“There is no alternative: We either build the future together or there will not be a future,” Pope Francis said frankly in an important keynote address to participants at the high-level inter-religious meeting in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4.
“Religions, in particular, cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures,” he told the 700 representatives of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and other religions at an open-air gathering at the memorial to the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.
“The time has come when religions should more actively exert themselves, with courage and audacity and without pretense, to help the human family deepen the capacity for reconciliation, the vision of hope and the concrete paths of peace,” Pope Francis said.
Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam, put those words into action, using the opportunity of the pope’s historic visit to sign a statement expressing their hopes for world peace and human understanding. The document describes itself as being in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction.” It decries modern “signs of a ‘third world war being fought piecemeal,’” a phrase Pope Francis has often used in his many condemnations of contemporary conflict.
Pope Francis: “Religions cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures.”
The U.A.E. is deeply involved in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, a war that faces widespread international criticism for airstrikes killing civilians and the conflict pushing the country to the brink of famine.
The document says: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.” The statement also says countries have a duty to establish a concept of “full citizenship.” The U.A.E. relies heavily on foreign laborers who have no path to naturalization.
Before he addressed the inter-religious meeting, Pope Francis was given a royal welcome here. His small car was flanked with a guard of honor on horseback, with air-force planes flying overhead, as he proceeded to the presidential palace for the colorful state welcome and subsequent private conversation with the crown prince. This was followed by an important behind-closed-doors encounter with the international Muslim Council of Elders in the courtyard of the Great Mosque of Sheik Zayed, one of the largest and most ornate mosques in the world.
Pope Francis began his much-anticipated nationally televised address today with the traditional Arabic greeting: “As-salāmu alaykum!” (“Peace be with you!”)
He continued in Italian, with simultaneous translation in Arabic, by first thanking his hosts—Sheik Zayed and the Grand Imam, who had spoken before him. He also extended his greetings “with friendship and esteem, to all the countries of this peninsula,” which include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.
Francis said the world’s religions are called “to contribute actively to demilitarizing the human heart.”
Francis, who is greatly respected in the Muslim world, according to sources here, said the world’s religions, especially “at this delicate historical situation,” are called “to contribute actively to demilitarizing the human heart.” In a region where arms are ever in demand, he reminded his audience that “the arms race, the extension of its zones of influence, the aggressive policies to the detriment of others will never bring stability. War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death.”
He told these representatives of the world’s religions that “human fraternity requires of us the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war.’” He drew their attention to “the fateful consequences” of war that are visible to all in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Pope Francis issued an appeal to these leaders and representatives of the world’s religions: “Together, as brothers and sisters in the one human family willed by God, let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power, against the monetization of relations, the arming of borders, the raising of walls, the gagging of the poor; let us oppose all this with the sweet power of prayer and daily commitment to dialogue.”
He reminded them: “God is with those who seek peace. From heaven he blesses every step which, on this path, is accomplished on earth.”
Pope Francis thanked God for enabling him to come here on the eighth centenary of the meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al Kāmil of Egypt. Though the pope did not say so, that encounter took place during the fifth crusade. Francis visits the U.A.E.’s Muslim leaders also at a time of conflict—the war in Yemen.
“I have welcomed the opportunity to come here as a believer thirsting for peace, as a brother seeking peace with the brethren. We are here to desire peace, to promote peace, to be instruments of peace,” he told his audience.
“We too in the name of God, in order to safeguard peace, need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world: the ark of fraternity.”
The pope recalled that the logo for his visit depicts a dove with an olive branch, and referred to the story, found in different religious traditions, of the primordial flood. He said the Bible recounts that “in order to preserve humanity from destruction, God asked Noah to enter the ark with his family.”
Drawing on this image, Pope Francis told his interreligious audience: “Today, we too in the name of God, in order to safeguard peace, need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world: the ark of fraternity.”
He outlined the path to such fraternity—the theme of this global conference—and the building of peace by emphasizing that “the point of departure is the recognition that God is at the origin of the one human family” and “he wants us to live as brothers and sisters, dwelling in the common home of creation which he has given us.”
Pope Francis said, “Each person is equally precious in the eyes of God, who does not look upon the human family with a preferential gaze that excludes, but with a benevolent gaze that includes.”
He reminded them that “to recognize the same rights for every human being is to glorify the name of God on earth” and, consequently, “every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation because we gravely profane God’s name when we use it to justify hatred and violence against a brother or sister.”
“No violence can be justified in the name of religion,” the pope said.
Pope Francis told the other religious leaders that “the enemy of fraternity is an individualism which translates into the desire to affirm oneself and one’s own group above others.” On the other hand, he said, “true religious piety consists in loving God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself.” He insisted that “each belief system is called to overcome the divide between friends and enemies, in order to take up the perspective of heaven, which embraces persons without privilege or discrimination.”
“No violence can be justified in the name of religion,” the pope said.
Here, Francis expressed his “appreciation” for “the commitment” of the U.A.E. “to tolerating and guaranteeing freedom of worship, to confronting extremism and hatred.” He reminded his audience that fraternity “embraces variety and differences between brothers and sisters” and that “the right attitude is neither a forced uniformity nor a conciliatory syncretism.”
Moreover, he said, “if we believe in the existence of the human family, it follows that it must, as such, be looked after” and this happens “above all through a daily and effective dialogue.”
The pope emphasized that this dialogue “presupposes having one’s own identity,” which is “not to be forgone to please the other person” and at the same time, “it demands the courage of otherness, which involves the full recognition of the other and his or her freedom, and the consequent commitment to exert myself so that the other person’s fundamental rights are always affirmed, everywhere and by everyone.”
He emphasized that “religious freedom” is part of such freedom.
Francis said that “the courage of otherness” is the heart of dialogue and that “prayer is essential” because it “purifies the heart from turning in on itself” and “restores fraternity.” As for the future of interreligious dialogue, he said “the first thing we have to do is pray, and pray for one another: we are brothers and sisters.”
Then, returning to the image of the dove of peace, Pope Francis reminded his audience that “peace, in order to fly, needs wings that uphold it: the wings of education and justice.”
Pope Francis: “Peace dies when it is divorced from justice, but justice is false if it is not universal.”
He again praised the U.A.E. for making investments “not only in the extraction of the earth’s resources”—the emirates are leaders in oil and gas production—“but also in those of the heart, in the education of young people,” both boys and girls. He encouraged them to continue, advising that “investing in culture encourages a decrease of hatred and a growth of civility and prosperity.” The pope recalled that Catholic schools, which are well appreciated in this country and in the region, “promote such education on behalf of peace.”
He went onto affirm that “justice is the second wing of peace.” He told his interreligious audience: “No one can believe in God and not seek to live in justice with everyone, according to the Golden Rule” that is common to all religions. He said, “Peace and justice are inseparable!
“Peace dies when it is divorced from justice, but justice is false if it is not universal,” he said. Indeed, he said, “a justice addressed only to family members, compatriots, believers of the same faith is a limping justice; it is a disguised injustice!”
He emphasized that “religions should be the voice of the least, who are not statistics but brothers and sisters, and should stand on the side of the poor.” Moreover, they should warn humanity “not to close our eyes in the face of injustice and never to resign ourselves to the many tragedies in the world.”
Then referring again to the U.A.E., a country that was totally transformed following the discovery of enormous oil reserves in 1958, Pope Francis noted that “in just a few years, with farsightedness and wisdom, the desert has been transformed into a prosperous and hospitable place” and “continues to be an important crossroads between the West and the East, between the North and South of the planet.”
He praised the U.A.E. for “fruitful development” that has created jobs for some 8 million people of 200 nationalities and offers hope “to many persons from a variety of nations, cultures and beliefs,” including “many Christians, whose presence in the region dates back centuries” and “who have made a significant contribution to the growth and well-being of the country.”
He expressed appreciation to the U.A.E. for showing “respect and tolerance” to Christians and giving them “the necessary places of worship.”
Pope Francis, however, reminded his audience that “indifference” is “an obstacle to development” because it “prevents us from seeing the human community beyond its earnings and our brothers and sisters beyond the work they do.
“it does not look to the future,” the pope said, “it does not care about the future of creation; it does not care about the dignity of the stranger and the future of children.”
He added, “A fraternal living together, founded on education and justice,” and “a human development built upon a welcoming inclusion and on the rights of all” are “the seeds of peace which the world’s religions are called to help flourish.”
With reporting from AP