it; he gave over his life for it. This same logic holds true also for us if we want to be bearers of the kingdom and peace announced by the Prophet Zechariah and fulfilled by Christ: We must be willing to pay personally, to suffer in the first person misunderstanding, rejection, persecution. It is not the sword of the conqueror that builds peace, but the sword of the sufferer, of he who knows how to give his very life.

Dear brothers and sisters, as Christians we want to invoke from God the gift of peace; we want to ask Him to make us instruments of His peace in a world torn by hatred, division, egoism and war; we want to ask Him that tomorrow's meeting in Assisi foster dialogue between people of different religious affiliations and that it carry with it a ray of light capable of enlightening the minds and hearts of all people, so that resentment may give way to forgiveness, division to reconciliation, hatred to love, violence to meekness, and that peace may reign in the world. Amen.

[Translated by Diane Montagna]

Appeal of the Holy Father for the Peoples of Turkey

Dear brothers and sisters, before greeting you in various languages, I begin with an appeal. In this moment, my thoughts go to the peoples of Turkey who have been harshly hit by the earthquake that has caused grave losses of human life, numerous missing persons and extensive damage. I invite you to unite yourselves with me in prayer for those who have lost their lives, and to be spiritually close to the many persons so harshly tried. May the Almighty give support to all those who are committed to the work of providing aid. Now I greet you in various languages.

[Translation by Diane Montagna]

[The Holy Father greeted the people in several languages. In English, he said:]

I am pleased to receive you in Saint Peter's Basilica and to extend a warm welcome to all of you who could not be accommodated in the Audience Hall. Always stay faithfully united to Christ and bear joyful witness to the Gospel. To all of you I cordially impart my Blessing.

* * *

I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today. I ask you to accompany me in prayer as I journey tomorrow to Assisi for the celebration of the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, together with representatives of different religions. I extend special greetings to the pilgrims from the Diocese of Niigata in Japan celebrating their centenary. I also welcome those present from England, Denmark, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam and the United States. May Almighty God bless all of you!

© Copyright 2011 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

[He added in Italian:]

Lastly, I greet young people, the sick and newlyweds. May the example of St. Francis of Assisi, at whose tomb I will pray tomorrow, support you, dear young people, in the commitment of daily fidelity to Christ; may he encourage you, dear sick, to always follow Jesus along the path of trial and suffering; may he help you, dear newlyweds, to make your family life a place of constant encounter with the love of God and neighbor. Thank you to you all. Good day.

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Franciscan Leader's Message Welcoming Pope to Assisi
"Thank You ... for Reminding Us That Peace Is Inseparable From Truth"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 26, 2011 - Here is the text of a message sent to Benedict XVI by Father José Rodríguez Carballo, the minister-general of the Franciscans.

* * *

Holy Father,

With few and simple words, as the Poor Man of Assisi exhorted us, I would like, on behalf of all the Friars Minor spread all over the world, to address two words to you from the depths of my heart: Welcome and Thank You.

Holy Father, welcome to Assisi, the altar of memory for all those who follow the way of life that our Father Francis lived, wrote, and presented to the Lord Pope for approval (cf. Test 14ss)! Welcome to Assisi, the city of peace, spiritual ark in which all of humanity seeks refuge! Welcome, especially to the Portiuncula, the cradle of the Order of Friars Minor and Poor Sisters! Welcome to our home and to your home, your Holiness!

Your Holiness, Thank you! Thank you for picking up the witness left by your venerated predecessor Blessed John Paul II 25 years ago. Thank you for remembering us with this day of prayer for peace, which is a gift from God, a gift we must implore. Thank you for choosing Assisi for this new day of prayer for peace, the town of Francis, a herald of peace and reconciliation, the man who, as Your Holiness wrote, "embodied in an exemplary manner the Beatitude proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God (Mt 5, 9)." There is a natural reference to Francis' witness in his time by those who today cultivate the ideal of peace, respect for nature, and dialogue between peoples, religions, and cultures." Thank you, therefore, Holy Father, for reminding us that peace is inseparable from truth; and because we have yet to reach it, we are still on the journey as pilgrims. Thank you for reminding us that peace is a commitment we must all take upon ourselves and that violence cannot be justified in the name of God or religion.

Most Holy Father, the Friars Minor pray for your intentions and especially pray that this day we are going to live tomorrow in Assisi in communion with the Successor of Peter will bear abundant fruit on the path of peace. At the same time, we, Friars Minor, commit ourselves, like St. Francis, to be instruments of peace and reconciliation, and bring love where there is hatred, peace where there is violence, faith where there is doubt, truth where there is error, and pardon where there is injury.

So that we may be faithful to this inheritance we have received, we ask for your blessing, Holy Father.

With the veneration of a son and on behalf of all the Friars Minor,

Br. José Rodríguez Carballo, ofm
Minister General, OFM

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Pope Benedict XVI’s address in the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Assisi, before representatives of the world’s religions and non-believers:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,
Dear Friends,

Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world’s religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today? At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city. In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples’ will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions. The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought – violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.

Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail. Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended “good”. In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.

The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all? We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue – an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting. 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.

If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion – as we said earlier – see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.

Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.

The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.

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. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. 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. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be “pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace”.

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Papal Address at Assisi Pilgrimage
"We May Distinguish Two Types of the New Forms of Violence"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 27, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today in Assisi at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World.

* * *

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Distinguished Heads and Representatives of Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions,
Dear Friends,

Twenty-five years have passed since Blessed Pope John Paul II first invited representatives of the world's religions to Assisi to pray for peace. What has happened in the meantime? What is the state of play with regard to peace today? At that time the great threat to world peace came from the division of the earth into two mutually opposed blocs. A conspicuous symbol of this division was the Berlin Wall which traced the border between two worlds right through the heart of the city. In 1989, three years after Assisi, the wall came down, without bloodshed. Suddenly the vast arsenals that stood behind the wall were no longer significant. They had lost their terror. The peoples' will to freedom was stronger than the arsenals of violence. The question as to the causes of this dramatic change is complex and cannot be answered with simple formulae. But in addition to economic and political factors, the deepest reason for the event is a spiritual one: behind material might there were no longer any spiritual convictions. The will to freedom was ultimately stronger than the fear of violence, which now lacked any spiritual veneer. For this victory of freedom, which was also, above all, a victory of peace, we give thanks. What is more, this was not merely, nor even primarily, about the freedom to believe, although it did include this. To that extent we may in some way link all this to our prayer for peace.

But what happened next? Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since. Even if there is no threat of a great war hanging over us at present, nevertheless the world is unfortunately full of discord. It is not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought -- violence as such is potentially ever present and it is a characteristic feature of our world. Freedom is a great good. But the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. Discord has taken on new and frightening guises, and the struggle for freedom must engage us all in a new way.

Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail. Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended "good". In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence.

The post-Enlightenment critique of religion has repeatedly maintained that religion is a cause of violence and in this way it has fuelled hostility towards religions. The fact that, in the case we are considering here, religion really does motivate violence should be profoundly disturbing to us as religious persons. In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction. In response, an objection is raised: how do you know what the true nature of religion is? Does your assertion not derive from the fact that your religion has become a spent force? Others in their turn will object: is there such a thing as a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all? We must ask ourselves these questions, if we wish to argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence. Herein lies a fundamental task for interreligious dialogue -- an exercise which is to receive renewed emphasis through this meeting. 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.

If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God's absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion -- as we said earlier -- see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God's absence.

Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous. The worship of mammon, possessions and power is proving to be a counter-religion, in which it is no longer man who counts but only personal advantage. The desire for happiness degenerates, for example, into an unbridled, inhuman craving, such as appears in the different forms of drug dependency. There are the powerful who trade in drugs and then the many who are seduced and destroyed by them, physically and spiritually. Force comes to be taken for granted and in parts of the world it threatens to destroy our young people. Because force is taken for granted, peace is destroyed and man destroys himself in this peace vacuum.

The absence of God leads to the decline of man and of humanity. But where is God? Do we know him, and can we show him anew to humanity, in order to build true peace? Let us first briefly summarize our considerations thus far. I said that there is a way of understanding and using religion so that it becomes a source of violence, while the rightly lived relationship of man to God is a force for peace. In this context I referred to the need for dialogue and I spoke of the constant need for purification of lived religion. On the other hand I said that the denial of God corrupts man, robs him of his criteria and leads him to violence.

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. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. 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. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace".

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Cardinal Turkson's Greeting in Assisi
"May Our Experience of These 25 Years Then Beckon Us ... to Recommit Ourselves Today"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 27, 2011 - Here is a Vatican translation of the introductory greeting given today in Assisi at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

* * *

In October 1986 at the invitation of Blessed John Paul II, Heads and Representatives of Christian Churches, Ecclesial Communities and World Religions gathered here in Assisi, the city of St Francis, to fast and pray for peace.They came mindful that "peace", as the Pope declared on that occasion, "needs to be built on justice, truth, freedom and love", and that "Religions have the necessary function of helping to dispose human hearts, so that true peace can be fostered and preserved".

Twenty-five years after that historic gathering, I have the pleasure to welcome you heartily to Assisi, where we have come together at the invitation of Pope Benedict XVI to celebrate the memory of that moment of brotherhood and prayer and to set out anew as "pilgrims of truth and pilgrims of peace". We are gathered here aware of a common call to live together in peace, a deep yearning that throbs incessantly in our hearts. The indefatigable search for that desire’s attainment makes us fellow travellers.

We come from different religious traditions and from various parts of the world to renew and strengthen a quest for the truth that each of us, out of our own tradition, is ceaselessly committed to. We come also to bear witness to the great power of religion for good, and to renew a common commitment to building peace, to reconciling those in conflict and to bringing man back into harmony with creation.

The twenty-five years of our joint effort for peace have richly displayed our sense of brotherhood and solidarity in the service of our world and the human family. But the years have also been fraught with challenges to the sense of man and history. We have entered a century in which ideologies would reduce the sense of human person, and distort the relationships with nature. The strong resource competition among peoples in a climate-constrained environment threatens to dissolve the fabric of human society and devastate the very order of creation which Francis of Assisi praised in his Canticle of the Sun. The beautiful song bespeaks an awakening to the universe to be seen not only as a collection of things to be worked and consumed but also as a "community of life" to be entered into profoundly, humbly and creatively.

Thanks to electronic media and globalization, we live in a time of an unprecedented wealth, knowledge and proximity; yet is there not ever more insecurity, inequality and deprivation? We are torn apart by intolerance, hostility and violence so totally contradictory to the vision of the Poverello of Assisi, whose example inspires us to regard one another with respect, yes love, regardless of origin and creed.

May our experience of these twenty-five years then beckon us ever more intensely and with a great sense of urgency to recommit ourselves today, with the endowments of reason and the gifts of faith, to becoming ever more pilgrims of truth and making our world a place of ever greater peace!

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Leader of Islamic Scholars at Assisi Event
"A Similarity in Every Religion Is a Hope for the Creation of Human Harmony"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 27, 2011 - Here is the text of the address given today in Assisi at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, by Kyai Haji Hasyimmuzadi, the general secretary of the International Conference of Islamic Scholars.

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Supposedly, the essence and objectives of the presence of religions on this earth is to strengthen the values and dignity of humanity, peace and world progress because it is intended to enlighten humanity, and not the opposite. However, the reality demonstrates that many human problems on this planet in fact originate from people with religions, even though, the problems arising from people of religions do not mean it originate from the religion itself. This occurs simply because true religions with its wholesome teachings, may have followers that cannot fully comprehend the wholesomeness holistically / completely.

A lack of holistic understanding of the teachings of religions occurs when their followers only possess a partial understanding and a lack of complete comprehension regarding the relation amongst religions. A mistake in understanding religious comprehension no doubt has caused a misapplication of that religion itself.

For example, if a community of a religion is mistaken in understanding its ritual and theological aspects, its misunderstanding will only impact its followers. However, when they are mistaken in understanding the social aspect of the religion, then its mistake will impact not only its followers but also society as a whole, such as in the forms of social tension and even social conflict. This social conflict may also slide into other forms of conflict between States in the world.

Every religion possesses its own identity. Between religions they also possess similarities and differences. A similarity in every religion is a hope for the creation of human harmony, justice, prosperity and an improved standard of human life.

An opposing idea between religions is an issue of theology and ritual. For that reason, so as to attain lasting harmony and co-existence amongst religions, therefore what is not similar should not and must not be forced to be opposing, and what views are not shared shouId not be imposed. By doing this, the preservation of co-existence amongst religions may be assured in accordance to each individual religious faith.

Apart from the factor of misunderstandings in comprehending religions, there are also other factors that are reasons behind social conflict and conflict amongst believers which are based on the non religious interests that piggy-back religious teachings and use religion as a motive for non religious objectives.

Interests beyond religious goals may be political, economic and cultural or other non religious interests that are made to seem religious. Such interests may originate from specific groups that declare their motives in the name of religion and even refer to religious themes.

Our duties as religious communities are to bring freedom to all believers to truly comprehend their fates and reduce their misunderstanding of religions that leads social conflict amongst humanity.

Furthermore, we must be wise in differentiating problems that may be categorized as religious and those problems that are abused to be a religious problem. Many times, the political authority's interests are labeled as religious issues, whereas in fact its essence is far from that truth. In this regards, we must identify religion above all interests. Should religion be placed above such interests, then it will serve as a beacon of hope from its forefathers.

On the other hand, if religions are placed below such interests, then the religious community will forever be at war. For that reason, the harmony of religious followers must begin from within each of the religions packaged in a peaceful setting with the goals of reducing conflict in this world.

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Rabbi Rosen at Assisi Event
"There Is No Other Value That We Are Obliged to Go Out of Our Way to Pursue as We Are for Peace"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 27, 2011 - Here is the text of the address given today in Assisi at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, by Rabbi David Rosen.

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By definition, a pilgrimage is much more than a journey. The Hebrew words for pilgrimage are, "aliyah la'regel", which translate as ascending for the foot-festival. The Biblical concept of ascent was both literal and spiritual. It was literal because one came up the Judean mountains to Jerusalem, to the Holy Temple. However, the physical symbolism sought to imbue a state of mind in the pilgrim's consciousness, of spiritual ascent, of being even closer to God; and consequently to be in accord with the Divine Will and commandments.

This vision of pilgrimage, of ascent, is central to the prophetic vision of the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth -- the messianic vision of universal peace. In the words of the prophet Isaiah (2: 3&4) "... And many peoples shall go forth and say 'let us go up to the mountain of the Lord to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths; for out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem'. He shall judge between the nations and discern for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation and they shall not learn war any more" and the prophet continues (11: 6-9) ... "the wolf shall dwell with the lamb; and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze together their children shall lie down; and the lion shall eat straw like the cattle. A baby shall play on a snake hole and a child shall put his hand on an adder's den. They shall not harm nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."

There is a very well known comment of the great rabbi Meir Simcha of Dwinsk,who lived a hundred years ago. He observed that this vision of peace had already taken place in the religious history of humankind – in Noah's ark. Already there, predatory animals had to live a vegetarian existence and their potential prey could live in peace. However he points out that the profound difference between the situation in Noah's ark and Isaiah's vision, is that in Noah's ark there was no choice. This was the only option available for the animals in order to survive the flood. Isaiah's vision however, is born out of "the knowledge of the Lord"; it is a vision that emanates from the deepest spiritual understanding and volition.

For many in our world, peace is a pragmatic necessity as indeed it is, and we must not diminish in any way from the blessing for our world from such pragmatism. However what men and women of faith seek and for which they strive "to ascend to the mountain of the Lord", is the appreciation of peace as the sublime expression of Divine Will and the Divine Image in which every human person is created.

For demonstrating this aspiration in such a visible manner already in Assisi twenty five years ago,we owe a debt of gratitude to the memory of blessed John Paul "and we must give profound thanks to his successor Pope Benedict XVI for continuing in this path.

The sages of the Talmud teach us that not only is peace the name of God (Shabbat 10b – see Judges 6:24), but it is the essential prerequisite for redemption, as it is written (Isaiah 52:7) "He announces peace ... He announces salvation" (Deuteronomy Rabbah 20:10). Furthermore our sages point out that there is no other value that we are obliged to go out of our way to pursue as we are for peace, as it is written (Psalm 34:15) "seek peace and pursue it".

May this gathering today reinvigorate all men and women of faith and good will to redound our efforts to make this goal a reality, the reality that brings true blessing and healing to humanity, as it is written "peace, peace, to the far and to the near and I shall heal him" (Isaiah 57:19).

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World Council of Churches Leader at Assisi Event
"We Are Accountable to God and to One Another for the Peace in Our Time"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 27, 2011 - Here is the text of the address given today in Assisi at the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, by Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary-general of the World Council of Churches.

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Your Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI,

Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, Fellow Religious Leaders,

St Francis offers us inspiration for how faith in God, open dialogue and genuine encounter can lead to significant contributions to a just peace. The world needs peacemakers of faith. The faith communities -- like the 349 member churches of the World Council of Churches -- need the young “Change Makers” of the world. Francis was a young man when he surrendered his life to God. His passion for the goodness of creation and example of radical daring for peace show the significance of faith and the courage of young people. What Francis accomplished as a young man in his twenties is a salutary reminder to us of the important role that young people need to and can play both in the faith communities and in wider society. Without this, we would not be here today.

Also today, peace in the world requires the perspectives and the contributions of young people. A great obstacle to a just peace today is the high level of unemployment among young people all over the world. It feels as though we are gambling with the welfare and happiness of a generation. We need the vision and the courage of young people for the necessary changes. We see how young people lead processes of democratization and peace in many countries today. We have to acknowledge that we have not always been good at honoring and fostering the contributions young people can make in our religious communities. We elders standing here need to work together for peace between generations and to give young people throughout the world real hope for the future.

The world needs the encounters between the leaders of faith communities. In the course of a war being fought which had Jerusalem as its ultimate prize, Francis came to share experiences of faith with the Sultan in Egypt. As many crusaders, he came to convert the other.

He became changed, converted, himself.

We are here to let the conversion of Francis speak to us and to let the conversation between us become a source for justice and peace. There is more to win through the respect for the other. A sustainable peace requires that there is a space, a safe and secure space, not only for me but also for the other. Christians are reminded that the cross is not for crusades but a sign of how God's love embraces everybody, also the other.

For the World Council of Churches a clear commitment over the coming years is to work for just peace in Jerusalem and all the peoples living there and around that city with Shalom-Salaamin its name. It is the city called and named to be a vision of peace, but which throughout history has so often become a place of conflict. As I visited Pakistan some days ago, I was reminded how other peoples are suffering under clashes of interests as a consequence of the fact that the conflicts around Jerusalem are not solved. This city, holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims, is a visible symbol of our longing, our highest and best desires, our love of beauty and our desire to worship God. But it is also a powerful reminder of how this best also can go wrong. Throughout history, human beings have found it so difficult to love without also seeking to possess exclusively.

Let us as religious leaders pray for justice and peace for Jerusalem and for all who live there. In a mysterious way, Jerusalem does not simply unveil these realities about the human condition but also challenges us at the same time to address them. Christians believe that all humans are created in God's image, thus affirming the undeniable human dignity of every person and the oneness of humanity. We are called to participate in the re-establishing of peace for Jerusalem, for the re-creation and the repairing of God's world. We are accountable to God and to one another for the peace in our time and for what we say and do not say to achieve it. Let us together follow the example of St Francis and others, young and old, women and men, to muster the courage to make just peace.

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Pope's Closing Remarks in Assisi
"We Will Continue to Be United in This Journey, in Dialogue"

ASSISI, Italy, OCT. 28, 2011 - Here is a translation and presentation of the statement Benedict XVI made to close Thursday's Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, held in Assisi.

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Illustrious guests, dear friends:

At the end of this intense day, I want to thank you: a heartfelt word of thanks to those who have made possible today's encounter. We particularly thank those who, once again, have welcomed us: the city of Assisi, the community of this diocese with their bishop, the children of St. Francis, who care for the precious spiritual heritage left us by the Poor Man of Assisi.

As well, thank you to the numerous youth who have made a pilgrimage on foot from St. Mary of the Angels to testify how, among the new generations, there are so many who are committed to overcoming violence and division, and to being promoters of justice and peace.

Today's event is an image of how the spiritual dimension is a key element in the building of peace. Through this unique pilgrimage we have been able to engage in fraternal dialogue, to deepen our friendship, and to come together in silence and prayer.

After renewing our commitment to peace and exchanging with one another a sign of peace, we feel even more profoundly involved, together with all the men and women from the communities that we represent, in our common human journey.

We are not being separated; we will continue to meet, we will continue to be united in this journey, in dialogue, in the daily building of peace and in our commitment to a better world, a world in which every man and woman and every people can live in accordance with their own legitimate aspirations.

From my heart I thank all of you here present for having accepted my invitation to come to Assisi as pilgrims of truth and peace and I greet each one of you in Saint Francis' own words: May the Lord grant you peace -- "il Signore ti dia pace".

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Pope's Farewell to Assisi Delegations
"The Journey of the Spirit Is Always a Journey of Peace"

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 28, 2011 - Here is the text of an address Benedict XVI gave today to bid farewell to the delegations that joined with him Thursday in Assisi for the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World.

* * *

Distinguished Guests,
Dear Friends,

I welcome you this morning to the Apostolic Palace and I thank you once more for your willingness to take part in the day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for justice and peace in the world held yesterday in Assisi, twenty-five years after that historic first meeting.

In a certain sense, this gathering is representative of the billions of men and women throughout our world who are actively engaged in promoting justice and peace. It is also a sign of the friendship and fraternity which has flourished as the fruit of the efforts of so many pioneers in this kind of dialogue. May this friendship continue to grow among all the followers of the world’s religions and with men and women of good will everywhere.

I thank my Christian brothers and sisters for their fraternal presence. I also thank the representatives of the Jewish people, who are particularly close to us, and all of you, the distinguished representatives of the world’s religions. I am aware that many of you have come from afar and have undertaken a demanding journey. I express my gratitude also to those who represent people of good will who follow no religious tradition but are committed to the search for truth. They have been willing to share this pilgrimage with us as a sign of their desire to work together to build a better world.

Looking back, we can appreciate the foresight of the late Pope John Paul II in convening the first Assisi meeting, and the continuing need for men and women of different religions to testify together that the journey of the spirit is always a journey of peace.

Meetings of this sort are necessarily exceptional and infrequent, yet they are a vivid expression of the fact that every day, throughout our world, people of different religious traditions live and work together in harmony. It is surely significant for the cause of peace that so many men and women, inspired by their deepest convictions, are committed to working for the good of the human family.

In this way, I am sure that yesterday’s meeting has given us a sense of how genuine is our desire to contribute to the good of all our fellow human beings and how much we have to share with one another.

As we go our separate ways, let us draw strength from this experience and, wherever we may be, let us continue refreshed on the journey that leads to truth, the pilgrimage that leads to peace. I thank all of you from my heart!

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