“His holy Name must never be used to justify hatred and violence,” Pope Francis has said, stressing how important it to realize that the God we seek to serve is a God of peace.
Speaking to leaders of other Christian faiths and other religions at the apostolic nunciature in Nairobi, the Pope made this strong statement, acknowledging “that the barbarous attacks on Westgate Mall, Garissa University College and Mandera are fresh in your minds.”
The Pope was referencing the series of terrorist attacks that have occurred in Kenya. The Westgate Mall shooting happened in September 2013 and resulted in some 70 deaths; the Garissa College tragedy took the lives of nearly 150 people in April 2015; and Madera has been the site of various killings, especially late last year, with the deaths of close to 130 people coming from a spate of attacks.
Pope Francis is making his first Apostolic Visit to Africa, and will be on the continent through Monday. Tomorrow afternoon, he departs from Kenya’s capital of Nairobi, moving on to the capital of Uganda and later to Central African Republic.
“All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies,” he lamented. “How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect! May the Almighty touch the hearts of those who engage in this violence, and grant his peace to our families and communities.”
Ecumenism is essential, not a luxury
Reflecting on having the opportunity to meet the leaders of other Christian communities and religions, Francis expressed his hope that their time together may be a sign of the Church’s esteem for the followers of all religions and may strengthen the bonds of friendship already among them.</p>
“To be honest, this relationship is challenging; it makes demands of us. Yet ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.”
Religious beliefs and practice, the Pope observed, condition who we are and how we understand the world around us. He also stressed that they are a source of enlightenment, wisdom and solidarity, and thus enrich the societies in which we live.
“By caring for the spiritual growth of our communities, by forming minds and hearts in the truths and values taught by our religious traditions, we become a blessing to the communities in which our people live. In democratic and pluralistic societies like Kenya, cooperation between religious leaders and communities becomes an important service to the common good.”
In this light, and in an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness.
By upholding respect for human dignity and rights, Pope Francis said, religions play an essential role in “forming consciences, instilling in the young the profound spiritual values of our respective traditions, and training good citizens, capable of infusing civil society with honesty, integrity and a world view which values the human person over power and material gain.”
Recalling this year marks the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, at which the Catholic Church committed herself to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in the service of understanding and friendship, the Pontiff reaffirmed this commitment. The world, he observed, rightly expects believers to work together with people of good will in facing the many problems affecting our human family.
“As we look to the future, let us pray that all men and women will see themselves as brothers and sisters, peacefully united in and through our differences,” the Pope said, “Let us pray for peace!”
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