In Assisi in an original reflection on the presence of God in history and on the important role of those who search for him, Benedict XVI offered an important contribution to smoothing, according to the Biblical image, the way of peace. A bumpy road, strewn with difficulties that are all too often bloody — unworthy of man and which offend God — but which a large part of humanity dreams of and wishes to undertake, as evidenced by the crowds of people waiting at the railway stations of Terni, Spoleto and Foligno to greet the Pope and the delegations that accompanied him to Assisi.
The Pontiff pronounced important words for building peace, not just as a formality. A quarter of a century has passed since the first meeting convened by John Paul II in the city of St Francis, alter Christus . The Pope reflected on what has happened since then, and the stage the cause of peace has now reached. Three years after that first meeting, in 1989, peace seemed to be closer with the Fall of the Berlin Wall when the division of the world into two opposing blocs had been overcome, without bloodshed, removing the nightmare of impeding nuclear war of which Paul VI spoke at the United Nations.
In a clear analysis, Benedict XVI saw this as a victory for freedom and for peace, partly also for the freedom to believe; a victory due to many causes but which came about mostly because “behind material might, there was no longer any spiritual conviction”. The Pope’s review of history was then extended to today: to freedom which lacks direction and the new faces of discord and violence. He denounced terrorism, often motivated and justified for religious reasons. But “this is not the true nature of religion”, the Pontiff said with firm resolve, repeating words he has expressed many times in recent years.
And if it is true that throughout history, in the name of Christian faith, recourse has been made to violence, this was an abuse, Benedict XVI recognized, following in the footsteps of his Predecessors, confirming the will for unceasing purification of which, in the name of the Catholic Church, and with his characteristic humility, he once again gives an example, repeating the ancient conviction: Ecclesia semper reformanda . Trusting that this process will spread to other religions and be understood, through reason, by all. Even by those who do not recognize themselves as belonging to any religion, but are searching for truth, as was made clear by their presence in Assisi, a presence which constitutes the great innovation at this meeting.
Purification is also the clearest answer to the criticism — born of the Enlightenment and which today continues to be expressed by “enemies of religion” — according to whom only violence can come from religion. On the contrary, it is precisely the absence and the denial, of God which gives rise to violence, as evidenced by the horrors of the concentration camps and the attraction to money and power: one example is the spread of drugs globally, a terrible scourge which destroys peace and has been denounced many times by Benedict XVI.
Once again defying unfounded stereotypes, the Pope went ahead and strongly advocated the cause of peace. Which is constructed by searching for the One God. This is why Benedict XVI also wanted non-believing intellectuals to come to Assisi, deflating the arguments of “combative atheists” and demanding that believers purify their faiths and not cause scandal, obscuring the transparency of God. A God whose name, in the words of the Apostle Paul, is “God of love and of peace”, the Lord of history who became flesh to save the world.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 29, 2020