Pope Francis met with Muslim leaders in the Gulf-kingdom of Bahrain on Friday with a message that Catholics and Muslims alike are called to work to promote peace in the world.
Speaking at the Grand Mosque on the grounds of Bahrain’s Sakhir Palace on Nov. 4, the pope told the Muslim Council of Elders that he wanted to “journey together in the spirit of Francis of Assisi.”
“God is the source of peace. May he enable us to be ‘channels of his peace’ everywhere,” Pope Francis said.
The pope added: “The God of peace never brings about war, never incites hatred, never supports violence. We, who believe in him, are called to promote peace with tools of peace, such as encounter, patient negotiations and dialogue, which is the oxygen of peaceful coexistence.”
The Muslim Council of Elders is an international group founded in the United Arab Emirates in 2014 to work together to promote peace, principles of tolerance, address sources of conflict within Muslim communities, and “bring the Islamic nation together,” according to its website.
The council’s board members include Nigerian Sheik Ibrahim Ibn Saleh al-Hussaini; Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed bin Talal; Grand Mufti of Azerbaijan Sheik Allahshükür Hummat Pashazade; and Abdallah bin Bayyah, an influential Islamic scholar who teaches in Saudi Arabia.
Pope Francis told the council: “We who are descended from Abraham, the father of peoples in faith, cannot be concerned merely with those who are ‘our own’ but, as we grow more and more united, we must speak to the entire human community, to all who dwell on this earth.”
Before the meeting at the mosque, Pope Francis spoke privately with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, a leading Sunni cleric and the grand imam of Al-Azhar in Cairo.
Pope Francis and al-Tayeb jointly signed a document on human fraternity in Abu Dhabi in 2019 during the pope’s first trip to the Arabian Peninsula. The two have met several times since, including on Pope Francis’ most recent trip to Kazakhstan.
During the meeting, Pope Francis gave the grand imam a sculpture of an olive tree, signifying peace. He commended al-Tayeb for his “courage” in speaking about dialogue among Muslims at Bahrain’s interfaith summit.
Al-Tayeb and Francis both issued calls for peace in Ukraine in their speeches on Friday morning at Bahrain’s conference on East-West dialogue in the presence of other religious leaders, including the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I.
Pope Francis made a “heartfelt appeal for an end to the war in Ukraine and the start of serious negotiations for peace.” The pope called on “the great religions” to be “a conscience of peace for our world.”
Al-Tayeb said in his prepared remarks: “I also call for the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war to spare the lives of innocents who have no hand in this violent tragedy. I call for hoisting the flag of peace, not of victory, and to sit down for dialogue and negotiation.”
Pope Francis is visiting Bahrain, a Muslim island country located east of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf, Nov. 3-6. The pope was invited to visit Bahrain by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
While Shia Muslims make up the majority of the population, Bahrain’s royal family belongs to the Sunni branch of Islam, leading to protracted sectarian tension in the country. Human rights groups have also accused the government of committing abuses against both the Shia majority and migrant workers, and of unfair imprisonments.
Pope Francis made history as the first pope to visit the Kingdom of Bahrain when his flight landed at Sakhir Air Base in the city of Awali. Francis was also the first pope to visit other Muslim-majority countries, including the United Arab Emirates in 2019 and Iraq in 2021.
During the pope’s second trip to the Arabian Peninsula, he spoke about the importance of religious freedom and the role of women in public life.
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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