We need a clear context to understand the ecumenical and inter-religious meeting of Pope Francis in Assisi this Tuesday, which commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Meeting of Prayer for Peace, held first by John Paul II on October 27, 1986. Such meetings generate confusion in an already confused culture, where most people have embraced a pluralistic theology of religions: i.e., all religions are the same, equally vehicles of salvation, equally true and good, and as such where religious diversity is taken to be part of the will of God.
But this understanding of religious pluralism is not the Church’s teaching. This is clear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, John Paul II’s 1990 Encyclical Redemptoris missio, as well as the 2000 CDF document, Dominus Iesus. But here, I will let John Paul II speak for himself on the meaning of Assisi. He does so in his 1986 “Christmas Address to the Roman Curia.”
John Paul identifies three important dimensions of our world: the orders of creation, the fall into sin, and redemption in Jesus Christ. The order of creation is the ground of universal human identity as God’s image bearer, and of the unity of all members of the human family in a divine origin. Man is stamped in his created nature with the dynamic of desiring God because we have been created by Him and for Him. Thus, all men have a radical unity because we have one single origin and goal.
The order of redemption finds its central point in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, says John Paul, quoting Nostra aetate §2, “in whom men find the fullness of their religious life, and in whom God has reconciled all things to himself.” This order grounds the universal scope of the atoning work of Christ. In his infinite, all-embracing love, God desires the salvation of all men in Christ. (1 Tim 2:4-6)
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