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Religious leaders praise Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as a great ecumenist

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.

The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.

In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God’s creation.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how “with great tact in difficult situations” the patriarch “always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a ‘pontiff,’ that is, a builder of bridges.”

“Like you,” Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, “we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts.”

The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of “any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, “There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.”

The biblical model of excellence, though, is of “a luxuriant tree,” the rabbi said. It is the image of “one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all.”

Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is such a man, Rabbi Rosen praised the patriarch’s leadership in condemning all violence in the name of religion and in addressing the issue of climate change and care for creation.

“His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole,” he said.

Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work “resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.”

“We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages,” he said.

The celebration serves only as an affirmation “that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church,” the patriarch said.

 

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Legacy of 1986 interfaith peace gathering in Assisi lingers

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — Religious leaders celebrating the 30th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s Assisi interfaith peace gathering in 1986 called on people from around the world to continue its legacy to combat today’s indifference and violence.

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The stage is prepared for an interfaith peace gathering outside the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 19. Pope Francis will attend the Sept. 20 peace gathering marking the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Assisi. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The event Sept. 18-20 was sponsored by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars to reflect on the theme, “Thirst for Peace: Faiths and Cultures in Dialogue.”

At the opening assembly, attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople said, peace “starts from within and radiates outward, from local to global.”

“Thus, peace requires an interior conversion, a change in policies and behaviors,” he said.

Humanity’s relationship with creation “has a direct impact on the way in which it acts toward other people,” said the patriarch, known for his decades of work on the connection between Christian spirituality and ecology.

“Any ecological activity will be judged by the consequences it has for the lives of the poor,” he said. “The pollution problem is linked to that of poverty.”

Recalling his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos with Pope Francis, the patriarch said they saw examples of how the world has treated migrants “with exclusion and violence.”

Echoing Patriarch Bartholomew’s sentiments, Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, said the spirit of the 1986 Assisi meeting is still alive, despite a “complex and fragmented time with its challenges,” particularly with new fears arising due to war and migration.

The “simple and profound” gesture of religious leaders standing together for peace, he said, “gave witness to their respective faithful that it was possible to live together.”

“Dialogue is the intelligence to live together: either we live together or together we will die,” he said.

The meeting featured dozens of interreligious panel discussions on topics ranging from the environment and migration to dialogue and the media.

Discussing the 30th anniversary of the 1986 peace gathering and its relevance today, Bishop Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said, “The spirit of Assisi is not a vague feeling, a sentimentalism or nostalgic memory,” but an example that “peace is not possible without prayer.”

“Prayer is one of the means for implementing God’s design among people,” he said. “It is apparent that the world cannot give peace; it is a gift from God that we must ask from him through prayers.”

The religious leaders who were gathering to pray for peace, he added, are “here to show that religion is not the problem but is part of the solution to bring peace and harmony in our societies.”

“I hope that the spirit of Assisi may be deeply rooted in our hearts so that it can keep enlightening this world that is marked by the darkness of hatred and violence,” he said.

Mohammad Sammak, secretary general of Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue, stressed the need to promote “the message of the spirit of Assisi to all nations” in order for peace to prevail, particularly between Christians and Muslims.

While differences exist between the two faiths, he said, “it does not mean that we have to be the enemy of one another.”

On the contrary, the differences between religions can complement and complete each other. “And this process of common belief and common respect is manifested in the spirit of Assisi,” Sammak said.

Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, a longtime friend of Pope Francis, also addressed the panel and lamented that violence, hate and uncertainty “has become more and more one of the characteristics of human reality.”

He also denounced the “exacerbated egoism” prevalent in politics today and racist overtones by individuals who “are holding leadership positions in well-established democratic countries.”

“Uncertainty about the future to come and no clear ethical rules respected by peoples and nations build the best scenario for the rise of demagogic and corrupted leaders,” Skorka said.

However, despite humanity’s worsening condition, he said, the “voice calling for justice, peace and love” that emerged in1986 “has not been silenced.”

“The spiritual fire lit then gathers us today,” he said. “The hope of peace, which is the core of Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, continues palpitating in the hearts of many,” he said.

 

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Pope Francis calls for Year of Mercy moratorium on death penalty

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis called for a moratorium on executions during the Year of Mercy and said the fifth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” applies not only to the innocent but to the guilty as well.

“Even a criminal has the inviolable right to life, a gift of God,” he said Feb. 21 after reciting the Angelus with visitors gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

The shackled feet of a bombing suspect in Bangkok, Thailand, are seen as he is escorted by officers and prison personnel to Military Court Feb. 16. Pope Francis asks world leaders for a Jubilee Year moratorium on the death penalty. (CNS photo/Diego Azubel, EPA)

The shackled feet of a bombing suspect in Bangkok, Thailand, are seen as he is escorted by officers and prison personnel to Military Court Feb. 16. Pope Francis asks world leaders for a Jubilee Year moratorium on the death penalty. (CNS photo/Diego Azubel, EPA)

Marking the beginning of an international conference “For a world without the death penalty,” sponsored by the Community of Sant’Egidio, the pope expressed hope that it will strengthen efforts to abolish the death penalty.

Increasing opposition worldwide to the death penalty as “an instrument of legitimate social defense” is “a sign of hope,” he said.

“This issue has to be considered within the perspective of a penal justice, which is more and more in compliance with human dignity and God’s plan for humanity and society,” the pope said.

The pope appealed to world leaders to reach an international consensus on the abolition of the death penalty. He also proposed Catholic government leaders “make a courageous and exemplary gesture by seeking a moratorium on executions during this Holy Year of Mercy.”

“All Christians and people of goodwill are called today to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, but also to improve the conditions of life in prison, in the respect of human dignity of people deprived of freedom,” he said.

In his remarks before reciting the Angelus prayer, the pope recalled his Feb. 12-17 visit to Mexico, calling it an “experience of transfiguration.”

“The Lord has shown us the light of his glory through the body of the church, of his holy people that lives in this land, a body so often wounded, a people so often oppressed, despised, violated in its dignity. The various encounters we experienced in Mexico were truly full of light: the light of a faith that transfigures faces and enlightens our path,” he said.

The main goal of his trip, he added, was his visit to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to pray before the miraculous image of Mary.

“I contemplated and I allowed myself to be gazed upon by she who carries imprinted in her eyes the gaze of all of her children, gathering up the sorrows caused by violence, kidnapping, assassinations, the violence against so many poor people, against so many women,” he said.

Pope Francis also gave thanks to God for his meeting with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, calling it “a prophetic light of the Resurrection which the world today needs more than ever.”

“May the holy mother of God continue to guide us on the path of unity,” the pope said.

Before concluding his address, the pope prescribed some “spiritual medicine” to the faithful for the Lenten season: the rosary.

Volunteers, including some poor, homeless and refugees along with religious, distributed small white boxes with an anatomical drawing of the human heart that contained a rosary along with the Divine Mercy image of Jesus.

“Receive this gift as a spiritual help to spread love, forgiveness and brotherhood, especially during this Year of Mercy,” the pope said.

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