Pope Benedict called today for an interfaith meeting to be held in Assisi this October to mark the 25th anniversary of the World Day of Prayer for Peace that Pope John Paul II held there on Oct. 26, 1986. Speaking hours after a shattering terrorist attack that killed 21 people in a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt, the pope said he would focus on discussing with other religious leaders how religion can promote world peace.For those who recall that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had objected to the 1986 Assisi event and insisted that it not become the model for future inter-religious dialogue, this may be a surprise. But the pope has been coming around to the "spirit of Assisi" - an expression that annoys some conservatives - in recent years and even embraced the term when he visited Assisi in 2007. ( "The `spirit of Assisi,' which has continued to spread throughout the world since that event, counters the spirit of violence and the abuse of religion as a pretext for violence.")In today's World Day of Peace message, Benedict extolled the 1986 gathering: "On that occasion the leaders of the great world religions testified to the fact that religion is a factor of union and peace, and not of division and conflict. The memory of that experience gives reason to hope for a future in which all believers will see themselves, and will actually be, agents of justice and peace."
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.