Does prayer have economic value?



To the honored brother
Domenico Sorrentino,
Bishop of Assisi - Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the »Interfaith meeting on prayer for peace«, Which took place in Assisi on October 27, 1986 at the request of my venerable predecessor John Paul II. As is well known, he not only invited Christians of different denominations to this meeting, but also representatives of the various religions. The initiative met with a great response from the public: it presented a far-reaching message for peace and turned out to be an event that should leave its mark on the history of our time. So it is understandable that the memory of what happened then continues to generate initiatives of reflection and commitment. Some are scheduled for the 20th anniversary of that event in Assisi. I am thinking of the celebration which - in consultation with the diocese - was organized by the community "Sant'Egidio", following the example of similar encounters that are held annually by this community. In the actual anniversary days, a conference organized by the "Istituto Teologico Assisano" will take place, and the particular churches of the region will come together for a Eucharistic celebration, which the bishops of Umbria in the Basilica of St. Francis will celebrate together. Finally, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue will organize a meeting of dialogue, prayer and peace education for young Catholics and young people of other religions.

These initiatives highlight, each in their own way, the value of intuition that John Paul II had and demonstrate its relevance in the light of the events of the past two decades and the situation in which humanity finds itself today. The most significant event during this period was undoubtedly the overthrow of the communist regime in Eastern Europe. With this the "Cold War" came to an end, which had caused a kind of division of the world into opposing spheres of influence, which led to the build-up of fearsome arsenals and the total war-ready armies. It was a time of general hope for peace, which led many to dream of a different world in which relations between peoples would have developed without the specter of war and the "globalization process" under the sign of peaceful confrontation between peoples and cultures would have taken place within the framework of a common international law oriented towards respect for the requirements of truth, justice and solidarity. Unfortunately, this dream of peace did not come true. Rather, the third millennium began with seemingly never-ending scenes of terror and violence. In addition, the fact that the armed conflicts are being carried out today against the background of the geopolitical tensions that exist in many places can create the impression that not only cultural but also religious differences are factors of instability or threats to the prospects of peace can.

It is precisely from this point of view that the initiative that John Paul II launched 20 years ago has a prophetic character. Its to the leader The invitation to the world religions to a common witness of peace served to make it unmistakably clear that that religion cannot be anything other than a proclaimer of peace. Like the Second Vatican Council in the declaration Nostra aetate teaches about the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions, we cannot "invoke God, the Father of all, if we refuse the brotherly attitude of some people who are made in the image of God" (No. 5). In spite of the differences that characterize the various religious paths, the knowledge of the existence of God, which people can reach even if they start from the experience of creation (cf. Rom 1:20), causing believers to view other people as brothers. Nobody should therefore take religious differences as a prerequisite or pretext for a hostile attitude towards other people.

One could argue that history is the sad phenomenon of Wars of religion knows. We know, however, that such acts of violence are not attributable to religion as such, but rather to the cultural limitation with which it is lived and develops over time. However, when the religious mind has reached maturity, it awakens in the believer that belief in God, the Creator of the universe and Father of all, must necessarily promote relationships of universal brotherhood among men. Indeed, in all the great religious traditions there are testimonies of the close connection that exists between the relationship with God and the ethic of love. We Christians feel confirmed and enlightened even more deeply by the Word of God. The Old Testament already testifies to God's love for all peoples: He unites them through his covenant with Noah in one big hug - symbolized by the "bow in the clouds" (gene - and ultimately, according to the words of the prophets, wants to gather them together in a single universal family (cf. Isa 2.2ff; 42.6; 66.18-21; Jer 4,2; Ps 47). In the New Testament the revelation of this universal plan of love finds its climax in the Paschal Mystery, in which the incarnate Son of God gives himself up on the cross as a sacrifice for all humanity in a moving act of redeeming solidarity. In this way God shows that his essence is love. That is what I wanted to emphasize in my first encyclical, which begins with the words: »Deus caritas est« (1 Joh 4.7). This statement of the Holy Scriptures not only sheds light on the mystery of God, but it also illuminates the relationships between people who are all called to live according to the commandment of love.

The meeting in Assisi, initiated by the Servant of God John Paul II, rightly emphasized the Value of prayer in building peace. Indeed, we are aware of how difficult and at times hopeless from a human point of view the path to this fundamental good is. Peace is a value that incorporates many factors. In order to build it up, paths of a cultural, political and economic nature are of course important. But first and foremost peace must be built in hearts. Here sensations develop that nourish him or, on the contrary, threaten, weaken or stifle him. The human heart is also the place where God works. Therefore, it becomes apparent that in this area, in addition to the "horizontal" dimension - the relationship with other people - the "vertical" dimension - the relationship of every individual person to God, in which everything has its basis - is of fundamental importance. This is exactly what Pope John Paul II wanted the world to remember with the 1986 initiative. He called for a real prayer that involves all of life. It should therefore be accompanied by fasting and expressed through pilgrimage, the symbol of the way to encounter God. He declared: "Prayer calls for the conversion of hearts on our part" (Address at the beginning of the World Day of Prayer of Religions for Peace in the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi; in O.R. German, No. 45, November 7, 1986, p. 9). Among the significant aspects of the 1986 meeting It must be emphasized that this value of prayer for building peace was testified by representatives of various religious traditionsand that did not happen from afar, but as part of an encounter. In this way the prayers of the various religions were able to show in the language of the testimony that prayer does not divide but unites, and that it is a crucial element in an effective pedagogy of peace based on friendship, mutual acceptance and dialogue between people different cultures and religions. We need this pedagogy more than ever, especially with regard to the younger generations. Many young people in conflict-ridden areas of the world are brought up to feel hatred and revenge, within ideological frameworks in which the seeds of old hostilities are nourished and hearts are prepared for future acts of violence. These barriers must be torn down and encounters promoted. I am therefore pleased that the initiatives planned for Assisi this year are going in this direction and that the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has tailored them particularly to young people.

In order not to allow any misunderstandings to arise about the meaning of what John Paul II wanted to achieve in 1986 and what is usually associated with an expression he coined as "Spirit of Assisi«Should not be forgotten how much attention was paid to the prayer meeting of the religions should not give rise to syncretistic interpretationsbased on a relativistic point of view. Precisely for this reason, John Paul II declared from the beginning: “The fact that we have come here does not imply the intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our religious convictions. It does not mean that the religions can be reconciled on the level of a common commitment to an earthly project that would transcend them all. It is still a concession to a relativism in questions of religious belief ... «(ibid.). I would like to reaffirm this principle, which is the prerequisite for that dialogue between the religions that the Second Vatican Council took place 40 years ago Declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions (see. Nostra aetate, 2) expressed as a wish. I am happy to take the opportunity to greet the representatives of the other religions who are taking part in one or the other commemoration in Assisi. Just like we Christians, they also know that in prayer one can experience God in a very special way and that prayer can provide effective stimuli for devoting oneself to the cause of peace. Nevertheless, inappropriate mix-ups must be avoided here as well. Therefore, even when one comes together to pray for peace, prayer must take place in different ways specific to different religions. That is the decision that was made in 1986, and that decision is still valid today. Agreement among different things must not create the impression that one is giving space to that relativism which denies the meaning of truth and the possibility of arriving at it.

For his courageous and prophetic initiative, John Paul II chose the impressive backdrop of Assisi, the city that runs through the figure of St. Francis is known worldwide. In fact, the »Poverello« embodied in an exemplary manner the Beatitudes proclaimed by Jesus in the Gospel: »Blessed are the peace makers; for they will be called sons of God "(Mt 5.9). The testimony he gave in his time makes him a natural point of reference for those who today cultivate the ideal of peace, respect for nature and dialogue between people, religions and cultures. However, it is important that the message of St. Francis should not be distorted to remember that it was his radical choice for Christ that gave him the key to understanding that brotherhoodto which all people are called and in which in a certain way inanimate beings - from "Brother Sun" to "Sister Moon" - participate. I would therefore like to remind you that at the same time as this 20th anniversary of the prayer for peace initiated by John Paul II the 800th anniversary of the conversion of St. Francis takes place. The two commemorations illuminate each other. In the words addressed to Francis through the cross of "San Damiano" - "Go and restore my house ..." - with his decision for radical poverty, with the kiss he gave the leper and in which expressed his new ability to see and love Christ in the suffering brothers, began that human and Christian adventure that still fascinates many people of our time and makes this city the destination of countless pilgrims.

To you, venerable Brother, Pastor of the Church of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino, I entrust the task of conveying these thoughts to the participants in the various celebrations that commemorate the 20th anniversary of that historic event - of "Meeting of Religions" on October 27, 1986 - are planned to be passed on. Please also convey to everyone my warm greeting and my blessing, which I am accompanying with the wish and prayer of the "Poverello" of Assisi: "The Lord give you his peace!"

From Castelgandolfo on September 2nd, 2006


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