From Vatican Radio’s website (with kudos to the eponymous flower)
November 04, 2011) Vatican’s top official for inter-religious dialogue is on a visit to India to follow up on the impetus given by the interfaith peace meeting convoked by Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 27 in the central Italian town of Assisi. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue accompanied by Council secretary Archbishop Pierluigi Celata left for India on Friday to hold meetings with representatives of Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Islam. Their schedule until Nov. 14 includes stops in Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi and Amritsar, home to the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine. Their schedule has been organized by the Indian bishops and includes a meeting with Muslim leaders in Mumbai on Sunday. A meeting with Hindus is scheduled from Nov. 6-10 in Pune and another meeting and a seminar with Sikhs is slated Nov. 11-12 in Amritsar. On Nov. 13 they are to hold a meeting and a seminar with Jains in the Indian capital before heading back to Rome.
This is grand, isn’t it?
He had the impetus. He just had to follow up on it….
I just have an “impetus” to have a ten-day holiday in India, too. I should really, really follow up on it. Pity I am not so much into this kind of ecumenism, let alone have people forking out for the costs….
I can vividly picture Cardinal Tauran sitting there in Assisi with his faithful secretary, thinking: “wow, these people are really, really cool! Like, soooo cool! I must get to know them better, all of them! I mean, like, we can learn soooo much from Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Islam! Perhaps I should pray in the Golden Temple? It would be, like, sooo cool!….”
Or perhaps he just wanted to profit from Assisi to take an exotic holiday the other side of the planet, with the programme looking very much like a sightseeing guide.
I truly hope the second hypothesis is true, and the Cardinal is just wasting the money of the faithful for his own pleasure.
I received a message with these lines:
I was made aware of the event at Assisi from an acquaintance in California (I am in Tennessee now) who is into all the New Age religions. I found it amazing that she was looking forward to seeing the Peace Gathering in Assisi and at first I thought it was a bunch of New Agers taking over our Beloved Hallowed ground of St. Francis and St. Clara! Then when I saw it announced as being covered by EWTN I was shocked. I watched it for a while and had to turn it off as I was getting horrible feelings from it.
I can’t stop thinking of these words, because this simple episode shows in a crude way what happens when we – or the Vatican, or the Pope – play with fire.
The fact is, that we Catholics spend far too much time analysing every word the Holy Father has said, or the minutiae about why this or that is, if unusual, still compatible with Catholic thinking. For example, we are not allowed to pray together with people of other religions, but then it’s not explicitly forbidden that the pagans and we plan to pray separately, after we have gathered in the same place. Similarly, we are not saying that it is fine for others to be part of other religions, but we stress how good they are whilst they are part of another religion. Hey, we come even so far as to say how good they are even if they follow no religion.
Whilst we discuss about the orthodoxy of the small details, the world at large understands exactly the message that – at least officially – was meant not to be spread around: how cool it is that everyone gathers together to tell each other how cool they all are. Hey, they’re all for peaaaaace so they must be all right, right?
I also liked the reader’s observation about the “horrible feelings” she got looking at the thing on EWTN. In fact, it seems to me that in such matters the sensus fidelium – and I mean here the real one, the sincere religious feeling as it has been traditionally lived – is the best indication to judge these events: if it feels so wrong, it can’t be right. We all have these feelings, which is why we instinctively react – better said, our souls react – to things that whilst not necessarily forbidden – like the guitars in the church, the protestantisation and/or banalisation of the Mass – nevertheless are wrong because they go against the way Catholic spirituality has always been lived.
Astonishingly, it seems to be one of the biggest worries of theologians to persuade us that there must be a new and better way to do things, than how they have always been done.
You know what? There isn’t. What has always been true is still true, what has always been felt as wrong will always be felt as wrong, and how many more or less intelligent Assisi exercises are called to life will change a bit less than zero in this matter.
I do hope that this mistake – a mistake which, I am afraid, will haunt this papacy and will be remembered everytime the undoubted achievements of the present reign are remembered – does not inflict too big a damage to the reconciliation talks with the SSPX. Unfortunately, the media flop of the initiative does not necessarily mean the theological implications will be forgotten soon, and rumours that the SSPX is oriented to refuse the preambolo dottrinale have already started to spread around the net. Would you want to be a SSPX bishop explaining to the members of the congregation that it is fine to invite a voodoo priest to talk in church? Me neither…
It would be a real shame if it turned out that Assisi III played an important role in the (possible) decision of the SSPX the Vatican is not trustworthy enough, and the process of reconciliation will have to wait for a Pope completely free from Vatican II infections, and ready to embrace Catholicism without lazy compromises with the need for popularity, or with the desire to please the rapidly aging trendies and sandal-wearers.
Please read the initial message again, and see if it doesn’t resonate with you. Whilst we talk about doctrinal nuances, the world out there thinks that the Church is so keen to mix herself with the pagans. Congratulations.
How about the Pope participating to the next Telethon (or some other “thon”) together with Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry? Working “all together” for a good cause (wouldn’t it, ohhh, be ohhh so beautifuuul?) they could stress how much good militant atheists and perverts can do! “Atheists And Christians against poverty”, how does that sound! Think of it: everyone working together, Christian and Atheist, normal and pervert, how very edifying! We are the world! Where’s Oprah?
The only good thing of Assisi III is it made sure there will never be an Assisi IV, but its last message is still clear: play with fire, and you’ll get burned.
Rorate Caeli has the integral text of Pope Benedict’s intervention at Assisi.
I see in his words a clear example of what I lamented in another post: the attempt to remain orthodox whilst at the same time not saying the things that hurt. I also see an unfortunate reprise of one of JP II’s clearly noticeable traits: to express Catholic truths in a way that non-Catholics can easily interpret in their own way.
Let me examine the parts I find problematic:
Unfortunately, we cannot say that freedom and peace have characterized the situation ever since.
This, and other references, show a rather secular perspective of war and peace. It is as if peace would be the state we are supposed to be in, but we continue to be in a state of more or less spread war. An atheist will not see in this any reference to the fact that, this being a fallen world, there will always be war. But the Pope says this, too! He says that “violence as such is potentially ever-present and it is a characteristic feature of our world”, basically expressing the same concept, but accurately avoiding any Catholic explanation of it and giving rather an anthropological description of the phenomenon of violence. The secular reader will be perfectly free to interpret his words in a secular way: men tend at time to be violent, but a war-free world is possible through human effort. The pacifists’ god, Peace, is not attacked in any conceivable way.
In a way that is more subtle but no less cruel, we also see religion as the cause of violence when force is used by the defenders of one religion against others. The religious delegates who were assembled in Assisi in 1986 wanted to say, and we now repeat it emphatically and firmly: this is not the true nature of religion.
Here, the Pope seems to throw to the pacifist dog an even bigger bone: violence to defend your religion against another is wrong, and this we have already oh so beautifully said in Assisi (where I did not want to go, btw). Besides the obvious considerations about, say, the Crusades and Lepanto this seems a condemnation of even purely defensive violence like the resistance during the siege of Vienna. I do not doubt that many who were gathered in Assisi in 1986 would have given Vienna to the Ottoman for love of peace, but the point is that this is pacifism, not sound Catholic theology. Note, though, that what he is says is, literally taken, merely that violence is not the true nature of religion. Well no of course it isn’t, but is this truism really the whole point?
Of course,, one can construct the Holy Father’s speech in such a way as to link this kind of violence only to the unmotivated, unjustified violence he was talking about. But once again, the choice of words is such that everyone can feel pleased, and frankly you would need a person well-instructed in Catholic teaching, and possibly re-reading the text in search of the veiled references to Catholic theology, to get the orthodox interpretation. All the others will hear exactly what they wanted to hear, and be mightily pleased with their own opinions as a result.
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
More of the same. The Holy Father here is certainly not talking about, say, the Crusades, but of the massacres made in the name of God in all ages. It stands to reason, though, that every Muslim and many others who were present have read this in exactly the wrong way. I do not doubt that everyone was pleased.
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.
Two rather rhetorical questions are posed here. Yes, of course we know that there is God. We can have absolute, rationale certainty of that. God has given us the way, if we collaborate with him, to reach this rational certainty. And yes, we can and must show God to the world, to the atheists and to the pagans, to bring His truth to the world. None of the questions is answered in the Catholic way, and even an atheist might subscribe to the concept expressed by the Pope in the following phrases: that faith in God can be an instrument for good. The Pope doesn’t say that God certainly exists and that He is the certain and inescapable answer, nor that it is a duty of every person to do his work and accept Christ’s message and the Church’s teaching; he says that some people believe in God and some of them put their faith to good use. Am I the only one missing the missionary message here? Am I the only one thinking that a reminder to conversion, made in the opportune way still clearly formulated, should be the first message of every address to non-Christians and non believers?
In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the 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. Such people 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”.
I found this positively disturbing, and another huge bone thrown, this time, to the agnostics present. Agnostics to whom it is told how good they are – provided they are, in some way, “seeking” – rather than how necessary to their salvation faith is. I saw no trace here of the concept that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way of Jesus can be doubted, his Truth not accepted, the Life given through Him set aside like a piece of cake which might, or might not, have gone off; but hey, one is a “seeker of truth” and, in an even more daring automatism, “seeker of peace” and then he becomes a kind of positive force. I also read no warning as to the fact that only through Jesus salvation can be obtained, rather an agnostic can think that, if he proves to be totally wrong at death, his being “seeker of truth” and (why?) of “peace” will be more than enough to get, so to speak, past the bouncer.
Also, when the Pope speaks of those to whom the gift of faith is not given, he does not mention that faith as a theological virtue – rather than the mystical faith he is rather referring to – requires submission of intellect, serious work and intellectual acceptance of Revealed Truth and that this effort and acceptance are a duty, not an option. He also omits to say that men have the duty to pray that they may obtain faith, rather than putting their own values regarding, say, the righteousness of their own “seeking” above the Truths taught by the Church. The Holy Father is not converting them, he is pleasing and appeasing them, finding strange merits in their behaviour that have never been part of Catholic teaching in the following passage:
“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”.
What? Since when did we need agnostics not to become unjustifiably violent Christians? Since when has the agnostic become a healing element of Christian society? This expression logically means that a world with Christians and agnostics is a better world than one where everyone is a Christian, because in the latter we would miss the positive elements of the agnostics not challenging etc.
Once again, I am in no doubt that a trained theologian will find some way in which the words of the Holy Father can be proved to be, in some unexpected way, bent to adherence to Catholic theology. But this is not the point. Christians aren’t trained theologians, and pagans are it even less. As a Catholic, one has a justified expectation to hear from a Pope clear Catholic teaching explained without fear and without ambiguities meant to please – or at least not anger – the crowd of the day.
Compare Pope Benedict’s words with the recently published excerpts from “Mortalium Animos“, and you’ll get a better idea of what I mean. There is, in the entire document, not a single word which would expose itself to misinterpretation, and no strange theology praising agnostics for their “research” whilst they refuse to accept Christ. If you refuse to accept truth you are not a pilgrim of truth, full stop.
It seems to me that Assisi III had all the construction faults of Assisi I, thought in a much smaller format.
I do not know whether you have the same impression, but I have the distinctive feeling that the Assisi III meeting was a big, big flop.
I had written already about the fact that the secular media has given some notable space to the event, even noticing the dissent within conservative Catholicism. What i would not have expected is how rather massively ignored this event was, basically finding a substantial echo only in those place where this was unavoidable: the Catholic world.
One might legitimately say that in a world constantly looking for headlines, the Euro crisis stole the show and therefore the Assisi gathering went largely ignored. One might also say that a good God helped this to happen so as to avoid, as much as possible, embarrassment and controversy. I for myself would like to make some further points:
1) I always disagreed, and still disagree, with the extraordinary idea that a Pope has to do something just because he is put under pressure to do it. This is purely and simply not the case. The Pope, and no other, decides which gatherings to promote and which ones to ban. It is not only his faculty to do so, but his responsibility.
2) The “peace gathering” currency is rapidly becoming as discredited as anthropogenic global warming. It has now become that kind of abused, common place, worn news that the media will pick up only if there is nothing better to put in the first page, but will be happily ignored if more interesting things happen. To stay here in the UK, the mere fact that not only the Euro crisis, but even a couple of hundred campers near St. Paul could steal the show to the Pope says it all about the utter and total failure of this initiative, the non-necessity of it being done, and the supposed inevitability of the Pope having to – as the Germans say – “put himself at the head of the movement” in order to avoid further damage.
3) One could also say that the initiative was not picked by the media because a couple of non-Christian big wigs decided not to attend. This argument, if believed, says two things: a) that the Pope needs other people to gather interest around his initiatives, and b) that if the initiative dies because some Egyptian cleric doesn’t attend, it would have been annihilated if the Pope himself had not been there; nay: that it would have been ignored if the Pope had forbidden it.
Assisi III was a clear failure. Thank God for that. I hope this will be taken as a lesson and as an inspiration to do things differently in future, with more Catholicism and less banalities.
What has happened in Assisi was nothing else than a failed attempt to please the masses with a handful of trite common places. I am glad to say that it seems not to work anymore.
Read here in Father Z’s Blog about the pagan priest chanting to a pagan deity in the church.
This happened in the presence of the Pope, after the Pope himself had given the microphone to the chap.
I cannot imagine that this was a provocation, or was made with any kind of malicious intent; and this is, I think, exactly the problem.
If a Pagan thinks, in perfect good faith, that he can pray in a consecrated Catholic church, in the presence (I assume) of the Blessed Sacrament, in the presence of even the Pope, and after being given the word by the same Pope, this is a clear indication that the entire exercise was made in the wrong spirit, or at the very least that it was made so carelessly and with such blatant disregard for Catholic Truth, that such a thing could happen with the intention of pleasing the presents, and the Christians among them. This is how – to say it mildly – confused the entire concept was.
This is the unavoidable result of the ambiguity of wanting to do things straight and curved, pleasing the peace ‘n love ecumenical crowd and the orthodox Catholics at the same time. The concept of meeting together “for peace” in the spirit of accepting that it is fine to belong to different religions, but at the same time asking them to pray separately because it is not, simply avoids the issue of truth and lie, and of why Christianity exists in the first place. As the chap was singing alone, as requested, he was certainly not thinking of doing something contrary to Christian feelings; he was probably not even aware that for Christians he is actually supposed to convert; he certainly thought it a gesture of friendship to start singing pagan songs in a church.
Well, one can’t but wonder how could it come to such a point, and the answer is known to all of us: because Christian values have been pushed in the background in an awkward attempt to link, but not link, spirituality and desire for peace; to accept, but not accept, that people have other faiths; to say that it is cool, but that it actually also isn’t, to pray to one’s deity for peace.
I wonder whether the chap is aware, as I write, of the scandal he – unwittingly – caused. Possibly not, as no one might have thought it charitable to inform him of the fact. He was, after all, such a nice bloke so affectionate to his Amidala, or Olokuna, or however she is called.
If you ask me, this incident epitomises so much that is wrong in today’s work of the Church: the attempt to remain formally orthodox without saying the unpleasant things. This entire Assisi episode has been a long walk on the brink of heresy, with the Pope assuring us that he would take care that we would not fall into the pit, but in my eyes failing to provide a convincing argument that such a walk was advisable – let alone necessary – in the first place.
The result is the “Spirit of Assisi III”, clearly seen in a chap who thinks it perfectly appropriate to chant a pagan song in a Catholic church.
To say it with King Theoden, “and so it begins”: the dreaded Assisi III is upon us.
I cannot avoid noticing that in these last days, the secular/atheist press has given some space (more than I ever dared to dream) to the criticism from conservative Catholics of the past Assisi exercises, and the efforts made by the Holy Father to make things differently. You find in the so-called “Guardian” one of the frequent examples of the last weeks.
One cannot avoid a smile at seeing that the numerically still small fraction of conservatively minded Catholics is now so much in the centre stage of Catholic life that even the dark red “Guardian” notices its presence. Still, it seems to me that already today – and very probably, more so in the next days – it can be easily said that this Assisi gathering brings to the light the mistakes of the past ones. In his effort to let people know how to do it right, the Holy Father brings to the attention of the Catholic world how, in the past, it was made wrong. This, of course, provided that this gathering doesn’t give rise to scandals, which – though I am personally half-optimist, as long as I can – remains to be seen.
If Assisi I and Assisi II were right, then there was no necessity to point out to the differences. If they were wrong, then I continue not to see the necessity of, one generation later, informing the Catholic planet of the fact. It seems to me a bit as if the Vatican would promote a new and orthodox version of Jansenism in order to show that what was done wrongly in the past can be done rightly in the future.
Add to this that I am very afraid to be submerged by the worst possible “we are the world” rhetoric, the piercing smell of peace and love molasses already reaching these not-so-delicate ears.
We will see how this pans out. I trust that it will not be anything anywhere similar to the 1986 gatherings in his heretic potential, but I am afraid that it will still be much different from how Conservative Catholics would have done it.
If they thought they had to do it, that is; which I personally don’t believe at all.
The photo above shows the participants to the recent meeting in Albano. We now have more detailed information, as diffused by both Rorate Caeli and Messa in Latino:
1) Bishop Williamson was not present at the meeting. Not a logistic problem, apparently, but he was either not willing to participate, or not invited to. Bishop Williamson had already expressed his misgivings about the possible attempt at reconciliation, I have reported here.
2) The non-rejection is very good news in itself. Messa in Latino reports that it is the habit of the SSPX to make public any serious reservations immediately. It seems improbable, therefore, that the SSPX considers the documents not a valid basis for further talks.
3) Fellay and his strictest aides have been authorised to go on. Always according to Messa in Latino, the General Counsel of the Fraternity authorised to continue the talks is actually composed of Fellay and his two strictest aides, to whom one or two people may be added in special circumstances. This means that the participants in the Albano talks have enough confidence not only in Fellay, but in the possibility of success of the entire exercise to allow his small team to continue the negotiations.
Whilst none of these news is of an exceptional nature, it seems to me that a picture slowly composes itself, of cautious progress and will to further negotiation. In addition, please consider that the text of the Preambolo Dottrinale being open to modifications, the discussions will not be of a “take it or leave it” sort.
Encouraging signals, methinks, which should allow the moderate elements of the Fraternity to survive the harsh criticism very probably linked to the Assisi exercise.
Further prayers are certainly in order.
If I were in the mood for a joke, I could say that I love posting links to SSPX articles as they let me appear – semel in anno – a moderate expressing himself in very gentle tones.
The reason, though, why I publish this blog post with the link to the SSPX intervention about the impending Assisi III gathering is that, setting aside for a moment the rather harsh tones – at the cost of disappointing you I will say that expression like “immense scandal” seem over the top to me – I was unable to find any fundamental flaw in the arguments of Father Régis de Cacqueray, District Superior of France and therefore not your obscure Sunday ranting enthusiast.
If we set aside for a moment the incendiary tones used – which I do not want to condemn, being myself not new to the experience; and perhaps, perhaps feeling in me as I write a lack of that fire that must be burning into the heart of this brave Catholic – I am unable to disagree with the concept that
the scandal of Assisi 2011 will be substantially the same but less spectacular than Assisi 1986.
In fact, by examining the invitation made by the Holy Father and the constant, omnipresent appeal to peace – the leitmotiv of the 1986 as well as of the 2011 gathering – one cannot in my eyes escape the conclusion that, as things look today – nay: as they have been announced and planned – the similarities with 1986 will be far more pronounced than the differences. The very fact that this gathering happens to remember the old one is enough of a tell-tale.
This, without considering what the media will do of it all. To say it again with the words of the author:
Before the image of a Pope uniting the representatives of all the false religions, the reaction of the majority of men will be to relativise truth and religion still more. What individual, little acquainted with the Catholic religion, will not be tempted to be reassured about the fate of non-Catholics when he sees the Pope inviting them to pray for freedom of conscience? What non-Christian will see in the Catholic religion the one true religion to the exclusion of all others when he learns that the head of the Catholic Church has convoked a pantheon of religions? How will he interpret the Pope’s exhortation not to yield to relativism if not by thinking that it is a matter, not of holding to the truth, but of being sincere?
“Ah, but this time it will be different”, I hear you say. In some measure, yes. But I had to stop and read the following words thrice:
Of course, unlike the first meeting at Assisi, it appears that the prayer will be in silence, albeit very present. However, to what god will they pray in silence, these representatives of all the false religions? They will they pray to their false gods, since the Pope invites them explicitly to live more deeply “their religious faith”? To whom will the Muslims turn then, if not to the God of Mohammed? To whom will the animists speak, if not to their idols? How then is it conceivable that a Pope call upon the representatives of false religions, to take part as such, in a day of personal prayer?
Or think about the biggest difference of Assisi III with Assisi I, the attitude towards common prayer:
Formerly Assisi was defended by making a subtle distinction between “being together to pray” and “praying together.” Will they now be saying that there will be no common prayer, but rather a day of prayer in common? Instead of denying the concomitance of the silent prayers, shall we say that everybody prays separately according to his own religion? As if these specious distinctions were not manufactured for the needs of the cause. As if these subtleties were immediately grasped by the majority of men, who will retain only one thing: a gathering of all the religions for everyone to pray to the divinity, abstracting from any Revelation.
Harsh words, these (and I have spared you the truly inflammatory ones); but frankly, I can’t see how I could deny the substance of Father Régis’ argument.
The rest of the article is of the same high level of argumentative force, though of at least the same level of incendiary choice of words, too. When he talks about “peace”, for example, the author once again hits the nail on the head (with a sledgehammer, that is… ).
I suggest that you arm yourself with a prayer (why not try this) and a camomile and read the article in its entirety. Please forget the call of blasphemy and the apocalyptic tones, and see it from the perspective of the one who doesn’t think that the Pope has unwittingly sold himself to the freemasonry, but is trying to see what is authentically Catholic in this exercise; what kind of signals will be sent; what kind of signals will be received.
We will have to wait and see what happens, but let me say that I do not think that the one or other orthodox aside – certainly to be expected from the Holy Father, and certainly picked up by the few well-instructed Catholics and some fine blog – will really do anything to counter the impression of huge multifaith fest that the media will predictably give of this event.
So predictably, in fact, that to claim afterwards that the event has been distorted by the media would seem rather disingenuous to me.
The Italian blog Messa In Latino – which had published the original rumour – today informs us that Bishop Fellay has denied the existence of a document outlining the proposal of an Ordinariate for the FSSPX and other traditionalist groups.
Messa In Latino confirms that such a solution has been (tentatively) outlined to the FSSPX. The explanations given by the blog as to how reconcile this with Fellay’s words are as follows:
1) Bishop Fellay has denied the existence of a “concrete project” (say: a definitive document of proposal), not the existence of a verbal, in principle proposal to proceed in this way.
2) It would appear that the announcement has caused some discontent within the FSSPX, with the least moderate part predictably opposed to any solution which doesn’t represent a complete backpedaling from Rome.
3) It would appear possible that in light of this situation, Fellay himself may have wished the postponement of the official proposal to a later time, in the meantime hoping to consolidate the approval for such a solution.
4) The proposed Assisi meeting in October is not going to make things easier; again, this might speak for an official proposal after the sandstorm to be caused by the Assisi gathering has settled.
It all makes much sense to me and I do not think that the Italian translation will reveal fundamental changes. Whilst it is predictable that the intransigent fraction will not be happy with the solution, I frankly can’t see why the vast part of the SSPX clergy should refuse it, provided that the ability for the SSPX to continue to operate in complete autonomy (which means: to continue to criticise V II documents ad libitum) would not be compromised. It is not that Lefebvre was any softer regarding V II before his excommunication, so there is no need to fear that return to full communion will mean the necessity to accept the V II documents as pure gold.
What is important to notice is that Messa In Latino boldly confirms the rumours. In this respect, the presence of a written document is in my eyes not really decisive, as after so many years of disagreements there is no real hurry and the idea of waiting until, say, Advent does make sense.
I will keep you posted if further news appear.
The Press office of the vatican has released a multilingual communiqué about the planned meeting in Assisi, in the meantime known as “Assisi III”. If you scroll here you’ll see the English text.
As expected, Pope Benedict will do things in a radically different manner than his soon-to-be-beatified predecessor. Among the positive aspects I would mention:
1) The express intention of avoiding the mess of the other times (particularly 1986). The statement says (emphasis mine):
Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism.
No Buddhas on altars, and no mistake.
2) The express mention that there will be no common prayer. People of different faith will just – to say it poetically – shut up and everyone of them will pray individually as he can. The fact that everyone prays according to his own religion doesn’t make the act “ecumenical” (in the wrong sense) in the least. This is, it seems to me, not different from what happens in a stadium before the shooting of a penalty. I will eagerly await what conservative Catholic sites write about this, but I personally don’t see any need to be alarmed by the exercise in itself.
3) The event is very much low-key: a selected group of people starting a train journey from Rome to Assisi. Also, no multi-day kermesse but a rather sober programme beginning and ending on the same day. This is no mega-gathering, rather a day out.
As largely expected, scenes like these ones are not going to be repeated; rather, Pope Benedict chooses to emphasise beforehand that he is going to make it differently. Still, I think that this is not a good thing as he is, in a way, trying to repair Assisi like Gorbaciov tried to repair communism, but the first is every bit beyond repair as the second.
Some aspects of the gathering are, in my eyes, still questionable; not “JP II-questionable”, though; rather, questionable from a purely Catholic point of view:
1) I’d have thought that the Pope’s role is to convert those who are not Catholic, not to dialogue with them. I know that dialogue is so much “en vogue” nowadays, but everytime I read about “dialogue” I have the strange impression that here the message is broadcast that Catholicism and heresy – or Catholicism and Atheism – are positions which meet on a foot of equal dignity.
They don’t. Truth meets Lie, and Faith meets Unbelief. It may be that this will be the bearer of good fruits; still, the supremacy of the Truth should be stressed by none more than by the Pope himself. This here doesn’t help.
2) Assisi I is called “historic meeting”. Historic in shame, blasphemy and heresy, yes. But to extol such a goddamn mess as an example of virtue seems to me – even allowing for the explicit clarification that this time, things are going to be made in a radically different way – way out of the mark. Again, Pope Benedict tries to repair a toy already irreparably damaged in the eyes of orthodox Catholics and no amount of totschweigen und schoenreden of the unspeakable shame of 1986 will change an iota in this.
3) this time, atheists are also invited. They are invited on the ground that they “regard themselves as seekers of truth” and feel that they “share responsibility” for this planet. This sounds rather strange to me. I’d have thought that the gathering would have a religious aspect in that it shows people of different faiths but united by their belief in the supernatural. If you extend this to atheists, well why not to homo and lesbian organisations, or neonazis, or wiccans, or the like? They all “see themselves” as “seekers of truth”, let alone think that they “share responsibility”….
Next thing you know, Satanists will asked to be invited. Hey, let’s dialogue!
4) (Achtung! Pure Mundabor-esque point!) I don’t know about you, but I still have a slight impression of easy populism whenever I hear about a “peace” event. Peace is easily said and more universally liked than football, or chocolate. It doesn’t make any news that a religious leader promotes peace. Rather, it seems to me that peace is getting too big a place at the Christian table. In my eyes, it would be high time – for a change – to start re-instructing the faithful about the doctrine of war instead of feeding them the easy fare of cunning politicians and senseless dreamers. We can’t close our eyes in front of simple realities of the human condition just because it is more convenient or popular to do so. The Truth must, I think, be said whole, not only the convenient bits. Marches for “peace” are not very scarce; nor is the message controversial; nor is there any need to stress it.
All in all, one can – I think – safely say that the worst fears have been dissipated. But one can also – I’d say, with equal security – say that this initiative still reeks a bit of that easy populism that played such a massive role during the pontificate of the late JP II.
I still wished this had never been started.
I have already written a blog post about Bishop Fellay’s intervention in favour of Summorum Pontificum.
In the same interview, he deals with Assisi III and this is probably worth of separate consideration.
Bishop Fellay points out to the following problems:
1) That Pope Benedict heavily criticises relativism in religious matters (and rightly so, of course) but indirectly promotes the same relativism by starting the Assisi 2011 initiative.
2) That Pope Benedict is now celebrating an initiative which he himself clearly boycotted in 1986.
3) That in his idea that it be impossible for Catholic and non-Catholics to pray together, but that it be possible for them to gather together as members of different religious affiliations he is “splitting hairs”.
I find his criticism perfectly right on all points and whilst we will have to wait to see how Pope Benedict organises and shapes this meeting (that is: how he limits the damage that he has already done, the bomb of “interreligious gathering” being one which always causes a powerful explosion however orthodox your intentions), it is interesting to note that Bishop Fellay makes a supreme effort of explicate the inexplicable and theorises a desire to counteract the recent spate of persecutions as the real motive of this initiative.
Personally, I cannot see this as a real motive. Christians have always been persecuted and they always will; to water down the Christian message and to try to appease the persecutors will in my eyes only have the effect of increasing their aggressiveness. You just don’t fight religious intolerance by watering down the Christian message.
If you ask me, I can only see one – or all – of these three motives:
1) Pope Benedict wants to re-make in the right way what Pope John Paul once made in the wrong way, thus erasing as far as possible the bad memory of Assisi I and II with a theologically impeccable Assisi III. This seems to me a bit like trying to make dung smell good but one can – with a stretch of the imagination – understand the logic.
2) Pope Benedict thinks that conservative Catholics are becoming too cocky (utter and complete dominance on the Internet; vast support among young clergy; resurgence of the popularity of old, once forgotten or ignored heroes like Pius XII and Fulton Sheen) and wants to help the “other side” a bit. The beatification of JP II before the beatification of Pius XII, the oh-so-liberal sounding convocation of Assisi III and, perhaps, a restrictive interpretation of the scope of Summorum Pontificum would all be parts of the same thinking.
3) Pope Benedict is simply trying (in the wrong way, if you ask me) to promote the JP II brand as he sees in it a powerful instrument of evangelisation. Again, one understands the logic. I just wonder why he would allow himself to be persuaded to pick the most controversial of JPII’s many controversial inititatives to do so. It seems to me a bit like promoting Bill Clinton’s presidency by remembering the Lewinsky affair.
We’ll have to wait and see how all this pans out. In the meantime, I allow myself the comment that Pope Pius XII would have never dreamt of an initiative like Assisi (whatever numeral you may put to it); that Fulton Sheen would have never dreamt of encouraging interreligious gatherings of any sort, but exclusively Catholic gatherings of every sort; and that Padre Pio would have never dreamt of the necessity of a Novus Ordo mass, however “reformed after the reform” it may be.
In recent months, Pope Benedict seems to have been skating on rather thin ice. More the reason to pray for him.