Religious Leaders Evoke ‘Spirit of Assisi’

MUNICH (CNS) — St. Francis of Assisi appeals to believers and nonbelievers alike because they long for a world where people see each other as brothers and sisters and where they recognize and respect creation as a gift to all, said the superior of the Franciscan convent in Assisi.

Conventual Franciscan Father Giuseppe Piemontese, custodian of the Sacred Convent of St. Francis, was one of eight religious leaders who spoke about “The Spirit of Assisi” during an interreligious meeting Sept. 11-13 in Munich. The meeting was sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Rome-based lay movement.

To mark the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II’s gathering with religious leaders in Assisi, Pope Benedict XVI has convoked a new gathering in the Italian town Oct. 27.

Father Piemontese said the encounter will underline how important Blessed John Paul’s gathering was for promoting dialogue and collaboration among religions, but it also will be a “reminder of what still remains to be done” to ensure true collaboration, respect and mutual support among peoples.

Holding the gathering in Assisi makes sense to people because St. Francis “incarnated those high aspects of humanity, simplicity, humility” that enable people to recognize each other as brothers and sisters and to see all of creation as the work of the same hands that made them, he said.

Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, said marking the anniversary of the 1986 Assisi meeting “challenges us to reflect on these last 25 years. They were brimming with fruitful experiences” and helped religious leaders “strengthen their faith and enrich their enthusiasm and enhance their collective vision.”

The Assisi gatherings, he said, are a reminder that “supplication to the creator” is something that unites all faiths.

“We are all exhausted by the needless and endless wars around us. If the aim of our prayers is peace, then it is the loftiest of goals that we are aiming for,” he said.

Oded Wiener, director general of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, told those gathered in Munich, “The darkness and violence cannot be chased away with sticks (and) certainly not with knives and guns,” but only with “the light of faith and the light of positive action on the part of religious leaders.”

“This is, in fact, the spirit of Assisi,” he said.

“Religious leaders and their views are of unique importance and strongly influence the interreligious mosaic,” he said. “At many events, we have found that where politicians and statesmen have failed, religious leaders have succeeded in inflaming or calming down various groups.”

Gijun Sugitani, a leader of Japan’s Tendai Buddhist movement, said that after the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended — events that occurred after the first Assisi meeting — “people expected the swift arrival of world peace.”

Instead, he said, there have been new conflicts based on ethnicity, ideology and rage.

Returning to Assisi in October is important, he said, because “we have a responsibility to spread the spirit of Assisi that transcends differences between the ethnicities and religions and unites us all.”

Mohammed Amine Smaili, a Moroccan professor of Muslim dogma and comparative religion, told the gathering that the 1986 Assisi meeting “marked a decisive and memorable about-face in our history” because the world’s religions established a consensus that dialogue is the only way that humanity can understand itself.

He said the democratic reform movements sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East also have reflected the spirit of Assisi as they bring people of different religions together to promote greater freedoms and human rights.

Religious leaders, he said, “must speak of the holiness of peace and the curse of disrespect and hatred.”

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