Pope voices shame for Christian violence

‘Day of Dialogue, Reflection and Prayer’ brings together representatives of many world religions and even agnosticism.

Religious leaders 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Religious leaders 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
ROME – Pope Benedict XVI, leading a global interreligious meeting, said that violence in the name of Christianity had no place in the world today.
On the 25th anniversary of John Paul II’s first summit of the world’s religious leaders in Assisi, Benedict held an interfaith “Day of Dialogue, Reflection and Prayer” in Assisi, Italy, on Thursday.
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About 300 international delegates of “Pilgrims of Peace, Pilgrims of Truth” came dressed in their ceremonial robes, speaking all languages and professing Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, indigenous religions, Islam, all branches of Christianity and Judaism.
Delegates were invited to travel from Rome with the pope on an ancient Vatican train that runs only on very rare, historic occasions.
“As a Christian, I want to say at this point [that] yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” he said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica.
“We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature.”
It was one of the few times that a pope has apologized for events such as the Crusades or the use of force to spread the faith in the New World. The late pontiff, John Paul II, apologized in 2000 for Christianity’s historical failures.
Benedict, who in his address also condemned terrorism, said history had also shown that the denial of God could bring about “a degree of violence that knows no bounds.”
He said the concentration camps of World War II had revealed “with utter clarity the consequences of God’s absence.”
The Jewish guests were mainly officials of international Jewish organizations, including the Anti- Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, World Jewish Congress, the Appeal of Conscience Foundation and IJCIC – the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, an umbrella group that serves as the Vatican’s official partner in dialogue with Jews.
Jerusalem-based Rabbi David Rosen, AJC’s international director for inter-religious affairs, who represented world Jewry, was seated on the left side of Pope Benedict, while the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, sat on the pope’s right. The various leaders of the different religious delegations branched out in a semicircle.
Rosen said he considered this memorable day as “a reaffirmation – like his visit to the Rome Synagogue – of Benedict XVI’s continuity with John Paul II’s outreach to other religions, especially Judaism.”
“These events are critically important.” he said. “They prove that it can no longer be said that such initiatives were merely John Paul II’s personal whims.”
The pope also invited a delegation of four non-believers, selected by the Pontifical Council for Culture.
He said he had invited the agnostics to represent people in the world who have no faith but are “on the lookout for truth, searching for God.”
He said such non-believers should not be confused with militant atheists, who, he said, live in the “false certainty” that there is no God.

Reuters contributed to this report.