Ultra-traditionalist Catholic group the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) has distributed a statement attacking the inter-religious "pilgrimage for peace" that Pope Benedict XVI is to lead on October 27 in the Italian town of Assisi. The group’s remarks, in turn, have been roundly condemned by Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, head of inter-religious dialogue for the Philippine bishops. The first World Day of Prayer for Peace was convened in Assisi by Blessed John Paul II, exactly 25 years ago. Pope Benedict has been planning the anniversary event for about a year, inviting leading representatives of all world faiths as well as a number of professed atheists. The Holy See press office said that this year's gathering will include "reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world." In the Philippines, where SSPX has ministries in various cities, an eight-page pamphlet entitled "Renewing the Assisi Scandal" has been circulating since last Sunday. An English translation of a commentary written by French SSPX Father Regis de Cacqueray, it calls the original Assisi meeting a "dreadful blasphemy" toward God, perpetrated by John Paul II. "How is it conceivable that a pope should call upon the representatives of false religions in their official capacity, to participate in a day of personal prayer?" it asks. "How can anyone entertain the thought that God will be pleased with the Jews who are faithful to their fathers, who crucified the Son of God and deny the Triune God?" The statement also questions how God could be honored by "worship offered to idols by all the animists, pantheists and other idolaters," when Jesus has said "no man comes to the Father but by me." "While the Pope prepares for one of the most serious acts of his pontificate, we vigorously and publicly proclaim our indignation," it concludes. SSPX broke away from the Church in 1970, as a reaction to the modernizing influences ushered in by the Second Vatican Council. Its relationship with the Vatican reached a nadir in 1988 when Pope John Paul excommunicated four SSPX bishops who were ordained without his approval. These were remitted in 2009 and discussions have taken place lately with a view towards reconciliation. However, Archbishop Capalla has advised Church members not to join SSPX activities because its priests, though validly ordained, have no legal status in the local Church. Responding directly to the SSPX pamphlet, he belittled Fr de Cacqueray's reference to "false religions," declaring that "the term is not in the vocabulary of the Church.” The archbishop explained that the Vatican would use the term "fundamental religions" when referring to non-Christian religions such as the traditional belief systems held by indigenous peoples. "They are a religion, but they are not organized,” he said. “They have no moral system and no written scripture. But from Vatican II, we know there is such a thing as extra-Biblical revelation, that God in many mysterious ways reveals himself to these people, and that's why they are also believers, not atheists," Archbishop Capalla explained. Lamenting that SSPX "does not know its history," he added that the "spirit of Assisi" goes beyond John Paul II's time to St Francis' dialogue with a Muslim sultan in the 12th century. This is regarded as the beginning of formal Church efforts to dialogue with Islamic leaders. "John Paul II's initiative 25 years ago was intended to assist with dialogue and promote mutual understanding, collaboration and harmony in the world, through respecting different religious traditions." In an open letter he sent to SSPX last week, Archbishop Capalla appealed to the "outsiders" to stop "pushing yourselves forcibly in the direction of our communities and confusing our people, especially the ignorant and the young, with half-truths and selective quotes from Church documents taken out of context."
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