For the first time, Pope Benedict has invited non-believers, in addition to representatives of all faiths, to the religious peace gathering in Assisi due to take place on 27 October.
Msgr Melchor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda, under secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said: "This innovative idea of the Holy Father's is based on the conviction that men and women, both believers and non-believers, are always searching for God, for the Absolute, and that they are, therefore, all pilgrims travelling towards the fullness of truth".
The Pope's invitation has been accepted by the French linguist, psychoanalyst, philosopher and writer Julia Kristeva; the Italian philosopher Remo Bodei; the Mexican philosopher Guillermo Hurtado, and the Austrian economist Walter Baier.
A press conference was held at the Vatican today to outline plans for the "Day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world: Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace",
Pope John Paul II called the first peace gathering in Assisi in 1986. "The world today, as it did twenty-five years ago, needs peace", said Cardinal Turkson. "Following two and a half decades of collaboration and joint witness among religions, it is time to assess the results and to relaunch our commitment in the face of new challenges", he explained. Those challenges include "the financial and economic crisis which is lasting longer than expected, the crisis in democratic and social institutions, food and environmental problems, biblical-scale migrations, indirect forms of neo-colonialism, the scourge of poverty and hunger, unchecked international terrorism, and greater inequality and religious discrimination".
"Once more - and suffice to consider recent events in Egypt and other parts of the world - we must say 'no' to any exploitation of religion. Violence among religions is a scandal which distorts the true identity of religions, it obscures the face of God and distances us from the faith.
"The journey of religions towards justice and peace", the cardinal added, "must be characterised by a joint search for truth. ... Therefore Benedict XVI wishes the 2011 initiative in Assisi ... to be seen as a pilgrimage; the which implies asceticism, purification, convergence towards a more exalted place, and taking on a community responsibility".
The search for truth "is a precondition for knowing one another better, for overcoming all forms of prejudice, and of syncretism which obscures identity". It likewise helps us "to collaborate for the common good" and facilitates our "coming together on the plane of natural reason". It is a prerequisite "for defeating fanaticism and fundamentalism, according to which peace comes about by imposing one's own convictions on others", and for overcoming "the Babel of languages and the laicism which seeks to remove from the human family the One Who is its Beginning and End".
More than fifty nations will be represented on the Day. They will include, apart from many European and American countries, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Philippines and many others. Pope Benedict will deliver an address and participants will make a solemn renewal of their joint commitment to peace.
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