The spirit of Assisi’ speaks

Fr. Jarosław Grabowski

The phenomenon described as ‘the spirit of Assisi’ was born 25 years ago. On 27 October 1986 John Paul II implemented his desire, inviting the representatives of main religions in the world and Christian beliefs to Assisi, in order to pray for peace in many languages. In the town of St. Francis, the Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, the representatives of original peoples from all over the world met, convinced that real peace can be achieved only by deep relation with God during a prayer.

47 delegations representing Christian beliefs and the representatives of 13 other religions arrived at Assisi 25 years ago. Facing constant violence and incapability of the international community to establish peace, John Paul II asked all religions to be specific instrument of real peace. Opening the meeting in Assisi, the Pope – with the Orthodox Archbishop Methodius on his right and the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama on his left – explained the sense of that event: ‘Our meeting is only the confirmation that mankind, involved in a great matter of peace should reach for the deepest and life-giving sources (...) We are sure that besides human resources, a deep, humble and trustful prayer is needed so that the world would become a place of real and permanent peace. The prayer leads us to the conversion of our hearts. Therefore, we have come to this place’.

Assisi – the world capital of ecumenism, peace and reconciliation

John Paul II chose Assisi as a place of prayer in respect for its exceptional and saint Patron. The poor man of Assisi was able to overthrow each barrier of discrimination and acknowledge all people and all creatures as his brothers and sisters. Thanks to the Polish Pope, Assisi became the world capital of ecumenism, peace and reconciliation, a town of the common prayer, a symbol of respect to all creatures and transcendent needs of the man expressed in various ways, variety of culture and a dialogue.
The participant of the meeting, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a chairman of the Pope’s Commission ‘Iustitia et Oax at that time, mentioning that event, said: ‘That day I heard the rhythm of the world’s heart. The short meeting on a hill, one or two words, and gestures were enough for the representatives of divided mankind to discover joyfully the original unity anew. When at the end of a grey morning a rainbow appeared in the sky over Assisi, those all religious leaders, invited by the courageous prophet, John Paul II present among them, noticed an urgent call for brotherhood through it: nobody doubted that the prayer just caused the appearance of a visible sign of covenant between God and descendants of Noah’.

Unjustified concerns

The courageous prophet – today Blessed John Paul II was convinced that religious differences, although they are large, they are not an obstacle in building the spirit of brotherhood. ‘Although there are so many serious differences among us, so isn’t it the truth that there is a common space on a deeper level of humanity, which can be a starting point to cooperate in solving this dramatic problem of our times: real peace or a catastrophic war?’ asked the Pope in his speech at the end of the meeting in Assisi. Worries of those who were afraid of religious syncretism were weakened by John Paul II who gave a special formula to this meeting: be together in order to pray. It was about not marginalizing differences in a prayer typical for each religion but praying close to one another, giving the world a common testimony of care about peace.
The congregation of leaders of various religions put everybody in the face of the responsibility for their own religion so that it would mean the sense of actual building peace – pointed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Assisi was not concession to relativism in religion. This meeting had ‘an excellent meaning because relativism and syncretism – stated the State Secretary of Vatican – lead to destruction instead of valuing specific religious experience’. Religions are not invited only to a dialogue with their faithful but also to widening this dialogue by non-believers. In all religious traditions there is increasing awareness of the fact that respect and relations of peace must be developed among people.
For some Catholic environments ‘the spirit of Assisi’ was also incomprehensible and suspicious like the spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The worries, that the Catholic Church was apparently in a bad theology and mistakes condemned by pre-conciliar popes, turned out to be exaggerated and unnecessary. The Fathers of the Church (Justyn the Martyr, Klemens Aleksandryjski) saw ‘semina Verbi’ in different religions, reflexes of one Truth which prove the fact that, this human spirit is deeply aiming at the same direction although on different paths; it is expressed in looking for God and through aiming at God – a full dimension of humanity. However, the positive and enthusiastic reception prevailed eventually. It resulted from a simple thesis: today’s world needs people who are sensitive to religious values and who will help others find sense and willingness to walk together in the pilgrimage of peace.
‘The spirit of Assisi’ speaks regularly in different places of the world, thanks to the involvement of the Rome’s Community Sant’ Egidio, called zatybrzańska of UN, and which propagates the ideas of ecumenism and peace among nations for years. In one of the memories by prof. Andrea Riccardi, a founder of the Community, he said: ‘In 1987 Pope Wojtyła came up to me and said: ‘let’s go ahead and continue it although I was nearly excommunicated’. The Community took up the Pope’s encouragement and every following year it organized and still organizes inter-religious congresses for peace from the series ‘People and Religions’ taking place in different cities in Europe (in 1989 in Warsaw, in 2009 in Cracow, in September 2011 in Munich).

Benedict XVI invites to Assisi

Benedict XVI goes to Assisi on 26 October this year with Christians of other beliefs and representatives of other religions in order to commemorate 25th anniversary of ‘the spirit of Assisi’. In January he encouraged his Christian brothers of different beliefs, representatives of the world religious traditions and symbolically all people of good will to join this pilgrimage’. It is going to be a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world. The topic of the day is going to be the motto: ‘Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace’. ‘This one who is going towards God – explains the Pope – must give the peace, somebody who builds the peace must go nearer to God’.
After 25 years ‘the spirit of Assisi’ is still alive and speaks. On 27 October 1986, it was the first time in history the representatives of different beliefs and religions together with the Bishop of Rome set off to the town of St. Francis in order to appeal for the gift of peace; this day became a memorable day in the religious calendar of the mankind. ‘I wanted this meeting very much – mentioned John Paul II in 1994 –when we face the divisions in the world and the danger of a war, I wanted common call flowing out from believers’ hearts to God, who leads the man along the paths of peace. This day was inscribed in the card of history of our times (...). This meeting could not remain only an episode (...), it has brought enormous spiritual power, and was a kind of a source through which we can get stronger and which releases new stimuli to build the peace. Therefore, I wanted ‘the spirit of Assisi’ not to die but spread in the world, and find new witnesses of the peace and dialogue in each place’.


"Niedziela" 43/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: