On 27 October this year, the world’s religious leaders will mark the 25th anniversary of a gathering inaugurated by Pope John Paul II.
At the 1986 meeting, three spiritual elements were emphasized: prayer, pilgrimage and fasting. Blessed Pope John Paul explained these elements in an opening address to the 1986 gathering:
"The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project which would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs."
Pope Benedict XVI has determined, after an interim of a quarter century, to invite the world’s religious leaders to the same venue. Two key reasons are being given. First, there is a desire, obviously, to commemorate the historic event of October 1986, a happening that opened a new era of relations among peoples of varying religions as well as cultures, a time in which believers literally need to express their religious commitments before a confused and shattered world. Second, a new meeting is sure to help peoples of faith in God to survey the future – which promises not only progress in understanding divine mysteries, but also many challenges and assaults certain to be intensified by the forces of evil.
In view of this second reason, that of inevitable mounting attacks against religious belief, invitations to Assisi are being sent out to nonbelievers, even avowed atheists. Moreover, some well-known figures from the worlds of physical science and of culture, who publicly deny religious belief, are also being asked to come.
As for the question, "Why Assisi?" The answer is simple; Saint Francis, who was undoubtedly the most influential figure of the second millennium, remains a blessed icon of peace, unity and love in accordance with God’s will, a will that we can all begin to fulfill through prayer, pilgrimage and fasting. The spirit of prayer energizes us all toward peaceful unity, symbolized by pilgrimage, and realized through fasting, which effects continuing conversion.
In our Catholic faith, all this comes together in the Mystery of the Incarnation, by which the status of the human being was elevated beyond imagination. This is the Mystery which we commemorate on our knees every Christmas, which is not merely "the most important economic season in the country," or a "happy holiday," as some media spokespersons have recently insisted. On the contrary, it is a key event in the world’s history, a critical moment signaling that Satan, the Father of Lies, cannot possibly win, and is even now on a leash.