What Assisi Has Lost

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.

Tim Reidy

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Jim McCrea
6 years 3 months ago
Uh, oh.  Does this mean that Jthey cry for JPII to be "Santo Subito" is a bit (maybe 100 years or so) premature?  Could it be that he won't be quite the darling of B16's smaller purer church of the New Evangelization?

Mercy, me!
Jim McCrea
6 years 3 months ago

how about "the"
Robert Killoren
6 years 3 months ago
I agree. JPII was such a dreamer. And Jesus? Well, he too could have done so much better at the last supper clarifying issues like salvation only comes through the Roman Catholic Church, God only listens to prayers in Latin, and the death penalty is totally justified, rather than spending all that time turning it into such a feel good soiree. Why waste so much time on love, love, love, peace, peace, peace? Eat my body? Drink my blood? Jesus, don't give them something to eat, it just makes them lazy... certainly Peter, Andrew, James and John would have been really good at teaching your poor followers how to fish so they could feed themselves. Do you think God just gives away his favor? No. You have to work for it.
Robert Killoren
6 years 3 months ago
Pope John Paul II did not say that homosexuality was part of an ideology of evil, but the politicking surrounding it. It was said in relation to political actions of the European Parliament attempting to leagalize gay marriages and adoption by gay couples.  

Ratzinger's 1986 letter on homsexuality has been commonly referred to as the Halloween Letter.

I continue to find it incredible how unreliable Bishops can be. One minute they can be so wise when it comes to things I agree with and the next they become such fools when they disagree with me.


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

If someone you know loses a loved one to suicide, show up, offer words of condolences and keep doing it.
Daniel J. MislehFebruary 22, 2018
Two of medieval Europe’s most popular saints, Barlaam and Josaphat, were in fact Christianized versions of the Buddha.
Blake SmithFebruary 22, 2018
Leaving Haiti should be a goal of every N.G.O.
Margot PattersonFebruary 22, 2018
The Chicago River goes green for St. Patrick's Day. (iStock/ChelFoto)
The Irish-American population is almost seven times bigger than Ireland itself, but it is also aging and shrinking.
Robert David SullivanFebruary 22, 2018