Just posted to our Web site, an analysis of the gathering of religious leaders at Assisi from Austen Ivereigh. You can read Austen's blogs from the meeting here.
It soon became clear that the 25th anniversary of Assisi had been framed to support Pope Benedict’s “New Evangelization” strategy of connecting with post-Christian Europe. It is an ambition that is little by little coming to dominate his papacy, so that almost everything he does links to this goal. Pope Benedict wants to make an alliance with “open” secularists, to stand together against both religious and secularist fundamentalists.
In terms of the objectives of Assisi I, the inclusion of nonbelievers represents, on the hand, a broadening of the original coalition conceived by Pope John Paul II. It is an alliance of peace that now extends to people of goodwill, whether atheist, theist or polytheist.
But there is a risk that this new frame dilutes Pope John Paul II’s original intuition: that at a time when religion was taking a more public role, both as builder of justice and legitimator of violence, it was necessary to reaffirm the peace at the core of all true religion. That is why, whether it was the joint prayer of 1986 or the timetabled but separately located prayer of 2002, the point of the exercise was an essentially spiritual one—the opening of the heart of the world to the saving and healing power of God, however understood. This time the “witness of prayerful reflection,” suggests Michael Barnes, S.J., in Thinking Faith, “has given way to a more theological debate about the meaning of religion itself,” abandoning powerful symbolism in favour of “yet more routine speechifying.”
Can Assisi now be successfully recast as an alliance of goodwill and mutual interests? Can this new frame capture minds and hearts as did a spiritual humanism of peace?
Judging by the uplifting yet oddly uninspiring experience on October 27, the answer would have to be no; and that may be reflected in the muted media impact it made. It is always easier to say why an event made the news than why it failed to; and the fact that it was a commemoration, rather than a response to a global emergency, may partially account for the indifference. Or maybe the world’s religious leaders gathering for peace is no longer news because religions are no longer considered to be at war. Perhaps the Spirit of Assisi, in all its theological ambiguity, has become a commonplace, and no longer captures the imagination.
Read the rest here.