Pope at Bahrain Dialogue Forum: Religious leaders have duty to help humanity
By Deborah Castellano Lubov
In a world run by narrow interests and war, the Pope says religious leaders must set a good example, and commit themselves to encouraging and assisting our wounded human family.
This theme was at the heart of Pope Francis' address at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue on 4 November in the Al-Fida’ Square of the Sakhir Royal Palace in Bahrain's capital of Manama, during the Pope's second day of his Apostolic Journey to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The Pope is making his 39th Apostolic Journey outside of Italy, having accepted the invitation to visit the country extended by the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and by the local Church.
He visits the archipelago to participate in this Forum and to bring his closeness to the country's small Catholic flock, who make up about 4 percent of the population and is comprised primarily of immigrants.
During the Pope's address in the Middle Eastern Gulf nation, Pope Francis condemned war, made strong appeals for true religious freedom, and highlighted "urgent educational priorities" regarding recognition of women, protecting children's fundamental rights, taking action, and the concept of citizenship.
The Holy Father began by expressing his gratitude for the invitation to the dialogue forum, which was organized under the patronage of the King of Bahrain, on the theme "East and West for Human Coexistence."
Yet, he lamented, we are living at a time when humanity appears much more divided than united.
Rejecting 'isolationist' mentality
"After two terrible world wars, a cold war that for decades kept the world in suspense, catastrophic conflicts taking place in every part of the globe, and in the midst of accusations, threats, and condemnations," Pope Francis said, "we continue to find ourselves on the brink of a delicate precipice and we do not want to fall."
He deplored the dramatic, even "childlike," scenario around us where we play with fire, missiles and bombs, spreading death and hatred, and warned against bitter consequences "if we continue to accentuate conflict instead of understanding," and "persist in stubbornly imposing our own models and despotic, imperialist, nationalist, and populist visions." He called for listening to the voice of the poor and for everyone to come together.
As men and women who believe in God, the Pope said those gathered must reject "an isolationist" mentality.
Religious leaders must set a good example
The emergence of conflicts, he insisted, should not cause us to lose sight of the "less evident tragedies in our human family," such as "the catastrophic inequality whereby the majority of people on our planet experience unprecedented injustice, the shameful scourge of hunger and the calamity of climate change, a sign of our lack of care for the common home."
The Pope underscored the important role and responsibilities of religious leaders.
When it comes to such issues, the Pope said, "religious leaders must surely commit themselves and set a good example.
"We have a specific role to play," he said, noting, "It is our duty to encourage and assist our human family."
The Pope proposed three areas of challenges that emerge from the Document on Human Fraternity and from the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, both of which were reflected on at the forum: prayer, education, and action.
Turning first to prayer, the Pope said prayer touches the human heart. For this reason, prayer, the opening of our hearts to the Most High, is essential for purifying ourselves of selfishness, closed-mindedness, self-referentiality, falseness, and injustice.
Those who pray, the Pope underscored, receive the peace of heart, and cannot fail to bear witness to this and to invite others, by their example. And the followers of religions, the Pope continued, invite others to lift their gaze to heaven.
"They bring to their prayer, like incense that rises to the Most High, the trials and tribulations of all," he said.
One essential premise: religious freedom
For this to be the case, however, the Pope said, "there is one essential premise, and that is religious freedom."
The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, he recalled, explains that “God instructs us to exercise the divine gift of freedom of choice” and consequently, “compelled religion cannot bring a person into a meaningful relationship with God.”
Any form of religious coercion, the Pope stated, "is unworthy of the Almighty, since He has not handed the world over to slaves, but to free creatures, whom He fully respects."
Self-examining true freedom of religion
"It is not enough to grant permits and recognize freedom of worship; it is necessary to achieve true freedom of religion," Pope Francis said. "Not only every society, but also every creed is called to self-examination in this regard."
"They are called," he added, "to question whether it coerces God’s creatures from without, or liberates them from within; whether it helps people to reject rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and violence; whether it helps believers to grow in authentic freedom, which is not doing what we want, but directing ourselves to the good for which we were created."
Challenge of education
While the challenge of prayer, the Pope said, regards the heart, that of education concerns the mind.
Recalling that the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration states that “ignorance is the enemy of peace,” the Pope acknowledged that "where opportunities for education are lacking, extremism increases and forms of fundamentalism take root."
If ignorance is the enemy of peace, the Pope stated, education is the friend of development, "provided that it is an education truly befitting men and women as dynamic and relational beings."
"For it is not enough to say we are tolerant," the Pope said, insisting, "We really have to make room for others, granting them rights and opportunities."
The Pope said religions can support this approach.
Recognition of women
The Pope emphasized three urgent educational priorities.
First, he called for the recognition of women in the public sphere, namely, their right “to education, to employment, and their freedom to exercise their social and political rights.”
Protecting children's fundamental rights
Second, the Pope called for protecting "children's fundamental rights" so that "they can grow up, receive schooling, be helped and supported, so as not to live in the grip of hunger and violence."
He invited those present to teach others, "and learn ourselves, how to view crises, problems, and wars through the eyes of children: this is not a mark of naiveté, but of farsighted wisdom, because only if we are concerned for them will progress be reflected in innocence rather than profit, and lead to the building of a better and more humane future."
The Pope said education begins in the heart of the family and continues within a community, village, or city.
The concept of citizenship
The Pope stressed education for citizenship and for living in community, in respect for one another and for the law. In a particular way, he highlighted the importance of the “concept of citizenship”, “based on the equality of rights and duties.”
"Its misuse," Pope Francis warned, "paves the way for hostility and discord" and "undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against."
Recalling that Bahrain's Declaration states that "whenever hatred, violence, and discord are preached, God's name is desecrated," the Pope stressed that all who are religious reject these things as utterly unjustifiable, and must "forcefully reject the blasphemy of war and the use of violence.
The Pope also said they must consistently put this into practice.
Perpetrators of violence abusing religion's name
"It is not enough to proclaim that a religion is peaceful," the Pope insisted, "we need to condemn and isolate the perpetrators of violence who abuse its name. Nor is it enough to distance ourselves from intolerance and extremism; we need to counter them."
"Religious men and women, as people of peace," Pope Francis added, "are likewise opposed to the race to rearmament, to the commerce of war, to the market of death," and "do not support 'alliances against some,' but means of encounter with all. "
A 'conscience of peace'
The Pope invited religious leaders and those at the Forum to come together, for the sake of humanity, and in God's name, and to "promote concrete initiatives to ensure that the journey of the great religions will be ever more effective and ongoing, a conscience of peace for our world."
"The Creator," he said, "invites us to act, especially on behalf of all those many creatures of His who do not yet find a sufficient place on the agenda of the powerful," naming the elderly, unborn, poor, infirm, and migrants.
Making every effort
Pope Francis concluded by urging them to take their side and to make every effort to assist a "wounded and sorely tried" humanity.
"By doing so," the Holy Father said, "we will draw down upon our world the blessing of the Most High."