By Seán-Patrick Lovett
Monday’s Interreligious Meeting took place within the context of the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, currently underway in Abu Dhabi. The Conference has brought together hundreds of religious leaders and scholars. It is dedicated to examining interfaith dialogue, religious freedom, combatting extremism, and promoting peace.
All of these themes were present in Pope Francis’ discourse, which he delivered at the Founder’s Memorial, before some of the highest authorities in the United Arab Emirates, and members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Pope Francis began by describing himself as “a believer thirsting for peace”. Speaking about the Interreligious Meeting itself, the Pope continued: “We are here to desire peace, to promote peace, to be instruments of peace”.
The Ark of Fraternity
Referencing the biblical story of Noah, the Pope suggested that, in order to safeguard peace, we too “need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world”. This means acknowledging, “God is at the origin of the one human family”. “No violence can be justified in the name of religion”, he said.
“Religious behavior”, said Pope Francis, “needs continually to be purified from the recurrent temptation to judge others as enemies and adversaries”. The “perspective of heaven”, he said, “embraces persons without privilege or discrimination”.
Expressing his “appreciation” for the commitment of the United Arab Emirates “to tolerating and guaranteeing freedom of worship, to confronting extremism and hatred”, the Pope then posed the question: “How do we look after each other in the one human family?”.
The Courage of Otherness
Pope Francis proposed what he called “the courage of otherness”: recognizing the freedom and fundamental rights of others. “Without freedom”, he said, “we are no longer children of the human family, but slaves”.
Religious freedom, he continued, is not just freedom of worship: it means seeing the other as “a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free, and whom no human institution can coerce, not even in God’s name”.
Dialogue and Prayer
Pope Francis then turned to the importance of dialogue and prayer. Prayer, he said, “purifies the heart from turning in on itself. Prayer of the heart restores fraternity”. Encouraging religions to “exert themselves with courage and audacity” in building paths of peace: “We will either build the future together”, he said, “or there will be no future”.
Education and Justice
In order to fly, continued Pope Francis, peace requires “the wings of education and justice”. Investing in culture, he said, “encourages a decrease of hatred and a growth of civility and prosperity”, because “education and violence are inversely proportional”.
The Pope again encouraged religious leaders to be “the voice of the least”, to “stand on the side of the poor”, to be “vigilant warnings to humanity not to close our eyes in the face of injustice”.
The desert that flourishes
Using the image of the “desert that surrounds us”, Pope Francis spoke of the United Arab Emirates as “an important crossroads” between East and West, North and South. While praising the way the “desert has flourished” and become, what he called “a place of development”, the Pope also warned of the “indifference” that risks converting “flourishing realities into desert lands”.
Pope Francis provided examples of this indifference in failing to “care about the future of creation”, or “about the dignity of the stranger”. A fraternal “living together, founded on education and justice, a human development built upon a welcoming inclusion and on the rights of all: these are the seeds of peace which the world’s religions are called to help flourish”.
Demilitarizing the human heart
Pope Francis concluded with a criticism of the arms race and an appeal to “demilitarize the human heart”.
“War cannot create anything but misery”, he said. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes”. Here, the Pope mentioned specifically “Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya”.
“Our being together today is a message of trust”, said the Pope, not to “surrender to the floods of violence and the desertification of altruism. God is with those who seek peace”.