The Assisi meeting world religions is an added incentive in the "journey towards the truth," allowing itself to become a "common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force".
These were the words of Pope in his speech at the conclusion of a morning of interventions by various religious and non-religious figures in the Basilica of Sanata Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) gathered for the Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world. The pope stressed that in today's world peace is threatened by two types of violence: one which "abuse of religion" and one which is derived from "the absence of God."
But it is important to note that alongside the "reality of religion and anti-religion" which lead to violence, there are also those who "seek the truth, who seek God". They are important contributors to dialogue and peace because they correct the claims of theoretical and practical atheism and push "believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible."
Thus in his masterful speech, Benedict XVI strongly emphasizes the novelty of this Assisi meeting compared to the encounter of 25 years ago. Then, John Paul II invited religious representatives only. This time, the Pope invited non-believers, but people of great depth who seek the truth and he attributes them with a fundamental function.
The pontiff began by summarising the first meeting in Assisi in 1986. " At that time - recalled the Pope - 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. "
"The deepest reason for the event - he added - 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".
But "what is the state of play with regard to peace today?", Benedict XVI asked. The world - he replied - is still "full of discord," not only that sporadic wars are continually being fought, but also because "the world of freedom has proved to be largely directionless, and not a few have misinterpreted freedom as somehow including freedom for violence. "
The pontiff continued by indicating two types of violence. The first 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 - he added - 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 pope said that "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 1986 Assisi meeting wanted to express the message that true religion is a contribution to peace and that any other use is " the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction."
For this reason, the Pope continued, inter-religious dialogue is important in the search for, "a common nature of religion that finds expression in all religions and is therefore applicable to them all". The "fundamental task" is to "argue realistically and credibly against religiously motivated violence."
The second type of violence "is the consequence of the absence of God," which brings with it a "loss of humanity." "The denial of God - he explained - 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".
"Here - he added - 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. "
Having traced this picture of violence derived from the distortion of religion and the absence of God, Benedict XVI highlighted an important factor that "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 ... 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 - the Pope says - "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 seekers of truth push religions to purify themselves: "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 - he concluded - 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”."