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St Francis would have rejoiced at the idea of a pilgrimage to truth at Assisi

His own life was a pilgrimage of joyful suffering towards a closer union with Christ

By on Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A barefooted pilgrim walks on his hands and knees to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A barefooted pilgrim walks on his hands and knees to the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

For Catholics, certain place names have a particular resonance: think Avila, Lisieux or Lourdes and we immediately associate them with the saint who gave them prominence. The name Assisi conjures up my patron saint, Francis of Assisi (sorry about the spelling of my name; I’m still a woman, despite a few queries in blog posts) whose feast day was October 4.

In the old days, ie before the 1960s, St Francis and his birthplace meant the man of the stigmata who fell in love with “Lady Poverty”, founded the Franciscan Order, wrote the Canticle of the Sun and invented the first Christmas crib and so on. Then came the hippies, Greenpeace and the ecology movement and he was transformed into the “patron” of the beards and sandals brigade. Then came the historic meeting at Assisi, called by the late John Paul II in 1986 after which, in traditionalist circles, the place became a byword of apostasy. John Paul II was accused of giving the impression that the Catholic faith is only one among many, suggesting all have equal value. Even now, you only have to whisper the word “Assisi” in some quarters for a collective gasp of horror to follow.

Now we are in the new millennium, in the era of the new evangelisation called by the present Pope, and I am hoping that the name “Assisi” will be given new life as the place where Benedict XVI led Catholics, representatives of other religions – and also non-believers – into a deeper search for world peace. Pope Benedict, in an intriguing letter to a Lutheran minister, has made clear his own view of the World Day of Prayer for Peace, due to take place in Assisi on October 27, writing:

“I will… do everything in order that a syncretistic or relativistic interpretation of the event will be impossible and so that what will remain is that I will always believe and confess that which I called to the attention of the Church with Dominus Iesus [the declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2000 that the Catholic Church is the sole and true Church founded by Christ].”

Today the Vatican Information Service relays information from the Holy See’s Press Office concerning this “Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world: ‘Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace’.” It states: “By calling this day in Assisi, Benedict XVI wishes to mark the 25th anniversary of the historic meeting organised there by John Paul II in 1986.” According to Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Pope wants the idea of a “pilgrimage” to be emphasised, as it implies “asceticism, purification, convergence towards a more exalted place and taking on a community responsibility”.

For me, the most interesting part of this news is that for the first time non-believers have been invited to join more than 175 religious leaders from 50 nations around the world at Assisi. According to Mgr Melchor de Tocay y Alameda, under-secretary for the Pontifical Council for Culture, this is because of the Holy Father’s conviction that “men and women, both believers and non-believers, are always searching for God, for the Absolute and that they are therefore all pilgrims travelling towards the fullness of truth”.

How St Francis would have rejoiced at this: his own life, in which asceticism and purification predominated from the moment he threw down his clothes at the feet of his father, was one long pilgrimage of joyful suffering in search of a closer union with Christ – who is Truth and Love incarnate.

  • Anonymous

    “How St. Francis would have rejoiced at this.” Would he? I strongly doubt that, being a man of the middle ages he probably wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it and would have found it pretty offensive. Meetings like this are an error of judgement in my opinion, the Holy Father without doubt is doing this in good faith, but it will almost certainly be presented in a syncretistic and relativistic way by the world’s media and by many members of the Church. I would have thought that the Church would have learnt from the disastrous impression given by the first Assissi meeting which even the current Holy Father expressed reservations about and didn’t himself attend.

  • Isabelle

    I agree – I am a big fan of the Holy Father but I was so disappointed to hear he had decided to host another Assissi meeting.  Pope John Paul II was in many ways a good pope, but I believe that while well meant, the first Assissi meeting was a disaster and I had hoped, like Jonathan, that the error would not be repeated.  

  • theroadmaster

    The Assisi gathering has now been rightfully extended to include atheist members of society. 
    A dialogue about Faith should be more than a re-affirmation of the shared beliefs of diverse religions(without falling into the trap of Indifferentism).  St Francis would patronize such a meeting if he was alive today.  He was on close speaking terms with the adherents of Islam despite the contemporary conflicts afflicting Islamic and Christian armies in the Middle-East.  The Holy Saint was captured during the 5th Crusade in Egypt but his very friendly disposition won over The Sultan, al-Malik al-Kamil who consequently freed him on very agreeable terms.It should also be a discourse involving the views of people from the widest spectrum of opinion as possible. Religious faith should be able to withstand the most robust arguments pitted against it, if it is planted on fertile soil within one’s being. The potentially fruitful decision to invite atheists to Assisi, is an adaption of the “Forum Of The Gentiles” concept that has been tried by local hierarchies in major European cities in recent years to encourage such a wide-ranging discussion.

  • Anonymous

    ““By calling this day in Assisi, Benedict XVI wishes to mark the 25th
    anniversary of the historic meeting organised there by John Paul II in
    1986.””

    ## That tells us everything about Assisi III. Assisi I was an abomination then, and it still is. What “pilgrimage to  truth” ?  The Church has been granted the deposit of faith; so there is no such pilgrimage. As for St.Francis rejoiciong at an exhibition of indifferentism, when he was willing to suffer martyrdom  as the price of preaching to a Sultan – I don’t see it; this is about as opposed to what he sought to do, as can well be imagined. Is the Pope willing to preach to unbelievers ? If only he would, instead of tolerating this Freemasonic (?) drivel about  “searching for God, for the Absolute”; to use such language is to give a very good impression of denying the Catholic Faith. God is not “the Absolute” – it passes belief that a Catholic Pope could tolerate such vague language for one second.

    And as for ““asceticism, purification, convergence towards a more exalted place and taking on a community responsibility”; there is no need of Jesus Christ for any of that – it’s hard to a think of a religion from which these are absent. The Church of England is more Christianly outspoken than this – Don Cupitt & other atheist members of the “Sea of Faith” can probably agree with those things. If the CC has turned into a branch of the Unitarian Universalists, one has to wonder what it is for.  Assisi III sounds like a most worthy successor to the first of these atrocious gatherings :(

  • Anonymous

    “…but it will almost certainly be presented in a syncretistic and
    relativistic way by the world’s media and by many members of the Church.”

    ## Since it is both of those things, that will be an accurate presentation, for which the blame rests with those in the Church responsible for it. To canonise JP2 – as is being sought – will be to canonise these assemblies as well as the other evils he either committed or did not restrain. If only the Pope were as against this as he was in 1986 !

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    “pretty offensive” is the understatement of the year. Like every other Catholic in the world, except those who are Catholic in name only, St Francis would have been outraged and appalled at this abomination.

  • Anonymous

    A Request by the Queen of Heaven and Earth to the world and the Catholic Church.

    On July 13th 1917 after showing the children a vision of Hell, Our Lady explained: “You have seen Hell~ where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them God wants to establish throughout the world the devotion to My Immaculate Heart.
    “If people will do what I tell you, many souls will be saved, and there will be peace. The war is going to end.
    “But if they do not stop offending God, another and worse war will break out in the reign of Pius X1. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that it is the great sign that God gives you, that He is going to punish the world for its crimes by means of war, hunger, persecution of the Church and of the Holy Father.
    “To forestall this, I shall come to ask for the Consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart and the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays.
    “If they heed My requests, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she shall spread her errors throughout the world, promoting wars and persecutions of the Church; the good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, various nations will be annihilated; in the end, My Immaculate Heart shall triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, which will be converted, and a period of PEACE will be given to the world.
    “In Portugal, the dogma of the faith will always be preserved etc….. (The Third Secret)
    “Do not tell this to anyone. To Francisco yes, you may tell it.”

    Our Lady also said at Fatima “….Only I can help you.”

    A Reply to the Queen of Heaven and earth by the Vatican

    Every human being is ultimately a pilgrim in search of truth and goodness. Believers too are constantly journeying towards God: hence the possibility, indeed the necessity, of speaking and entering into dialogue with everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, without sacrificing one’s own identity or indulging in forms of syncretism. To the extent that the pilgrimage of truth is authentically lived, it opens the path to dialogue with the other, it excludes no-one and it commits everyone to be a builder of fraternity and peace. These are the elements that the Holy Father wishes to place at the centre of reflection.
    “For this reason, as well as representatives of Christian communities and of the principal religious traditions, some figures from the world of culture and science will be invited to share the journey – people who, while not professing to be religious, regard themselves as seekers of the truth and are conscious of a shared responsibility for the cause of justice and peace in this world of ours.”

    Now why would the Upper Hierarchy need to host a ‘Pilgrimage of Truth’ in search of peace, when the answer and warning (either/or) was given to us in advance of our time by the most Holy Queen of Heaven and earth Herself. Now you cannot go much higher in the Church than that. A fact our earthly Church Hierarchy seems to forget or ignore.
    And as a further guide to those who really seek the truth God gave a further warning as to Diabolical Disorientation of our times for on December 10th, 1925, Our Lady and the Child Jesus appeared to St Lucia in the Convent at Pontevedra. Our Lord said to St. Lucia “Have compassion on the Heart of your Most Holy Mother, covered with thorns, with which ungrateful men pierce it at every moment, and there is no one to make an Act of Reparation to remove them.”  Our Lady went on to ask for people to make the Five First Saturdays with the intention of making Reparation to the Immaculate Heart.

    When St, Lucia at Tuy on May 29th asked Our Lord (As instructed by her confessor Fr. Goncalves) why Five First Saturdays. Our Lord responded “My daughter, the reason is simple. There are five types of offences and blasphemies committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary:

    1.     Blasphemies against the Immaculate Conception; ……….Guilty as charged; Most Protestants, most of the Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Freemasons, Communists, Socialists, secular humanists etc.

    2.   Blasphemies against Her Perpetual Virginity;……….Guilty as charged; Most Protestants, , Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Freemasons, Communists, Socialists, secular humanists etc. In fact many “Catholics” today do not believe in Her Perpetual Virginity.

    3.   Blasphemies against Her Divine Maternity, in refusing at the same time to recognize Her as the Mother of men;……….Guilty as charged; We know that Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists reject this teaching, especially because they do not believe that Jesus Christ is God.

    4.   The blasphemies of those who publicly seek to sow in the hearts of children indifference or scorn or even hatred of this Immaculate Mother;…Guilty as charged;  Protestants,  Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Freemasons, Communists, Socialists, secular humanists etc. Sadly also many “Catholics”.

    5.   The offences of those who outrage Her directly in Her Holy Images.”;……….Guilty as charged;  This includes those who would actually destroy Her images, ridicule them, or those like Protestants who accuse Catholics of idolatry for having statues of Our Lady in places of honour

    Who could have imagined 60 years ago that these Five Blasphemies against Our Lady would have spread within the clergy of the Catholic Church herself, and a great number of baptized and catechized children in our parishes would not even know any longer how to say the ‘Hail Mary’.

    Our Lord clearly is not taking the modern ecumenical approach here that led to Assisi 1 or this commemoration of this most terrible sin against God. He is not emphasizing those points that unite us with false religions. He is emphasizing those points that divide us from non-Catholics! He is telling us these points are far more important than any superficial ecumenical unity. Clearly and in the objective order He is accusing all these false man made religions of BLASPHEMY AGAINST HIS MOST HOLY MOTHER! He is emphasizing that these blasphemies against Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart are not to be taken lightly. They are, in fact sins against the Faith! This is an indictment against all non-Catholic religions. This is truly a call by God for all Catholics to do Penance and make Reparation (For the full story of these visions please read The True Story of Fatima by John de Marchi, I.M.C.)

    Make Reparation for the Blasphemies against the Immaculate Heart of Mary!

    Do the Communion of Reparation on the Five First Saturdays!
    Do Penance!

    Pray the Rosary!

    Pray very much for the Holy Father!

    And may Heaven help us all.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    This remark about the inclusion of non-believers in this abomination, makes no sense: “…the Holy Father’s conviction that “men and women, both believers and non-believers, are always searching for God, for the Absolute and that they are therefore all pilgrims travelling towards the fullness of truth”.

    The whole problem for the Holy Father is that he is steadfastly refusing to GIVE non-believers and followers of false religions the Good News that it is only through that priceless treasure, the Catholic Faith, that the fullness of truth is to be found.  The  impression is being given that as long as  someone is a person of “good will” they’re spiritually safe. , Rubbish of course, because there were plenty of people of good will around before Christ came and there would have been no need for Him to come on earth, suffer and die, if all it takes is being “of good will.”

    Get a grip.  This Assisi event is a disgrace and St Francis – in common with every other saint in heaven – will be appalled at it.

  • http://www.catholictruthscotland.com EditorCT

    “…why would the Upper Hierarchy need to host a ‘Pilgrimage of Truth’ in search of peace, when the answer and warning (either/or) was given to us in advance of our time by the most Holy Queen of Heaven and earth Herself. Now you cannot go much higher in the Church than that.”

    Absolutely, Rosary15.  You’ve said it all, there. 

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

    I don’t know much about the original Assisi  gathering, but if comon prayers were held then that undoubtedly caused confusion. This has to be why the Pope has been so insistent that a similar thing will not occur.

    It’s not a bad thing to gather all the world’s religions in one place if the purpose is to make a joint declaration calling for freedom of religion and good will among all people’s of God. After all, without this freedom, the Catholic church will be greatly restricted in its evangelisation efforts.

    Furthermore, such a declaration ought to make it more difficult for militant atheists to marginalise Christianity in its heartlands by appealing to how public displays of faith “cause offence” to people of other faiths or what not.

  • Robert Williams7

    It isbeneficial for all people of good will to meet each other and there is no question of syncretism…as there will be no joint prayers. It is a fundamental of Catholic  teaching, that a person of a different faith community, who through no faullt of their own cannot discern the Catholic Faith or realise its truth and claims, may be saved.

  • Joan

    You make a common mistake in thinking that as long as there is no “praying together” there is no sin but. this is not the case because the First Commandment is still being broken.

    Here is a very clear explanation by Bishop Fellay. When you read this, you can see why he is in an irregular situation with the modern Church.  He is a Catholic!
    http://www.dici.org/en/documents/towards-assisi-iii-22nd-october-2011-bishop-fellay%E2%80%99s-conference-at-the-courier-de-rome-congress-paris-january-9th-2011-excerpts/