Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said this in an article from the weekend edition of L'Osservatore Romano. Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, also offered a perspective on the Oct. 27 meeting.
Cardinal Bertone recalled how the event continues a series, with earlier meetings held in 1986 and 2002, but which has its own particularities and accents -- as well as novelties, including a first invitation to non-believers.
Following Blessed John Paul II
The 1986 meeting was called by John Paul II on the occasion of the U.N. International Year of Peace and caused a stir in international public opinion.
The cardinal said that the Polish Pontiff had two profound intentions: the first, "to highlight the intrinsically spiritual dimension of peace," in face of a culture "that tends to relegate the religious phenomenon." And the second: for religious leaders to address their own responsibility to see that personal and community beliefs "are translated into an effective building of peace," remembering that "religious membership has often been instrumentalized as an element of conflict."
In reality, said Cardinal Bertone, John Paul II's fundamental objective was to demonstrate how dialogue was possible based on religious experience, without falling into relativism or syncretism.
John Paul II himself explained this on that Oct. 27 of 1986: It is not about seeking "a religious consensus" or of "negotiating our faith convictions" or that "religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all," said the Pontiff.
Cardinal Bertone proposed that this last point was of capital importance: "Relativism and syncretism, in fact, end by destroying, instead of appreciating the specificity of the religious experience," an aspect which must be addressed again "given the superficial interpretations, which weren't lacking, of that first meeting of Assisi," he stressed.
The next meeting, on Jan. 24, 2002, was convoked by John Paul II following the Sept. 11 attacks, and it was geared especially to ward off the danger of a confrontation with Islam.
In reality, it was not an unprecedented event, as already in 1994 a Day of Prayer for Peace in the Balkans was held, with representatives from other religions present in that European region, then at war.
The direct objective of the 2002 meeting was "to make visible all religions' condemnation of terrorism of a fundamentalist ilk," as well as the commitment "not to allow oneself to be instrumentalized by the confrontations between nations, peoples and cultures," asserted Cardinal Bertone.
That meeting concluded with a gathering in St. Francis Square, as participants signed a solemn declaration for peace and for condemnation of religiously-tinged terrorism.
Not just believers
What, then, is the objective of this new meeting in Assisi? For Cardinal Bertone, the meaning is clearly expressed in the motto that Benedict XVI chose for the occasion: "Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace."
"To affirm that one is a pilgrim means to admit that one has not yet arrived at the goal, or better yet, that the goal always transcends us, thus constituting the meaning of our journey," the cardinal reflected. Every person of good will senses that he is a pilgrim of truth, that he is on a journey, "because he is conscious that the truth always surpasses him."
That is why -- and this is one of the novelties of the forthcoming meeting -- personalities of the world of science and culture who describe themselves as non-believers or non-religious, have also been invited to participate.
Cardinal Bertone credited this decision not only to the fact that peace "is a responsibility of all, believers and non-believers," but also a more profound reason: "We are convinced that the position of one who does not believe or for whom it is hard to believe can play a salutary role for religions as such, for example, helping them to identify possible degeneration or lack of authenticity."
"As Christians, we profess to have received in Christ the full and definitive revelation of God's face," he said. "We know that the gift of salvation is for all men and we want the Father's plan of love to be manifested and realized in its totality." However, at the same time, "we know that we will never be able to exhaust the profundity of Christ's mystery. Not only that, we acknowledge that our fragility can at times obfuscate the splendor of the treasure that has been revealed to us and make knowledge of it more difficult."
"Having received truth as a gift does not impede us, therefore, from knowing ourselves to be fellow travelers with every man and every woman," stressed the cardinal.
In some way, this meeting is an attempt to translate to action Article 2 of the declaration "Nostra Aetate," in a more explicit and direct way than in previous meetings, Cardinal Bertone continued. "The Catholic Church does not reject anything in these religions that is holy and true. She considers with sincere respect the ways of acting and living, the precepts and doctrines that, no matter how much they differ in much that she professes and teaches, not infrequently reflect a spark of that Truth that illumines all men."
Cardinal Tauran, for his part, pointed to three elements in the October meeting: "We are all creatures of God and, hence, brothers and sisters," he recalled. Hence, "God acts in every human person, who through the use of reason can have a premonition of the existence of the mystery of God and recognize universal values."
Thirdly, the meeting points to "the patrimony of common ethical values that enables believers, as such, to contribute in particular to the affirmation of justice, of peace and of harmony,."
Dialogue, stressed Cardinal Tauran, is not a "conversation between believers" or "a diplomatic negotiation." It does not enter the terrain of marketing "or even less so of commitments;" it is not motivated by political or social interests, "it does not seek to stress or erase differences," "it does not want to create a universal religion, accepted by all."
True dialogue "is a space for reciprocal testimony between believers of different religions, to know better the other's religion and the ethical conduct that stems from it," which makes it possible "to correct erroneous images and to surmount stereotypes": "to know the other as he is, as he has a right to be known," the cardinal explained.
Cardinal Tauran noted that there are four modalities of dialogue: the dialogue of life (sharing everyday joys and sorrows), the dialogue of works (cooperating in the integral progress of man), theological dialogue, insofar as it is possible, and the dialogue of religious experience.
Importance of gestures
The 1986 meeting stressed the universality of three elements, present in virtually all religions: prayer, pilgrimage and fasting. The central moment of the meeting was the joint prayer for peace.
Faced with violence of religious undertones, the 2002 meeting stressed the need for purification "of which each religious tradition must take charge, in face of other religions and the world," said Cardinal Bertone.
On that occasion, the Pope invited participants to prepare with a day of fasting that, significantly, was placed at the end of the month of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.
In 2002 the particular prayer of each religious group was chosen over a joint prayer. This choice "was derived from the common will not to offer a pretext of interpretations of the meeting of an irenic type," stated Cardinal Bertone.
In this connection, clarified the Vatican secretary of state, "a concern to avoid even the impression of any relativism is not only Catholic."
This concern, he said, is "particularly understandable in the present cultural context," with its tendency to question truth and to take all religions as equal and ultimately irrelevant.
Benedict XVI will preside at a prayer vigil for peace the night before the meeting, with faithful of the Diocese of Rome, inviting bishops and faithful worldwide to join him.
Another element of the meeting will be fasting, the cardinal said, as a sign of "the penitential dimension that the meeting hopes to assume, the conviction of always being ready for a process of purification."
The third element will be the pilgrimage, which will be symbolized by the train trip of the delegations from Rome to Assisi, and by the ascent to the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels.
"We acknowledge ourselves to be pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace, committing ourselves to be builders of a more just and solidary world," Cardinal Bertone said, "conscious that this task surpasses our poor strength and that it must be invoked from on high."