By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Addressing leaders of other religions meeting today in Naples, Pope Benedict XVI called upon the world’s religions to be “artisans of the civilization of love.” Never, Benedict said, can religious faith legitimately be invoked to justify hatred or violence.
The pope vowed that the Catholic church “intends to continue to pursue the path of dialogue,” while “respecting the differences among the various religions.” He spoke at the Capodimonte Seminary in Naples, flanked by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.
The inter-faith gathering, titled “For a World without Violence: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue,” was organized under the aegis of the Community of Sant’Egidio. The founder of Sant'Egidio, lay Italian church historian Andrea Riccardi, was also on the dais with the pope.
Benedict invoked the memory of Pope John Paul II’s 1986 summit of religious leaders in Assisi – ironically, an event about which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger expressed reservations on the grounds that it could inadvertently promote a form of religious relativism, in which one religion seems as good as another.
As Benedict XVI spoke, a large picture of John Paul II seated alongside the Dalai Lama and other religious leaders during the Assisi gathering in 1986 was visible over his left shoulder.
While praising the 1986 event, Benedict XVI did not repeat John Paul II’s moment of silent prayer in the company of other religious leaders.
While Benedict stressed inter-religious cooperation, he did not enter into details of how these relationships might move forward. Some observers thought the pope might make reference to a recent letter from 138 Muslim leaders, for example, which attempted to lay out the basis for further theological dialogue.
Instead, Benedict simply expressed a “lively wish” that a spirit of dialogue will spread, “above all where tensions are most strong, where liberty and respect for others are negated, and where men and women suffer the consequences of intolerance and incomprehension.”
A rush NCR translation of the pope’s remarks appears below.
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Representatives of the Churches and Ecclesial Communities,
Esteemed exponents of the great world religions,
I gladly welcome this occasion for saluting the personalities meeting here in Naples for the 21st meeting with the theme: “For a world without violence – religions and cultures in dialogue.” That which you represent expresses in a certain sense the different religious worlds and patrimonies of humanity, to which the Catholic church looks with sincere respect and cordial attention. A word of appreciation goes to Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe and to the Archdiocese of Naples that is hosting this meeting, and to the Community of Sant’Egidio, that works with dedication to favor dialogue among religions and cultures “in the spirit of Assisi.”
Today’s meeting ideally takes us back to 1986, when my venerated predecessor Pope John Paul II invited high-ranking religious representatives to the hills of Assisi to pray for peace, underlining in that circumstance the intrinsic bond that unites an authentic religious attitude with a live sensibility for the fundamental good of humanity. In 2002, after the dramatic events of September 11 of the preceding year, the same John Paul II recalled the religious leaders to Assisi, to ask God to stop the grave threats that surround humanity, especially as a result of terrorism.
Respecting the differences among the various religions, we are all called to work for peace and to a dynamic commitment to promoting reconciliation among peoples. This is the authentic “spirit of Assisi,” which is opposed to every form of violence and abuse of religion as a pretext for violence. Facing a world lacerated by conflict, where sometimes violence is justified in the name of God, it’s important to reaffirm that religions must never become vehicles of hate; never, invoking the name of God, can evil and violence be justified. On the contrary, the religions can and must offer precious resources for constructing a peaceful humanity, because they speak of peace at the heart of the human being. The Catholic church intends to continue to pursue the path of dialogue in order to favor understanding among the diverse cultures, traditions and forms of religious wisdom. It’s my lively hope that this spirit will spread ever more, above all where tensions are most strong, where liberty and respect for others are negated, and where men and women suffer the consequences of intolerance and incomprehension.
Dear friends, may these days of work and of prayerful listening be fruitful for everyone. I address my prayer for this intention to the Eternal God, so that he will bestow on all the participants in this meeting the abundance of his blessings, of his wisdom and his love. May he liberate the heart of human beings from all hate and the roots of violence, and render us all artisans of the civilization of love.