Pope at Bahrain Dialogue Forum: Religious leaders have duty to help humanity
At the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue, Pope Francis speaks out against war, and for true religious freedom, recognizing women, protecting children's fundamental rights, and on the concept of citizenship.
In a world run by narrow interests and war, the Pope says religious leaders must set a good example, and commit themselves to encouraging and assisting our wounded and war-struck human family.
This was at the heart of Pope Francis' address at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue on 4 November in the Al-Fida’ Square of the Sakhir Royal Palace in Bahrain's capital of Manama, during the Pope's first-full day of his Apostolic Journey to the Kingdom of Bahrain.
The Pope is making his 39th Apostolic Journey to Bahrain, 3-6 November, after having accepted the invitation to visit the country extended by the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and by the local Church.
The Journey to the Middle Eastern, Muslim-majority Gulf nation marks the Holy Father's 58th country visited as Pope.
He visits the archipelago to participate in this Forum, and to bring his closeness to the country's small Catholic flock, who make up about 4 percent of the population and are comprised primarily of immigrants and foreign workers.
During the Pope's address at the Forum, Pope Francis condemned war, made strong appeals for true religious freedom, and highlighted "urgent educational priorities" regarding recognition of women, protecting children's fundamental rights, acting, and on the concept of citizenship.
The Holy Father began by expressing his gratitude for welcoming him to the two-day Forum organized under the patronage of the King of Bahrain, on the theme "East and West for Human Coexistence," which welcomed the participation of the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Al Tayyeb, and of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew.
Yet, he lamented, we are living at a time when humanity, connected as never before, appears much more divided than united.
On the brink of a delicate precipice
The Pope applauded those participating in the Forum for their common commitment to promoting dialogue and encounter.
“After two terrible World Wars, a Cold War that for decades kept the world in suspense, catastrophic conflicts taking place in every part of the globe, and in the midst of accusations, threats and condemnations, we continue to find ourselves on the brink of a delicate precipice and we do not want to fall.”
Striking paradox struggling for partisan interests
“It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as an increasingly scandalous global injustice, a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests, reviving obsolete rhetoric, redesigning spheres of influence and opposing blocs.”
The Pope lamented "a dramatic and childlike scenario" at play around them, where "we are 'playing' instead with fire, missiles and bombs, and weapons, covering our common home with ashes and hatred."
There will be bitter consequences, the Holy Father said, "if we continue to accentuate conflict instead of understanding, if we persist in stubbornly imposing our own models and despotic, imperialist, nationalist and populist visions."
This, he warned, will be the case, if we don't listen to the voice of the poor, if we continue simplistically to divide people into good and bad, if we make no effort to understand one another and to cooperate for the good of all.
Rejecting 'isolating' thinking
“We are here, as men and women who believe in God and in our brothers and sisters, to reject “isolating thinking”, which when approaching reality, overlooks the great sea of humanity by concentrating only on its own narrow currents.”
The emergence of conflicts, he insisted, should not cause us to lose sight of the "less evident tragedies in our human family," such as "the catastrophic inequality whereby the majority of people on our planet experience unprecedented injustice, the shameful scourge of hunger and the calamity of climate change, a sign of our lack of care for the common home."
Religious leaders must set good example
The Pope underscored the important role and responsibilities of religious leaders.
“When it comes to such issues, religious leaders must surely commit themselves and set a good example. We have a specific role to play ... It is our duty to encourage and assist our human family, interdependent yet at the same time disconnected, to sail the sea together.”
Challenges related to prayer, education and action
The Pope proposed three areas of challenges that emerge from the Document on Human Fraternity and from the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, both of which, they have reflected on in these days: prayer, education and action.
Turning first to prayer, the Pope said prayer touches the human heart.
For this reason, prayer, "the opening of our hearts to the Most High," is "essential for purifying ourselves of selfishness, closed-mindedness, self-referentiality, falseness and injustice."
Those who pray, he reminded, receive "peace of the heart," and "cannot fail to bear witness to this" and invite others to follow suit with their example. The Pope warned instead against falling prey to a paganism that reduces human beings and their dignity.
“The followers of the religions are men and women of peace who, as they journey alongside others on this earth, invite them, with gentleness and respect, to lift their gaze to heaven. They bring to their prayer, like incense that rises to the Most High, the trials and tribulations of all.”
One essential premise: religious freedom
For this to be the case, however, the Pope said, "there is one essential premise, and that is religious freedom."
The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, he recalled, explains that “God instructs us to exercise the divine gift of freedom of choice” and consequently, “compelled religion cannot bring a person into a meaningful relationship with God”.
Any form of religious coercion, the Pope stated, "is unworthy of the Almighty, since He has not handed the world over to slaves, but to free creatures, whom He fully respects."
“Let us commit ourselves, then, to ensuring that the freedom of creatures reflects the sovereign freedom of the Creator, that places of worship are always and everywhere protected and respected, and that prayer is favoured and never hindered.”
Self-examining whether it is true freedom of religion
“It is not enough to grant permits and recognize freedom of worship; it is necessary to achieve true freedom of religion. Not only every society, but also every creed is called to self-examination in this regard.”
"They are called," he said, "to question whether it coerces God’s creatures from without, or liberates them from within; whether it helps people to reject rigidity, narrow-mindedness and violence; whether it helps believers to grow in authentic freedom, which is not doing what we want, but directing ourselves to the good for which we were created."
Challenge of education
While the challenge of prayer, the Pope said, regards the heart, that of education concerns the mind.
Recalling that the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration states that “ignorance is the enemy of peace,” he acknowledged that "where opportunities for education are lacking, extremism increases and forms of fundamentalism take root."
If ignorance is the enemy of peace, Pope Francis stated, education is the friend of development, "provided that it is an education truly befitting men and women as dynamic and relational beings."
“An education that is not rigid and monolithic, but open to challenges and sensitive to cultural changes; not self-referential and isolating, but attentive to the history and culture of others; not stagnant, but inquisitive and open to embracing different and essential aspects of the one human family to which we belong.”
The Holy Father said we must raise questions, allow ourselves to be challenged and learn to enter into dialogue patiently, respectfully and with a willingness to listen, to learn the history and culture of others."
"For it is not enough to say we are tolerant," the Pope said, insisting, "We really have to make room for others, granting them rights and opportunities."
The Pope said religions can support this approach.
Recognition of women
The Pope went on to emphasize three urgent educational priorities.
First, he called for the recognition of women in the public sphere, namely, their right “to education, to employment, and their freedom to exercise their social and political rights.”
In this, as in other areas, the Pope said, "education is the path to liberation from historical and social legacies opposed to the spirit of fraternal solidarity that ought to mark those who worship God and love their neighbour."
Protecting children's fundamental rights
Second, the Pope called for protecting "children's fundamental rights" so that "they can grow up, receive schooling, be helped and supported, so as not to live in the grip of hunger and violence."
“Let us teach others, and learn ourselves, how to view crises, problems and wars through the eyes of children: this is not a mark of naiveté, but of farsighted wisdom, because only if we are concerned for them will progress be reflected in innocence rather than profit, and lead to the building of a better and more humane future.”
The Pope said education begins in the heart of the family and continues within a community, village or city.
The concept of citizenship
The Holy Father also stressed education "for citizenship, for living in community, in respect for one another and for the law." He specifically focused on the particular importance of the “concept of citizenship,” which “is based on the equality of rights and duties.”
“Here, commitment is demanded, so that we can establish in our societies the concept of full citizenship and reject the discriminatory use of the term minorities which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority. Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord; it undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against.”
Emphasizing the challenge of taking action, the Pope recalled that Bahrain's Declaration states that "whenever hatred, violence and discord are preached, God's name is desecrated."
“All who are religious reject these things as utterly unjustifiable. They forcefully reject the blasphemy of war and the use of violence. And they consistently put this rejection into practice.”
Must condemn perpetrators of violence who abuse religion's name
“It is not enough to proclaim that a religion is peaceful; we need to condemn and isolate the perpetrators of violence who abuse its name. Nor is it enough to distance ourselves from intolerance and extremism; we need to counter them.”
"Religious men and women, as people of peace," the Pope said, "are likewise opposed to the race to rearmament, to the commerce of war, to the market of death," and "do not support “alliances against some”, but means of encounter with all. "
Pope Francis called on those before him as friends, and to join him in pursuing together this path, to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters.
"If different potentates deal with each other on the basis of interests, money and power plays, may we show that another path of encounter is possible. Possible and necessary, since force, arms and money will never paint a future of peace," he said.
A 'conscience of peace' for our world
The Pope invited religious leaders and those at the Forum to come together, for the sake of humanity, and in the name of the One who loves humanity, the One whose name is peace.
“Let us promote concrete initiatives to ensure that the journey of the great religions will be ever more effective and ongoing, a conscience of peace for our world!”
"The Creator," he said, "invites us to act, especially on behalf all those many creatures of his who do not yet find a sufficient place on the agenda of the powerful: the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the infirm, migrants… If we who believe in the God of mercy, do not give a hearing to the poor and a voice to the voiceless, who will do it?"
Pope Francis concluded by urging them to take their side, and to make every effort to assist a "wounded and sorely tried" humanity.
“By doing so, we will draw down upon our world the blessing of the Most High.”
Deborah Castellano Lubov