On Thursday 27 October Pope Benedict welcomed some 300 leaders representing a myriad of faiths to Assisi, the town of Francis and Clare, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a the prayer for peace there led by Pope John Paul II in 1986, as the Cold War raged.
Religious leaders gathered in Assisi committed themselves to working for peace through education, dialogue, forgiveness, family, the poor and friendship. After a train ride of almost two hours from the Vatican, Pope Benedict and his guests arrived in Assisi and the Holy Father led the interfaith peace meeting in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels. Joined by Buddhist monks, Islamic scholars, Yoruba leaders and a handful of agnostics in making a communal call for peace, he insisted that religion must never be used as a pretext for war or terrorism.
“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,” Pope Benedict said.
Buddhist monks from mainland China joined the gathering, as did four people who profess no faith at all, part of Pope Benedict’s efforts to reach out to agnostics and atheists who nevertheless are searching for truth. The Holy Father said that: “All their struggling and questioning is, in part, an appeal to believers to purify their faith so that God, the true God, becomes accessible.”
WORDS OF WELCOME FROM THE MINISTER GENERAL:
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, 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. 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