Pope Francis urged people of every religion to fast and pray Thursday for an end to the coronavirus pandemic and "other pandemics" of hunger and war.

"Today all of us, brothers and sisters of all religious traditions, pray in a day of prayer and fasting, of penance, called by the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity. Each of us prays … united in the brotherhood that unites us in this moment of pain and tragedy," Pope Francis said in his homily on May 14.

The pope said that this interfaith day of prayer, fasting, and charity is not an expression of "religious relativism," but "a day of fraternity" and prayer.

"Perhaps there will be someone who will say: 'This is religious relativism and it cannot be done.' But how can we not pray to the Father of all?" Pope Francis said in the Santa Marta chapel.

He continued: "Everyone prays as he knows, how he can, as he has received from his own culture. We are not praying against each other, this religious tradition against this, no. We are all united as human beings, as brothers, praying to God, according to our culture, according to our own tradition, according to our beliefs, but brothers and praying to God. This is the important thing."

The worldwide day of prayer is the initiative of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity, which was formed by the United Arab Emirates in 2019 to work towards the goals laid out in the Document on Human Fraternity released in Feb. 2019 during Pope Francis' apostolic journey to Abu Dhabi. 

Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, leads the committee, which is made up of members belonging to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths.

The pope pointed to the biblical example of the prophet Jonah, who called Nineveh to proclaim a fast and repent.

"Since there was 'some pandemic,' we do not know, in the city of Nineveh, a 'moral pandemic' perhaps, [the city] was just about to be destroyed. And God sent Jonah to preach: prayer and penance, prayer and fasting," the pope said.

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"Faced with that pandemic, Jonah was frightened and ran away. Then the Lord called him for the second time and he agreed to go and preach," he said.

The pope said that the coronavirus pandemic likewise caught the world by surprise. "We, last year, or rather in November of last year, did not know what a pandemic was: it came like a flood, it came suddenly," he said.

Francis suggested that now the world was "waking up a little" to see not only the suffering caused by this pandemic, but also the suffering of other tragedies in the world.

"I would just like to tell you an official statistic from the first four months of this year, which does not include the coronavirus pandemic. It speaks of another. In the first four months of this year, 3.7 million people died of hunger. There is the hunger pandemic. In four months, almost 4 million people," the pope said.

"This prayer today to ask the Lord to stop this pandemic must make us think of the other pandemics in the world. There are many! The pandemic of wars, hunger and many others," he said. 

"God stop this tragedy. Stop this pandemic. May God have mercy on us and also stop other bad pandemics: that of hunger, that of war, that of children without education."