Updated: December 22, 2011 06:14 AM GMT
A Vatican official has said that there will be no public prayer at the interfaith meeting to be convened by Pope Benedict XVI in Assisi later this month. Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, said the focus will not be on interfaith prayer. “The emphasis will be on the pilgrimage and not the prayer,” he said. Italian Archbishop Monsignor Mario Toso further explained that not including a group prayer during the conference in Assisi was in order to avoid the risk of “syncretism,” or the fusion of multiple religions, which remains a contentious issue for the Church. He added, however, that “prayer is not optional” and that time and space for private prayers for all attendees will be provided. The Assisi meeting, to take place on October 27, will mark the 25th anniversary of the first meeting of various religious leaders called by Pope John Paul II in 1986. On that occasion, different faith groups prayed separately but publicly, though Pope John Paul II clarified subsequently that his initiative should in no way be interpreted as a bow by the Church to “relativism and syncretism.” Pope Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and a trusted aide to Pope John Paul II in matters of faith, never hid his skepticism for such gatherings and many were surprised earlier this year by his announcement of a new meeting of religious leaders in Assisi. Despite the absence of public prayer during the forthcoming gathering, Cardinal Turkson has stated that the Vatican has received harsh criticism for hosting the event. In particular, he noted the response from the Society of St Pius X, a congregation founded by Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre, and its initiative to celebrate 1,000 “reparations Masses” to atone for the event. The Lefebvrists are currently in dialogue with Rome over an offer of full communion with the Church on the condition of the group’s acceptance of a Doctrinal Preamble prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Thirty-one delegations from various Christian churches will attend the Assisi gathering, while Judaism will be represented by members of the International Committee on Inter-religious Consultation, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and other international Jewish organizations. Five Hindu leaders, three Jains, Five Sikhs, one Zoroastrian, one Baha’I, 67 Buddhists and the heads of 16 other delegations from 11 countries including the People’s Republic of China will also be in attendance. The Dalai Lama was invited to the event but has declined, citing a previous engagement, and will instead send a representative on his behalf. Non-believers will also be represented at the meeting, following a direct request from Pope Benedict.
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