Assisi – emphasis on pilgrimage not prayer

Cardinal Peter Turkson speaks with EWTN News in a Sept. 2011 interview

This month’s meeting of world religious leaders in Assisi will downplay prayer as a feature of the event and will not contain inter-religious prayers.

“The emphasis this time is on pilgrimage and not on prayer,” said Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Vatican’s Council for Justice and Peace, to EWTN News. He is also a key organizer of the Oct. 27 event in the birthplace of St. Francis.

“In fact, from what I understand of the program, and it’s still being worked on, is that prayer is going to be out, if not very minimal.”

This year’s Assisi gathering is entitled “Pilgrims of Truth, Pilgrims of Peace,” and is being convened to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first World Day for Peace, held by Pope John Paul II in 1986.

That summit came under fire from some Catholic groups who claimed it unwittingly blurred the distinctions between Catholicism and other religions.

Cardinal Turkson, who was in Assisi in 1986 along with two other African priests, said he understands why the event drew criticism. He recalled how “they were given some room in the city hall” to pray while “some non-Catholics appeared to have been given a church.” It was such incidents, he said, that “drew this sort of criticism.”

This time there will be no inter-religious prayer, the Vatican has already confirmed.

Instead, there will be a specifically Catholic prayer vigil in St. Peter’s Square in Rome the night before.

“So the praying is not going to happen there (in Assisi), it’s going to happen here (in Rome) and that’s going to be the Pope amongst his people, other Catholics,” explained Cardinal Turkson.

The following morning, participants will travel from Rome to Assisi on a special chartered train that will depart from the Vatican’s train station. Upon arrival, speeches will be given and all will have lunch together. The meal will be followed by a period of silence for individual reflection and prayer. The group will then make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Francis, the saint’s place of burial, where each delegate will recommit to peace.

Cardinal Turkson also explained why non-religious figures from the world of culture and science – some who will be atheists and agnostics – are being invited to join the Pope in Assisi.

Peace, he said, is “a preoccupation of both believers and unbelievers,” so that “those who do not practice any faith, they also can contribute and have a part in this pilgrimage.”

Cardinal Turkson will unveil final details of the Assisi event at a Vatican press conference next Tuesday, Oct. 18.

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