Pope Francis asked leaders of world religions to resist “the temptation to fundamentalism” for the sake of peace at an interreligious gathering Thursday in front of the Colosseum.
Peace “summons us to serve the truth and declare what is evil when it is evil, without fear or pretense, even and especially when it is committed by those who profess to follow the same creed as us,” the pope said Oct. 7.
“For the sake of peace, please, in every religious tradition let us defuse the temptation to fundamentalism and every tendency to view a brother or sister as an enemy.”
Speaking on a stage together with Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu representatives, Pope Francis appealed for peace amid the world’s current conflicts.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as believers it is our responsibility to help eradicate hatred from human hearts and to condemn every form of violence. Let us unambiguously urge that arms be set aside and military spending reduced, in order to provide for humanitarian needs, and that instruments of death be turned into instruments of life,” the pope commented.
“Fewer arms and more food, less hypocrisy and more transparency, more vaccines distributed fairly and fewer weapons marketed indiscriminately,” he said.
The pope called prayer a source of strength that “disarms hate-filled hearts.”
Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, also spoke.
The Islamic scholar, who signed the landmark Document on Human Fraternity with Pope Francis in 2019, criticized the uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines throughout the world.
He said that “the world has suffered a setback despite the efforts made by religious institutions, their representatives and leadership, to foster a collaborative approach and exchange of goods, giving precedence to the public interest over private interests.”
Pope Francis was speaking at the live-streamed closing ceremony of “Peoples as Brothers, Future Earth. Religions and Cultures in Dialogue,” the 35th event promoted by the Sant’Egidio Community in the “spirit of Assisi,” the interreligious gathering convened in St. Francis’ birthplace by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
In his address, the pope said: “Today, in a globalized society that sensationalizes suffering, yet remains incapable of sympathizing with it, we need to ‘construct compassion’ ... We need to listen to others, make their sufferings our own, and look into their faces.”
“We cannot continue to accept wars with the detachment with which we watch the evening news, but rather make an effort to see them through the eyes of the peoples involved,” he said.
Christian leaders at the event included Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, Karekin II, leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the German Lutheran Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm. The event began with a prayer involving the Christian leaders.
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Representatives of world religions at the ceremony included Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the Chief Rabbi of Moscow and president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Shoten Minegishi, a Soto Zen Buddhist monk from Japan, Sayyed Abu al-Qasim al-Dibaji, of the World Pan-Islamic Jurisprudence Organization, and Edith Bruck, a Hungarian-born Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor.
Lakshmi Vyas, president of the Hindu Forum of Europe, and Jaswant Singh, a Sikh representative, also attended.
“As representatives of different religious traditions, all of us are called to resist the lure of worldly power, to be the voice of the voiceless, the support of the suffering, advocates of the oppressed and victims of hatred, people discarded by men and women on earth, yet precious in the sight of the One who dwells in heaven,” the pope said.
Pope Francis said that there was a link between the “dream of peace” and the need to care for creation.
“By cultivating a contemplative and non-predatory approach, the religions are called to listen to the groans of mother earth, which suffers violence,” he said.
The pope suggested that “unbridled individualism and the desire for self-sufficiency” had overflowed into “insatiable greed.”
“The earth we inhabit bears the scars of this, while the air we breathe is rich in toxins but poor in solidarity. We have thus poured the pollution of our hearts upon creation,” he said.
At the gathering Sabera Ahmadi, a young woman recently arrived from Afghanistan, read out an appeal for peace.
“The pandemic has shown how human beings are in the same boat, bound by profound threads. The future does not belong to those who squander and exploit, to those who live for themselves and ignore others,” she said.
“The future belongs to women and men who are in solidarity and to peoples who are brothers. May God help us to rebuild the common human family and to respect mother earth. In front of the Colosseum, symbol of greatness but also of suffering, let us reaffirm with the strength of faith that the name of God is peace.”
Also speaking at the event was Angela Merkel, who is due to step down as Germany’s chancellor following federal elections on Sept. 26. She had a private audience with the pope on the morning of Oct. 7.
The 67-year-old, who has led the European Union’s most populous nation since 2005, has been a frequent visitor to the Vatican since Pope Francis’ election in 2013.
The pope described the Lutheran pastor’s daughter as “one of the great figures of world politics” in an interview last month. He has received Merkel in private audience more often than any other head of state.
The two leaders spoke privately for about 45 minutes before exchanging gifts. The pope gave Merkel a small bronze image of the Holy Door in St. Peter’s Basilica along with copies of his writings. She gave him three volumes on the Bible and a book about Michelangelo.
In what is expected to be her farewell visit as chancellor, Merkel also met with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and “foreign minister” Archbishop Paul Gallagher.
The Holy See press office said that “during the cordial discussions, appreciation was expressed for the good existing bilateral relations and the fruitful collaboration between the Holy See and Germany.”
It added: “The parties then turned their attention to matters of mutual interest in the international and regional spheres, agreeing on the advisability of relaunching cooperation to address the multiple crises underway, with particular reference to the consequences of the health emergency and migration.”
In his address outside of the Colosseum, Pope Francis said: “Yes, let us dream of religions as sisters and peoples as brothers! Sister religions to help peoples be brothers and sisters living in peace, reconciled stewards of creation, our common home.”
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.
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