|Blessed John Paul II at Assisi 1986|
Twenty five years ago Pope John Paul II gathered a group in Assisi to affirm the vital importance of the human quest for God. Pope Benedict XVI today confirms the fundamental thrust of Blessed John Paul II's initiative as he meets again with religious leaders from around the globe. The speech may be found here.
He opens with this passage:
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.
John Paul II, in Centesimus annus, spoke of the folly of realism and the exaltation of force over reason and law. The downfall of the Soviet Union, he said, "was a struggle born of prayer, and it would have been unthinkable without immense trust in God, the Lord of history, who carries the human heart in his hands. It is by uniting his own sufferings for the sake of truth and freedom to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross that man is able to accomplish the miracle of peace and is in a position to discern the often narrow path between the cowardice which gives in to evil and the violence which, under the illusion of fighting evil, only makes it worse."
Pope Benedict, today, speaks of the absence of God as a cause of violence. "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."
The gathering of representatives of world religions does not point to a syncretic religion or a claim of world unity, but rather indicates the vital need for human beings to seek continual purification and to follow the light of conscience.
Even the agnostic can be a sign of the quest for 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. "
Cardinal Newman said that "the moral governor of the world has scattered seeds of truth far and wide." In reverence, may every man follow the light of truth so firmly beckoning.