The Pope always
seems to get criticized at every twist-and-turn. He announced a gathering in
Assisi to have a World Day of Prayer in part to commemorate the 25th
anniversary of the first Day of Prayer hosted by John Paul II and to build
bridges -he is the Pontiff, the “bridge builder”–after all. Benedict’s noble
and good motive is this: “I will make a pilgrimage to the town of St Francis,
inviting my Christian brethren of different confessions, leaders of the world’s
religious traditions and, in their hearts, all men and women of good will, to
join me on this journey in order to commemorate that important historical
of my predecessor, and solemnly to renew the commitment of believers of
all religions to live their religious faith as a service to the cause of peace

But, on the Epiphany, Bishop Bernard Fellay the Superior General of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) preached the following: “Yes, we are deeply indignant, we vehemently protest against this repetition of the days at Assisi. Everything that we have said, everything that Archbishop [Marcel] Lefebvre had said at the time of the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi in 1986, we repeat in our own name. It is evident, my dear brothers, that such a thing demands reparation. What a mystery!”

To say, though, the event is a “scandal given to Catholic souls cannot be measured. The Church is shaken to its very foundations” is a little over the top. Aside from weak catechesis and poor ars celebrandi and liturgical preaching since the Vatican II, not everything can be reduced to absurd conclusions. Bishop Fellay is quiet correct to raise concerns about the Assisi proposal. It’s a little too early to think 2011 will repeat 1986. Several things changed changed: the Church has a new pope, there’s a lot of new leadership in key offices of the Roman Curia, and the other religions have changed their leadership and perspective that will make this event generally different with regard to issues pertaining to religious freedom, faith and reason and clearer teachings in Catholic Christology that may not have been too tight in the past. When he was the Prefect of the CDF Ratzinger didn’t attend the event because he is reported to have disagreed with John Paul.

A lot of things are mystery, so the bishop is correct to raise concern and even to offer words of caution. But he’s allowing emotion and not fact to determine engagement. No one I know, Franciscan or otherwise, says “that all religions, ultimately, adore one and the same true God.” For example, in Nostra Aetate and in other statements of the Holy See, teach that Muslims worship the God of Abraham. They believe in only one and their intention is to worship that one, transcendent God. Fine. That’s correct. The same is said of the God that Jews and Christians worship. Christians take it a step further, however: Christians believe in and worship God who as revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is the Son who has revealed the face of God in History and He is the unique Savior for all people, for all ages.

Let’s remember one thing, there is no common prayer scheduled; I don’t believe the religions who gathered 25 years ago prayed together. They were present for key speeches and a common photo and an exchange of gifts, but the various religions went off to their own “prayer spaces.” Hence, I think his criticism is a bit unfair and too strident. For one, the event is 9 months away, and one can have certitude that the 25th anniversary will not be like the first one.