Today Pope Francis joins religious leaders from around the world to consider a “world emerging from a pandemic.” The pope will preside over a Christian ecumenical prayer gathering and then join Orthodox, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu leaders in a final ceremony. The event takes place in the “spirit of Assisi,” referring to the 35th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace held in the birthplace of St. Francis.
Although gatherings like his are now commonplace, the 1986 meeting was a watershed event that had massive ramifications for how both Catholics and non-Catholics perceived Catholicism and its relationship with other religions. This one event fundamentally altered how Catholics viewed their faith and its place in the world.
The 1986 World Day of Prayer for Peace broke with 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition. From the first days of the Jewish people, through the time of the Apostles and up to the 20th century, Jews and then Catholics considered mixing with other religions the ultimate sin. Israel struggled for centuries against paganistic practices that seeped into their faith; St. Paul warned against intermingling with unbelievers (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16); great Catholic missionaries like St. Boniface destroyed pagan idols in their efforts to bring people to the true Faith.