No more war, no more violence, no more terrorism. Benedict XVI’s words echoed loud and clear again at the conclusion of the meeting in Assisi, a quarter of a century after the one convened by his Predecessor in 1986. Taking up the anguished cry of Paul VI — jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre ! — at the United Nations, where Pope Montini went as a messenger at the end of a long journey, and declared the Church of Rome an expert in humanity, a simple and solemn title. It was 4 October 1965, 20 years after the end of the Second World War, as the Second Vatican Council was coming to a close and despite the euphoria of the “golden sixties”, the world was burdened by the divisive blocs of the Cold War with the nightmare of impending nuclear conflict.
The preaching of peace by the Successors of the Apostle Peter that has marked the entire 20th century, is thus confirmed and has become even more decisive and convincing. Arousing convinced consensus and growing support, as indicated by the numbers and the standing of those present at the meeting which has just concluded. One could say without exaggeration, that no one was missing from the hundreds of exponents of the Christian confessions and other religions in the Umbrian city. Together with them — at the explicit invitation of Benedict XVI — were intellectual non-believers, an important innovation and consistent with the open and courageous pontificate of a kind Pope who, day after day, in deeds and in clear words, dispells the unfounded and sometimes offensive characterizations to which some would reduce him.
No empty or ephemeral rhetoric weighed down the meeting in Assisi, which was marked by an essential simplicity, which also allowed all present to draw closer to Francis, a figure who transcends every religious affiliation and ideology. The tribute of a moment’s silence at the end of the day by the participants, Christian and non-Christian, who visited the tomb of the Saint was deeply expressive. St Francis’ contemporaries had already acclaimed him as a “second Christ” and this Saint inspired the talk given by Norwegian Lutheran theologian, Olav Fykse Tveit, Secretary General of the World Council of Churches.
And the people understood, as, joyful and composed, they gathered around the Pope — who chose to take the name of Benedict XV, remembered especially for having raised his voice loudly against the terrible massacre of the First World War — and around the Christian and non-Christian delegates who had come with the Pope to commit themselves to going forward together on a journey that the Mexican philosopher Guillermo Hurtado, representing non-believers, defined as, “a common search for truth, justice and peace”.
What will live on from the meeting in Assisi is the essentiality, made up of images laden with symbols and words. These too, far from rhetoric — often so easy to fall into when speaking of peace — and humbly rooted in history. Like Julia Kristeva who, by extolling humanism, joined Benedict XVI in recognizing the value of John Paul II’s intuition and his encouragement to resist when the colossus with clay feet of atheist totalitarianism was still standing and seemed invincible.
Three years after the first meeting in Assisi the Berlin wall fell, said the Pope from Germany. Since then, war and discord have assumed other aspects, from terrorism to the scourge of drugs, in a society increasingly disoriented and confused by having removed God from its horizon. A God who is a friend of men and women and for whom they long. This is why so many are looking for him, though they are often scandalized by believers, Benedict XVI said, who, for this reason, must purify themselves every day, in order to walk together towards the truth.
St. Peter’s Square
Sept. 22, 2019
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