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Assisi 2011: pilgrimage, not prayer, of all religions and non-believers

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – On October 27, Benedict XVI will lead many representatives and religious leaders, as well as some people who are not overtly religious to Assisi for an event titled “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.” It will commemorate the now historic meeting for peace held October 27, 1986 at the initiative of John Paul II. Card. Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, one of the event organizers, has stressed that “the emphasis this time is on the pilgrimage and not prayer. From what I understand the program, which is still being finalized, prayer, if it is not ruled out entirely, will be minimal”, said the cardinal. The details of the day’s programme will be revealed Tuesday, October 18, just nine days before the departure date, at a press conference at the Vatican, conducted by the same Turkson.

There will be less than 100 participants, but the list is not yet complete. Christian delegations are the majority (thirty). These include the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, the Archbishop of Astana, Metropolitan Alexander, a man close to the Patriarch of Moscow, Kirill. Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Evangelicals. There are also Jews, representatives of the World Jewish Congress and influential rabbis from various countries. Hindus, animists, Buddhists will also be present.

For Muslims, many members will be representatives, even if the university of Al-Azhar in Cairo, the largest Sunni theological center, still in entrenched in controversy over the speech made by Benedict XVI in defense of religious equality and Copts in Egypt has strongly declined the invitation. Next to the Pope, before the tomb of St. Francis, will be Prince Ghazi Bin Talal of Jordan, cousin of the king and his advisor on religious matters, one of the signatories of the letter to the Pope of the 138 Islamic scholars. He will also have the place of honor next to the pope during the meal.

At the express request of Pope Benedict XVI there will also be people who are openly non-believers, (five, in all probability) including Julia Kristeva, a famous French psychoanalyst, a student of Lacan, of Bulgarian origin. The names of atheist intellectuals have been provided by the Cardinal Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, the creator of the Courtyard of the Gentiles, a think tank for dialogue with those who are ‘distant’ from the church.

The program includes a prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square on October 26. The next day, participants will travel from Rome to Assisi, by train departing from the station inside the Vatican walls. As far as is known to date, the first moment of the day will take place in the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where there will be guests who will make various interventions. Following this a documentary on October 26, 1986 will be shown. Then there will be a frugal, shared meal and a period of rest and individual reflection. Thus, the participants will come together to visit the tomb of the saint followed by the reading in the square of a message on world peace.

In the first meeting in Assisi, the common prayer of all religions, and the permitting of prayer of different religions in the churches of the Umbrian city created confusion and gave rise to sharp criticism and no small amount of shock, with accusations that it bordered on forms of syncretism. Card. Turkson, who was in Assisi in 1986 along with other African priests, recalls that “we were given a space in the town hall” to pray, while “some non-Catholics had a church.” Incidents of this kind, “gave rise to criticism.”

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