So currently, as it has happened this past week, one of the current hot blogging topics is Assisi III. In a nutshell, this is a worldwide interfaith gathering of leaders of many of the world’s religions, hosted by the Pope. The first event was in 1986, with Assisi II in 2002. This started with Pope John Paul II and has continued with our current pope, Benedict XVI. Benedict did attend Assisi II at Pope John Paul II’s request, but skipped Assisi I.
However, these interfaith events have not been without very heated criticism, and even sacreligious practices surrounding it. One of the most touted examples is the “Buhdda statue incidient” as touted by Cardinal Oddi of Assisi I in 1983:
“On that day … I walked through Assisi … And I saw real profanations in some places of prayer. I saw Buddhists dancing around the altar upon which they placed Buddha in the place of Christ and then incensed it and showed it reverence. A Benedictine protested and the police took him away … There was obvious confusion in the faces of the Catholics who were assisting at the ceremony.”(1)
I’ll admit that’s pretty poor taste and they shouldn’t have had such free reign to do that. Fast forward to 2011 where now Benedict is in the hot seat as Pope and he has to do what his predecessor did. Once again the criticism flies, saying how dare he compromize the Catholic faith and promote the very thing he warned he would not do, syncretism (amalgamation of conflicting faiths). I can see the SSPX blowing a nutty over this and threating to reject the premable. Still, even with Benedict’s refusal to do much of what was done at prior Assisi gatherings, and just having a moment of silence in unison vs. praying with other faiths, an “incident” occured that has made this Assisi gathering seem like some kind of syncretic event, where some African pagan minister chanted to his pagan God I’ve never heard of, Olokun.
So I begin to read the combox at Fr. Z’s WDTPRS and see a lot of vitrol (I’m exaggerating) and “how dare B16 destroy the faith and be a hypocrite” comments. And then this gem shows up from Centristian, who tends to just floor you with his/her prospective on issues. You just read along, and all of a sudden he/she comes with the greatest insight of the day. Here’s Centristian’s insight on the Assisi issue and B16′s actions. He/She doesn’t agree with the event either, but he tackles the whole “your Church is corrupt and hypocritical in history, and is therefore the Whore of Babylon” thing beautifully, my emphasis in bold with slight italics:
@Neal:“If this is true (and if I’ve missed something I’m sure someone will let me know), is it fair to assume that silence in the face of this scandal is the price of full communion?”
Perhaps it is the case that it is hard to be anything but silent in the face of something so bewildering. I watched broadcasts of the event, and I could not see that there was any point to the event at all. It seemed like a completely empty and totally meaningless affair (at best). It was strange to see the Pope preside over all of this orchestrated meaningless…and it was not edifying, I am afraid, which I say with all due respect to the Holy Father. But finally, I just do not understand what it actually was. And if certain voices are not vocalizing condemnation, I imagine it is because they aren’t even sure what exactly happened. That is better, I think, than the voices who will harshly, now, condemn the Pope, having just as little understanding, themselves, of what actually happened.
I don’t really know what to do but walk away from it and forget about it. It isn’t the first time, of course, that the actions of popes have left the faithful shaking their heads and wondering what to make of things. Think of the stellar example of the warrior Pope Julius II, or of the publicly scandalous behaviour of Pope Alexander VI (and others like him from the same era). Think of the powerful Italian families and patrician Roman woman using the papacy as their own property for the political and economic advancement of themselves and their families. The good Christfaithful of such times aware of such papal disappointments must have been sickened to the point of wanting to walk right out the door. But where were they to go? Many did run away from it all, of course, into the household of Protestant heresy and schism, confused, shaken and angry; a lamentable but very understandable reaction. So scandalized were they by Christ’s wounded Body, they could only think to flee rather than stay behind and care for it. Fortunately, many Veronicas stayed by and wiped the Face of our disfigured Church with their own personal holiness, witness, and examples.
I think its also helpful to recognize that Christians of one era would potentially be scandalized by the Church of another, so much has the Church changed over the centuries of her existence. Many readers of this blog, for example, in today’s Church, would glory in the sight of, say, Pope St. Pius X, borne aloft on a throne on the shoulders of courtiers, surrounded by ostrich feathers and imperially crowned with the papal tiara. “Magnificent!” we would exclaim. Would a first century Christian feel the same way, however? Might he not be horrified and repulsed by the sight? “Our blessed Peter is arrayed as Pharaoh?!”
I have to put myself in the company of Christians, who, when faced with bewildering actions on the part of a pope or other church leaders will simply sigh, say a prayer, and continue to go about living their own lives of faith, confident that they will not ever have to answer for what a pope does, in any case. That’s all I can do: leave it behind, let God and the Pope sort this one out between them, and carry on in faith, day by day.
Let us not neglect to pray for the Pope. The popes aren’t always supermen. They’re seldom supermen, in fact; often they are quite the opposite. Some past popes have said and done silly and even horrific things. Just look at Peter, himself, who actually denied Jesus Christ three times. Christ chose his apostles knowing that they were all weak and apt to stumble and fall…what else did he have to choose from? We’re all that way. And when one of us rises to the Chair of Peter, that brother of ours remains what he began as: dust. That’s all any of us are. That’s all the pope is, too. So love him and pray for him. He is no better than us, and he is no worse.
Some will watch this and conclude “see: this is not a true pope and that is not a true Church. This is ‘Newchurch’, the false Roman Catholic Church. We must find, somewhere, the true remnant of the true Church and separate ourselves from ‘Newrome’. We will save the Church!” Don’t fall into that trap, however. Don’t flee the establishment of the hierarchical Church because you worry that it isn’t as pure and indefectible as it ought to be. Of course it isn’t; it never was. Its many imperfections give no group the right to establish its own authority, however.
We do not save the Church. The Church saves us. The Church is Christ’s own Body. Christ has promised us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church [edit: Found in Matthew 16:18], therefore those faithful to Christ need have no fear or great trouble over the mistakes (or apparent mistakes) of erroneous hierarchs and prelates. We don’t answer for any of what they do. When we die, God isn’t going to ask, “What is your position on Assisi III?” and then say to us, “Ah-ha! You’re wrong. Buh-bye!” if we’ve misunderstood it all. Don’t be scandalized, therefore, by those who aren’t commenting on something that , for some of us, simply leaves us speechless. (2)
Will someone please give this person a medal and an instant ticket to the seminary or a job at Catholic Answers? This was so powerful and conveyed so lovingly of the Church and those in it. And I wish you a happy 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A), or Feast of Christ the King for our Extraordiary Form compatriots.
(1) “Confisses de um Cardeal,” Interview granted by Cardinal Oddi to Tommasco Ricci, 30 Dias, November 1990, p. 64. Cited from Quo Vadis Petre? by Atila Sinke Guimaraes (Tradition in Action, Los Angeles, 1999), pp. 5-6
(2) “Centristian” in Fr. John Zuhlsdorf. What does the Prayer Really Say? 29 Nov 2011. <http://wdtprs.com/blog/2011/10/pagan-chant-to-the-deity-olokun-in-the-basilica-of-st-francis-during-assisi-iii/#comments>