Friday, 28 October 2011

'God is not the property of believers'

It seems that fears of syncretism have amounted to little more than the wishful thinking of a small number of fear-mongers bitter at their own lack of charity after the successful day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi. 25 years since the first meeting of faith representatives in Assisi, The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, has once again reminded faith leaders from across the globe of the collective responsibility that people of faith, and none, have towards peace. The meeting entitled "pilgrim of truth, pilgrims of peace', challenged all present: Catholics, Christians, other religious figures and non-believers to bring true peace. The Pope delivered a hard hitting message which did not shy away from difficult subject areas including terrorism, atheism, and even some of the benefits of the growth of agnosticism.

A number of delegates gave talks, including atheist philosopher Julia Kristeva. She noted that "for the first time homosapiens are capable of destroying the earth and themselves in the name of their beliefs, religions, or ideologies... [but today's meeting showed that] the hypothesis of destruction is not the only possibility." It is encouraging to hear non-believers engaging in discussion with people of faith in a world where their only objective at times seems to be one of hostility.

The pontiff reminded over 300 delegates from over 50 countries that since the first visit astounding accomplishments had been made, not least that just one year afterwards the Berlin Wall, a 'conspicuous symbol' of division, was brought down 'without a drop of bloodshed'. The address made in the Basilica of St Mary of the Angels reminded the diverse crowd that that the 'deepest reason for the event...[was] a spiritual one', but also that since then 'freedom and peace [have not] Characterised the situation'. Despite the absence of great wars, and indeed despite the the spread of freedom throughout the world 'discord has taken on new and frightening guises', and that we must all struggle for peace in these places. 

Terrorism was obviously chosen by the Holy Father as one of the great causes of strife in the modern world, but he was adament that the 'specifically religious character of the attacks', should be discomforting for all present because contrary to the post-Enlightenment critique of religion 'this is not the true nature of religion. It is the antithesis of religion and contributes to its destruction'. He humbly acknowledged that the the justification of violence within Christianity in past times has been a 'shame[full]... abuse of the Christian faith'.

The second form of violence found in the world today which people of faith must respond to was described as 'complex' because it stems as a 'result of God’s absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it'. Where it is the nature of religion to set set standards, 'the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds'. Where people of religion are conscious of their actions in light of judgement, 'man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself'. He highlighted the concentration camps as an example of such blatant cruelty. He did not mention what effect this mentality was having on the world today as it would obviously not make for a harmonious meeting, but it is clear that his message indicated a loss of recognition for the inherent dignity of the Human person. Where is this more evident than with abortion? In light of the Pope's remarks the words of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta ring clearer than ever: 'I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child - a direct killing of the innocent child - murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another?'

The most surprising and challenging part of the address for me was his reflection on the growth of agnosticism. He remarked that these people who '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”.' The Holy Father demonstrated in a most refreshing way that they challenge both believers and atheists: 'they take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God... 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'.  When viewed from this perspective it is clear that the use of God to justify violence is a vile form of blasphemy.

After Pope Benedict addressed the assembled group, they attended a 'frugal dinner' in the nearby Franciscan monastery, after which each went their own ways in order to pray and to reflect. This was a marked difference from previous meetings where the leaders had prayed in each others presence (although not together); Pope Benedict had wanted to Emphasise the integrity of the differences between each belief and removed any suspicion of syncretism from the meeting. The day was finished with a communal visit to the final resting place of St Francis of Assisi, the great saint who even in the 13th century made heroic efforts to bring peace between Christians and Muslims. 

The Pope ended by saying "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.'"

What a fantastic Pope God Has blessed us with! Deo Gratias!

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