The hidden history of the Assisi gatherings

[SANTA MARIA DEGLI ANGELI, ASSISI] The 200-odd religious leaders called here by Pope Benedict XVI have just watched a video about the history of the Assisi interfaith gatherings. It was well made: scenes of war contrasted with the commitments of religious leaders to peace. It was colourful, multilingual and global, and contained some moving and uplifting footage But it was very focussed on the popes, giving the impression that these gatherings have been entirely the initiatives of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and that little has happened between the three gatherings of 1986, 2002 and today's. 

What it missed out is that every year since 1987, the Community of Sant'Egidio -- which played a major role, along with Focolare and Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, in preparing Assisi I -- has held an annual prayer for peace in a different city"in the spirit of Assisi" and following a similar format (speeches, prayers, common pledge of peace), intended to develop a "spiritual humanism of peace".

Advertisement

The 1986 gathering was originally designed as a one-off event, with no plans to repeat it or continue it in any way. The fact that it has become embedded in the life of the Church is down to Sant'Egidio's annual gatherings and Focolare's conferences "in the spirit of Assisi".

That experience has been heavily drawn on to prepare today's event. What is billed as the great innovation of Assisi III, for example, the inclusion of nonbelievers, has happened for years at the annual Sant'Egidio gatherings.

Almost all of those here today have been regular participants in those events, the most recent of which was on 11 September in Munich. Without the relationships patiently built up by Sant'Egidio and Focolare today's event would be hard to imagine and almost impossible to organize.

So today's list of delegates contains few surprises. The downside is that those already converted to the Spirit of Assisi are speaking to each other. But the upside is that what is happening today is not a one-off but the fruit of 25 years of patiently and quietly building a spiritual humanism of peace among religious leaders.

Three movements were involved in meetings to organize today's event, and it's fitting that among today's delegates are their leaders: Andrea Riccardi, head of Sant'Egidio; Maria Voce, the leader of Focolare; and Fr Julian Carrion, CL's director.

They have no formal role in the proceedings and are to all extents invisible. But without them, there wouldn't be an Assisi III.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.

On this week's episode, we talk with Lieutenant Governor of Washington State, Cyrus Habib.
Olga SeguraMay 25, 2018