The Oct. 27 event marks the 25th anniversary of the first such interreligious prayer for peace, which was promoted by Pope John Paul II and held in the town known for its native son St. Francis.
Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, didn't attend that first 1986 meeting and later criticized it as an example of religious relativism — the idea that there are no absolute truths and that all religions are somehow equal — [Ask some of priests and sisters and they will tell you that it is a harmless thing to have an ecumenical prayer service. And if you say anything to the contrary or will not be amenable to holding such a service, be sure to be labelled a zealot! This cannot be done by a Catholic. The god of Islam and Buddhism is NOT and WILL NEVER BE ON THE SAME LEVEL as the God of Catholics, because JESUS CHRIST, true God and true Man, is the GOD of CATHOLICS]
In 2000, when he was head of the Vatican's doctrine office, Ratzinger issued a controversial document in part as a response to the Assisi meeting, which suggested the fullness of human salvation was found in the Catholic Church alone. [Does not only suggest but explicitly says so.]
Now Benedict is presiding over his first Assisi interreligious gathering, and the decision to eliminate the common, public prayer is being seen as his way of further correcting the wrongs from the 1986 event, which was repeated in 2002, albeit with changes.
Vatican officials outlined the day's schedule Tuesday and released the guest list, which includes a record 300-plus delegates representing dozens of faiths — and even four people who profess no faith, a new feature this year.
Some of the big names include Rajhmoon Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, who will head a Hindu delegation; the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; a delegation from Israel's rabbinate authority; a Bahai, a Zoroastrian, three Jains, five Sikhs, and a Yoruba.
The Dalai Lama had a scheduling conflict and is sending an envoy, and Russia's Orthodox Church — with which the Vatican is trying to improve ties — is dispatching a representative from Kazakhstan. For the first time, a Buddhist from mainland China is coming.
Some 48 Muslims are expected, but none from Cairo's Al-Azhar institute, the pre-eminent school of Islamic learning in the Sunni Muslim world, which cut ties with the Vatican over Benedict's call for Christians to be better protected in Egypt. [You issue a call to protect Christians being persecuted in a Muslim land, and the Muslim "school" protests! Geez!]
The delegates will travel together with the pope aboard a train leaving from the Vatican's train station and will sit together for speeches in Assisi's St. Mary of the Angels basilica. They'll have a "spare" lunch together — obviously heavily vegetarian — and then they will go to pray privately, separately in rooms of an Assisi convent.
They'll come back together for a wrap-up session and light candles as symbols of peace.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, head of the Vatican's justice and peace office, confirmed that the "novelty" of this year's agenda is that there is no common, public prayer for peace as there had been in previous Assisi encounters.
"The emphasis is on the pilgrimage, not on the common prayer," he said. But he denied the change represented any negative judgment on past meetings, saying it was merely "a way to try to improve the character itself of inviting exponents of other faiths together."
"It's an exercise of dialogue, and dialogue always respects the specific identity of the people, of individuals," he told reporters.
Traditionalist Catholics, in particular, were horrified at some of the images broadcast from the 1986 event, where non-Christians were seen praying in Catholic churches and in one, a small statue of a Buddha was reportedly placed on an altar. [others are saying that it is on top of a tabernacle!]
Turkson said he had received e-mails from concerned Catholics, including one promising that the sender would celebrate 1,000 Masses of reparation for the harm done in Assisi.
To counter the criticism that the pope was hosting yet another Assisi gathering, the Vatican newspaper has for months been featuring essays by top Vatican cardinals who have sought to put the 2011 Assisi edition in the correct light: That it is merely a pilgrimage of people of different faiths, and that it in no way will involve any religious syncretism, or combining of different beliefs and practices.
And ain't it a good thing that more concerned Catholics now are getting heard?
Catholic Tea Party?
Count me in.
And by the way, who do you think started the "We all worship the same god." thing?
Look for the compass and square.
Let me quote from an address by De Witt Clinton, before Holland Lodge, the evening of his installation, Dec. 24, 1793
The Religion Of Masonry
As Christian Masons, acknowledging the divinity of Christ, we have introduced the Bible into our Lodges, to manifest our belief in the doctrines which it inculcates. In like manner the followers of Moses, Mahomet and Burmah may introduce into their Masonic assemblies their Pentateuch, their Alcoran, and their Vedan; and yet the unity of Masonry would remain – the essential principles on which she moves would be the same; she would still declare to her votaries, I regard not to what sect you attach yourselves; venerate the popular religion of your respective countries; follow the light of your understanding; forget not, however, the doctrines of the religion of nature; adore the Great Architect of the Universe, acknowledge the immortal soul, and look forward to a state of future retribution when the virtuous of all religions and countries hall meet together, and enjoy never fading bliss.
As a Christian and a Catholic, it is easy to know that there is something wrong there.