Convened in Assisi in 1986 by Pope John Paul II, the Day of Prayer for Peace was an event without precedent, and both Christians and members of other religions are still engaged with the process of reflecting on it, appraising its significance and taking forward what happened there, writes Kevin McDonald in the Tablet.
Pope Benedict is convening another Assisi Day on Thursday to provide an opportunity to look back over the path travelled since the first meeting and also to look to the future.
That first gathering in Assisi was a personal initiative of Pope John Paul II and a careful reading of what he had to say both before and after the event answers many of the concerns and questions people have had about it. His words also open up wider questions about the cultural and historical significance of the day.
Pope John Paul announced the meeting in his homily in Rome’s Basilica of St Paul’s Outside the Walls at the Mass to mark the conclusion of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity on 25 January 1986. He recalled that 1986 had been proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Year of Peace.
The Pope clearly wanted to respond to this initiative and called on Christians and all people of goodwill to pray for the gift of peace.
That phrase, “the gift of peace”, was central to everything the Pope would subsequently say about it. He went on: “The Holy See wishes to contribute to the arousal of a world movement of prayer for peace which, surpassing the boundaries of individual nations and involving believers of all religions, will reach the point of embracing the entire world.”
So, the Prayer for Peace in Assisi came quite out of the blue. I was working in Rome in 1986 at what was then the Secretariat for Christian Unity and there is no doubt that this took people by surprise. I did not go to Assisi but my bosses, Cardinal [Johannes] Willebrands and Fr Pierre Duprey, were there and had been closely involved in the organisation of it.
FULL STORY Power of Prayer: Ecumensim and the Spirit of Assisi (Tablet)