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Violence profanes God’s name, pope tells religious leaders in Egypt

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Catholic News Service

CAIRO — Calling his visit to Egypt a journey of “unity and fraternity,” Pope Francis launched a powerful call to the nation’s religious leaders to expose violence masquerading as holy and condemn religiously inspired hatred as an idolatrous caricature of God.

Pope Francis embraces Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, at a conference on international peace in Cairo April 28. The pope was making a two-day visit to Egypt. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis embraces Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar University, at a conference on international peace in Cairo April 28. The pope was making a two-day visit to Egypt. (CNS/Paul Haring)

“Peace alone, therefore, is holy, and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his name,” the pope told Muslim and Christian leaders at an international peace conference April 28. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople was in attendance.

Pope Francis also warned of attempts to fight violence with violence, saying “every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is, in reality, a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.”

The pope began a two-day visit to Cairo by speaking at a gathering organized by Egypt’s al-Azhar University, Sunni Islam’s highest institute of learning.

He told reporters on the papal plane from Rome that the trip was significant for the fact that he was invited by the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb; Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi; Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; and Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria.

Having these four leaders invite him for the trip shows it is “a trip of unity and fraternity” that will be “quite, quite intense” over the next two days, he said.

Greeted with a standing ovation and a few scattered shouts of “viva il papa” (long live the pope), the pope later greeted conference participants saying, “Peace be with you” in Arabic.

He gave a 23-minute talk highlighting Egypt’s great and “glorious history” as a land of civilization, wisdom and faith in God. Small olive branches symbolizing peace were among the greenery adorning the podium.

Religious leaders have a duty to respect everyone’s religious identity and have “the courage to accept differences,” he said in the talk that was interrupted by applause several times.

Those who belong to a different culture or religion “should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travelers,” he said.

Religion needs to take its sacred and essential place in the world as a reminder of the “great questions about the meaning of life” and humanity’s ultimate calling. “We are not meant to spend all of our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey toward the absolute,” he said.

He emphasized that religion “is not a problem, but a part of the solution” because it helps people lift their hearts toward God “in order to learn how to build the city of man.”

Egypt is the land where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, which include “Thou shalt not kill,” the pope said. God “exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly covenant.”

“Violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression,” he said. “As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the ‘absolutizing’ of selfishness than on authentic openness to the absolute.”

“We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.” God is holy, the pope said, and “he is the God of peace.”

He asked everyone at the al-Azhar conference to say “once more, a firm and clear ‘’No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God.”

Not only are faith and violence, belief and hatred incompatible, he said, faith that is not “born of sincere heart and authentic love toward the merciful God” is nothing more than a social construct “that does not liberate man, but crushes him.”

Christians, too, must treat everyone as brother and sister if they are to truly pray to God, the father of all humanity, the pope said.

“It is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection,” he said. “What is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.”

The pope again appealed for people to address the root causes of terrorism, like poverty and exploitation, and stopping the flow of weapons and money to those who provoke violence.

“Only by bringing into the light of day the murky maneuverings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes by prevented,” he said.

Education and a wisdom that is open, curious and humble are key, he said, saying properly formed young people can grow tall like strong trees turning “the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.”

He called on all of Egypt to continue its legacy of being a land of civilization and covenant so it can contribute to peace for its own people and the whole Middle East.

The challenge of turning today’s “incivility of conflict” into a “civility of encounter” demands that “we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution” as brothers and sisters living all under the one and same sun of a merciful God.

The pope and Sheik el-Tayeb embraced after the sheik gave his introductory address, which emphasized that only false notions of religion, including Islam, lead to violence. The grand imam expressed gratitude for the pope’s remarks in which he rejected the association of Islam with terror.

The sheik began his speech by requesting the audience stand for a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims of terrorism in Egypt and globally, regardless of their religions.

“We should not hold religion accountable for the crimes of any small group of followers,” he said. “For example, Islam is not a religion of terrorism” just because a small group of fanatics “ignorantly” misinterpret texts of the Quran to support their hatred.

The security surrounding the pope’s arrival seemed typical of many papal trips even though the country was also in the midst of a government-declared three-month state of emergency following the bombing of two Coptic Orthodox churches on Palm Sunday. The attacks, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility, left 44 people dead and 70 more injured.

Egypt Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and other Egyptian officials warmly greeted Pope Francis on the airport red carpet after the pope disembarked from the plane.

They walked together, chatting animatedly, to the VIP hall of Cairo International Airport, then the pontiff was whisked off to the presidential palace to meet el-Sissi at the start of his brief 27-hour visit.

 

Contributing to this story was Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

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Pope: Year of Mercy may be over, but compassion must live on

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The Year of Mercy and its series of papal reflections may be over, but compassion and acts of mercy must continue and become a part of everyone’s daily lives, Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis greets a boy while meeting the disabled during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis greets a boy while meeting the disabled during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Nov. 30. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“Let us commit ourselves to praying for each other so that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy increasingly become our way of life,” he said Nov. 30 during his general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI hall.

Because the day also marked the feast of St. Andrew, brother of St. Peter and founder of the church in Constantinople, Pope Francis gave special greetings to his “dear brother,” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.

Pope Francis, the bishop of Rome and successor of Peter, said he was sending “a big embrace” to the patriarch and “this cousin church.”

The Vatican released a letter from the pope to the patriarch, which praised the way Catholics and Orthodox have begun “to recognize one another as brothers and sisters and to value each other’s gifts, and together have proclaimed the Gospel, served humanity and the cause of peace, promoted the dignity of the human being and the inestimable value of the family, and cared for those most in need, as well as creation, our common home.”

In his main audience talk, the pope ended his yearlong series of talks on mercy with a reflection on the corporal work of burying the dead and the spiritual works of praying for the living and dead.

Catholics particularly remember the faithful departed during the month of November, he said. Praying for those who have died “is a sign of recognition for the witness they have left us and the good they have done. It is a giving thanks to the Lord for having given them to us and for their love and friendship.”

By entrusting their souls to God’s mercy, “we pray with Christian hope that they are with him in heaven,” he said.

While for many burying the dead is an expected, straightforward ritual, there are some parts of the world where this may not be a given, such as places experiencing “the scourge of war, with bombings day and night that sow fear and innocent victims,” he said.

“Even today, there are those who risk their life to bury poor victims of war,” he added, thanking those particularly in Syria and the Middle East for their courage in recovering the dead and going to rescue the injured.

Praying for the living, he said, can be done in many ways, such as: blessing one’s children every morning and evening; visiting and praying for the sick; praying silently, “sometimes in tears,” for help during difficult times; even thanking God for the blessings bestowed upon one’s family, friends and co-workers.

The important thing, he said, is to always have one’s heart open to the Holy Spirit, “who knows our deepest desires and hopes,” and can “purify and bring them to fulfillment.”

“We always ask that God’s will be done for ourselves and for others, like in the Lord’s Prayer, because his will is definitely the greatest good, the goodness of a father who never abandons us,” he said.

After his main talk, the pope also made an appeal for World AIDS Day Dec. 1, urging “everyone to adopt responsible behavior to prevent the further spread of this disease.”

The Catholic Church promotes sexual abstinence before marriage and monogamy within marriage as the best ways to limit HIV transmission, and holds that condom-distribution campaigns aggravate the problem.

In his appeal, Pope Francis called for prayers for those affected by HIV/AIDS and for renewed efforts in getting adequate testing and therapy to the poorest in the world. He said the United Nations estimates only half of those living with HIV/AIDS have access to lifesaving treatment.

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Religious leaders praise Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew as a great ecumenist

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Catholic News Service

ASSISI, Italy — As leaders of dozens of religions gathered in Assisi for dialogue and prayers for peace, they honored Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as an exemplar of one who is so deeply rooted in his own religious tradition that he can reach out to others without fear.

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis exchanges greetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as he arrives for an interfaith peace gathering at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Sept. 20. The peace gathering marks the 30th anniversary of the first peace encounter in Assisi in 1986. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders paid tribute to Patriarch Bartholomew as he was about to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. Pope Francis was scheduled to participate in a celebratory luncheon for the patriarch Sept. 20 in Assisi.

The Assisi celebrations Sept. 18-20 were organized by the Rome-based Community of Sant’Egidio, the Diocese of Assisi and the Franciscan friars.

In a formal meeting hall at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi Sept. 19, the leaders praised Patriarch Bartholomew as an ecumenist, theologian and leading religious defender of God’s creation.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury presided over the tribute to the patriarch, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, former president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave the main talk, highlighting how “with great tact in difficult situations” the patriarch “always helped to overcome complicated twists and turns with the grand dexterity of a ‘pontiff,’ that is, a builder of bridges.”

“Like you,” Cardinal Kasper told the patriarch, “we are certain that unity is a command of the Lord and a response to the signs of the times in a world that is increasingly united, but at the same time profoundly lacerated by many conflicts.”

The unity Christians hope and pray for, he said, will not be the result of “any absorption, or watering down or homogenization, but a unity in reconciled diversity.”

Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told participants, “There is an understandable but regrettable tendency among those who are deeply rooted in a religious tradition to be insular and exclusive in their world outlook. While on the other hand, all too often those who are more open to engagement with those different from themselves reflect a superficiality lacking substance.”

The biblical model of excellence, though, is of “a luxuriant tree,” the rabbi said. It is the image of “one profoundly rooted within his own heritage and yet whose branches reach out as widely as possible providing fruit for all.”

Saying that Patriarch Bartholomew is such a man, Rabbi Rosen praised the patriarch’s leadership in condemning all violence in the name of religion and in addressing the issue of climate change and care for creation.

“His leadership in the environmental movement, long before it became fashionable, is a reflection of his sincere and genuine care for the cosmos as a whole,” he said.

Saying he was humbled by the tributes, Patriarch Bartholomew jokingly told the crowd present, “Don’t believe everything you hear!”

The patriarch said that while he was touched by the words of those he has collaborated with and admired, his work “resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering.”

“We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages,” he said.

The celebration serves only as an affirmation “that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the church,” the patriarch said.

 

Follow Arocho on Twitter: @arochoju.

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Pope Francis to visit Greek island to highlight plight of refugees

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — In an effort to highlight the dramatic situation of refugees left in limbo on the Greek island of Lesbos, Pope Francis and other Christian leaders will meet with the migrants April 16. Read more »

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