CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Sense of deep divides in our world expressed at Assisi Prayer for Peace

ASSISI (CNS/Agencies): A common thread of unease ran through the Prayer for Peace encounter in Assisi on October 27.
It was described as an uneasy sense that the world is facing not only conflict and war, but a much broader crisis affecting social and cultural life in every country of the world.
Environmental damage, the rich-poor divide, erosion of cultural traditions, terrorism and new threats to society’s weakest members were cited as increasingly worrisome developments.
Addressing the 300 official delegates, Pope Benedict XVI echoed these sentiments in reviewing the state of global peace 25 years after Pope John Paul II convened the first epic gathering in Assisi.
He noted that in 1986, the world was caught up not only in simmering armed conflicts, but also facing a cold war divide between the opposing blocs of the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
“Today, the Cold War is over and there is no threat of a great war hanging over us,” he continued, adding that “nevertheless the world is, unfortunately, full of discord.”
He singled out terrorism, including acts of violence that are religiously motivated; and spiritual erosion that he described as occurring in highly secularised societies, for particular mention.
“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,” he elaborated, citing the illegal drug trade and drug dependency to illustrate that the search for happiness is degenerating into an unbridled, inhuman craving.
Twenty-five years ago, the success of the Assisi prayer summit was measured in part by how many warring parties paid respect to Pope John Paul’s call for a one-day truce. In the 2011 edition, there was no call for a truce and no mention of specific conflicts, except of a brief reference to Jerusalem.
However, a Korean Buddhist, Ja-Seung, warned that globalisation has sometimes prompted a backlash among those who fear the weakening of their cultural identity, and Archbishop Rowan Williams, of Canterbury, added that the world is ignoring the massive loss of life among its poorest members.
The Reverend Olav Fykse Tveit, the Lutheran secretary-general to the World Council of Churches, said that with the current high unemployment rate among young people, “It feels as though we are gambling with the welfare and happiness of a generation.”
The Orthodox ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, expressed concern that changes set in motion by pro-democracy movements in Arab countries may end up leaving Christian minorities less protected than before.
Julia Kristeva, a non-believer and self-described humanist, told the assembly that people’s fundamental abilities to care for each other, raise children and tend the land, are all being threatened by accelerated advances in science, the uncontrolled mechanisms of technology and finance, as well as the inability of classic democracies to deal with the results.
Other speakers warned of ecological disaster. Peter Cardinal Turkson, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, summed it up saying that people’s relationship with nature is becoming increasingly distorted.
“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 St. Francis praised in his Canticle of the Sun,” he said.
However, on a more hopeful level, a representative of the Reformed Churches noted that in a world with more open borders, shrinking distances and better communications should make it easier for people of faith to have an impact.
But the thousands of pilgrims who turned out to pray alongside the official delegates reflected that building world peace will require much more than eliminating armed conflict.
At a press conference on October 18, Cardinal Turkson said that Pope Benedict saw this year’s event as a pilgrimage, “implying asceticism, purification, convergence towards a more exulted place taking on a community responsibility.”
He said that in many ways the search for truth has been lost in religion, as exemplified by the violence among religions.
“Violence among religions is a scandal, which distorts the true identity of religions, it obscures the face of God and distances us from faith,” he told the press in Rome.
He called the search for truth a precondition for knowing each other better and overcoming prejudice and syncretism, which obscures people’s true identity.
In the run up to the meeting, AsiaNews reported Filipino Bishop Felix Machado as saying that an important role the Assisi pilgrimage can play is to move religion in the modern world back into the public arena, as the dynamics of secularised society tend to confine it to the private sphere.
However, he also stressed that secularised societies contribute to human welfare by reinforcing the attitude that care for neighbour transcends national borders. He called the Assisi pilgrimage a lived exercise in witnessing to religion lived publicly in a secularised society.
Anglican Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe, from Sri Lanka, said that in a pluralistic, secularised society, Assisi is important in recognising the plurality of religion, ethnicity and race as a blessing to be nurtured, not a curse to be fought against. He said that it can create space for a greater understanding between peoples.
Cardinal Turkson described Assisi as being related to the Courtyard of the Gentiles, a concept that Pope Benedict sees as fundamental to his basic concept of new evangelisation.
The Ghanaian cardinal described it as representatives of many delegations receiving a lamp which they will light together.
Pope Benedict told a group of Muslims in Berlin during his visit to Germany in September, “We wish to express with simplicity that we believers have a special contribution to make towards building a better world, while acknowledging that if our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem.”

'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 St. Francis praised in his Canticle of the Sun'

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