More than 250 theologians from 54 countries, representing all the major religions of the world, will meet in Assisi, on 17 April 2012, to discuss ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue.
Entitled 'Assisi 2012: Where We Dwell in Common - Pathways for Dialogue in the 21st Century,' the gathering will spend three days considering first the divisions among churches and faiths and then what they have in common. On the third day, consideration will be given to what may be done to stimulate the cause of religious collaboration.
According to Dr Gerard Mannion, chair of the organising committee and director of the Frances G Harpst Centre for Catholic Thought and Culture at the University of San Diego, California, the overall aim of the conference is to discern new ways to promote dialogue, understanding and harmony among people of differing faiths and those of no faith.
“It is intended to be not so much a conference, as the beginning of a process to identify productive pathways for dialogue in these times,” said Mannion, who also chairs the Ecclesiological Investigations International Research Network, the principal sponsors of the gathering. “It wishes to encourage ecumenical ‘thinking outside the box’ and to gather together a diverse array of voices to help make this happen.”
The conference, which is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the variety, expertise and international reputation of its participants, has the support of institutions and religious organisations from major centres of learning in Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The organisers chose to meet in Assisi, Mannion said, because of its association with St Francis and St Clare and their long-standing reputation as patrons of peace and harmony.
Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi will welcome the participants and formally open the conference on the evening of 17 April.
The following day, Dr Paul Arthur, a professor of peace studies at the University of Ulster who took part in the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland in 1998, will open the conference with a talk on the lessons to be learned from that process. The final day will be devoted to developing constructive methods for building bridges between churches and religions in the future.