On 27 October 2011, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Assisi to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the historic meeting there in 1986, called by Pope John Paul II, which gathered representatives of Christian communities and world religions for a Day of Prayer for Peace.
On the day of the anniversary the Holy Father intends to hold a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world, making a pilgrimage to the home of Saint Francis and inviting fellow Christians from different denominations and representatives of the world’s religious traditions to join him once again on this journey. In addition to Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and other representatives of different religious traditions, non-believers have also been invited to Assisi, linked to the Courtyard of the Gentiles initiative.
Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace
The day will take as its theme: Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace. Every human being is ultimately a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness. Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and non-believers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity. To the extent that the pilgrimage of truth is authentically lived, it opens the path to dialogue with the other, it excludes no one and it commits every human being to be a builder of fraternity and peace.
For this reason, as well as representatives of Christian communities and of the principal religious traditions, some figures from the world of culture and science will be invited to share the journey – people who, while not professing to be religious, regard themselves as seekers of the truth and are conscious of a shared responsibility for the cause of justice and peace in the world.
The image of pilgrimage therefore sums up the meaning of the event. There will be an opportunity to look back over the path already travelled from that first meeting in Assisi to the following one in January 2002, and also to look ahead to the future, with a view to continuing, in company with all men and women of good will, to walk along the path of dialogue and fraternity, in the context of a world in rapid transformation.
The delegations will set off from Rome by train on the morning of 27 October, together with the Holy Father. The trip to Assisi is scheduled to take one hour and 50 minutes.
Upon arrival in Assisi, delegates will make their way to the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, where the previous meetings will be recalled and the theme of the day will be explored in greater depth. Leaders of some of the delegations present will make speeches and the Holy Father will deliver an address.
There will follow a simple lunch, shared by the delegates: a meal under the banner of sobriety, intended to express fraternal conviviality, and at the same time solidarity in the suffering of so many men and women who do not know peace.
There will follow a period of silence for individual reflection and prayer.
The pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Francis will be in the afternoon; those participating in the event will walk to the basilica and the leaders of the various groups will join the pilgrimage for the final stretch. It is intended to symbolize the journey of every human being who assiduously seeks the truth and actively builds justice and peace. It will take place in silence, leaving room for personal meditation and prayer.
In the shadow of Saint Francis’ Basilica, where the previous meetings were also concluded, the final stage of the day will include a solemn renewal of the joint commitment to peace.
In preparation for this day, Pope Benedict XVI will preside over a Prayer Vigil at Saint Peter’s the previous evening, together with the faithful of the Diocese of Rome. Particular Churches and communities throughout the world are invited to organize similar times of prayer. The Pope asks the Catholic faithful to join him in praying for the celebration of this important event and he is grateful to all those who will be able to be present in Saint Francis’ home town to share this spiritual pilgrimage.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald has issued the following call to prayer for the Assisi gathering:
“As the Pope has asked all Catholics to support this event with their prayer, it would be appropriate to mark this day, either on the day or on the following Sunday, with a moment of silence, and a prayer, such as the following one: ‘God of Peace, as religious leaders gather in Assisi on their pilgrimage for peace, we ask you to make this meeting a blessed and fruitful one, and to grant all your children the will and the ability to live with each other in peace. We also pray for ourselves, that we may become messengers of this peace, in cooperation and solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in our own religion and others, of all beliefs and none. In a moment of silence, we pray for the gift of peace.”
Further information on interreligious dialogue can be found in the teaching document of the Bishops of England and Wales, “Meeting God in Friend and Stranger. Fostering respect and mutual understanding between the religions”, which is available from CTS, or online here.
Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to representatives of other religions, Twickenham, 17 September 2010