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Pope in Egypt: Address at International Conference of Peace

Salt + Light Media

Friday, April 28, 2017

CNS photo/Paul Haring
At 3:40 pm this afternoon, Pope Francis went paid a courtesy visit to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the highest theological and religious institution of Sunni Islam in the world and the oldest Islamic University. Upon his arrival, the Pope was received at the entrance by the Vicar of the Grand Imam who accompanied him to the study where the private encounter with the Grand Imam Shaykh Ahmad Al-Tayeb took place. At the end of the visit, the exchange of gifts took place. The Pope then went to the Al-Azhar Conference Center to address the participants at the International Peace Conference. Upon arrival in the Conference Center, , Pope Francis was welcomed by the Gramd Imam. Present were Egyptian Religious Leaders and those other countries, a large representation of teachers and students from the Islamic university and a group of children from 60 nations. After the Grand Imam's speech, the Holy Father addresses the audience.
Below are the Grand Imam’s address to the Pope and the full text of Pope Francis’ address to the International Peace Conference:
His Holiness Pope Francis of Vatican,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I greet you all with the greeting of peace “al-Salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh” Al-Azhar and the Muslim Council of Elders (MCE) warmly welcome and thank you all for your honorable acceptance of our invitation. We deeply appreciate your visit to Egypt and Al-Azhar in response to Al-Azhar invitation to undertake our collective historical responsibility as religious leaders and scholars to work for peace and relieve the miser nations, who aimlessly flee wars to vast deserts. Many leave their homelands to other far destinations in pursuit of new hosting homes, while uncertain whether they would reach or die and drown. It is unfortunate to see human bodies and parts of human remains on seashores in a horribly grievous human tragedy. It is not far from the truth to say, ‘unprecedented human tragedy throughout human history.’
People of common sense and watchful conscience try to find out the logic and reasons behind these tragedies for which we all pay lives and countries in futile wars. However, they came to no one logical reason justifying these disasters, which have badly affected the poor, the orphans, the widows, and the aged. Only one reason is there with somewhat reasonability; it is arms trade and marketing that ensures the continuous operation of death plants and extraordinary enrichment resulting from suspicious deals backed by reckless international resolutions. For sake of that hateful trade, hotbeds of tensions are created, and religious seditions and racial and sectarian conflicts and differences among the nationals of the same homeland are inflamed, turning human life into an unbearable miser hell.
Ironically, this sharp disaster is taking place in the 21st century presumably the century of civilization, urbanity, human rights, epistemological progresses, and tremendous scientific advancements and technologies. It is also the century of Peace Organizations working for maintaining international peace and security, whose conventions criminalize the use of force or threatening to use it in international relations. This suffering comes in a century of human philosophies and teachings, promotion of human egalitarianism and one-class social equality, and postmodernity among many other achievements for which our modern age is distinguished.
Here, it is crucial to ask how the international peace has become a paradise lost and how the age of human rights has badly plagued with savagely unprecedented atrocities! I have an answer, which you may also approve. I think that the modern civilization has ignored the divine religions and their invariably established ethics that remain the same regardless of earthly interests and purposes, let alone the dominance of desires and pleasures. The first of these ethics is human fraternity and human mutual understanding and mercy, which mindfully depicts the creations as the children of Allah; the most beloved of Allah's children to Allah is that one who extends more benefits to Allah's children. This value can prevent the world from shifting into a wilderness with monstrous animals of prey devouring one another.
Thinkers of the east and the west emphasize that our only solution is to restore awareness of the heavenly revealed religion and review the deviated modernized discourse deeply and critically to free human mind from the claws of the emptiness of the material experimental philosophy. Under such philosophy, minds of human individuals limitlessly go their way and dominate human lives. Post-modernity shall not be a mere process of beautifying such views with band-aid philosophies of affection and passion. For believers and philosophers, there is no way but to reformulate all that in the context of fraternity and mutual mercy before anything else. This context is the antidote for reviving philosophies as well as other all-inclusive scientific and practical models. This antidote only exists in the pharmacy of religion.
I do think that the world is currently prepared for religions to undertake their missions. They should stress the value of "peace," justice, equality and human rights regardless of religion, color, race, or language. The Glorious Quran frequently read by Muslims day and night simply declares,
  • “We [Allah] have honored the Children of Adam and carried them in the land and the sea.
  • "We [Allah] have provided for them of the good things.
  • "We [Allah] have preferred them over many of those We created in a marked preference” (the Quran, 17:70)
Before anything else, we need to liberate the image of religions from false concepts, misunderstandings, malpractices, and false religiosity attached to them. These evils bestir conflicts, spread hate, and instigate violence. We should not hold religion accountable for the crimes of any small group of followers. For example, Islam is not a religion of terrorism for a group of followers carelessly expedites to manipulate with Islamic texts and misinterpret them ignorantly. Then, they shed blood, kill people, and spread destruction. Unfortunately, they find available sources of finance, weapons, and training. Likewise, Christianity is not a religion of terrorism just because a group of its followers carries the cross and decimates people without distinction between men, women, children, fighters, and captives.
Likewise, Judaism is not a religion of terrorism just because a group of its followers employs the teachings of Moses, God forbids, occupying lands and extirpating millions of the indigenous defenseless civilian citizens of the Palestinian people, who have the original rights to this land. Furthermore, it is not fair to say that the European civilization is a civilization of terrorism because two world wars broke out in Europe leaving behind more than seventy millions of deaths. The same goes true for the American civilization whose atom bombings destroyed everything on earth in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If we open doors for accusations as opened against Islam, no religion, regime, civilization, or history would stand innocent from violence and terrorism.
Dear Pope, we deeply appreciate your fair declaration in support of the truth and defense of Islam against the accusation of violence and terrorism. We feel how you and all attending notable fathers of eastern and western churches are keen to respect religious beliefs and symbols and safeguard them from any offenses, standing against those who employ such offenses to foment conflicts among the believers.
Al-Azhar is determined to work and cooperate for the calls of establishing coexistence, reviving dialogue, respecting all human beliefs, and protecting them. We have many shared values and fields to work on. Meanwhile, the common challenges that we have to meet, as religious leaders, are also many. Let us work for the infirm, the hungry, the afraid, the prisoners of wars, and all other suffering human beings in the world without discrimination, distinction, or classification. We shall all work together to save human family from the threats of immorality and the violations of scientific research and researchers' deviations and incautiousness.
Let us all save environment from corruption and corrupters. Let us all stand against the policies of hegemony and the theories of the “clash of civilizations,” “the end of history,” “calls to atheism,” “Machiavellian mentality,” and “irreligious modernity” as well as against all bad consequences and disasters that follow them everywhere.
Finally, may Allah—the Source of all Mercy— make this meeting a real opportunity for human cooperation to promote the culture of peace, human fraternity, and coexistence!
Thank you so much.

As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!
I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this International Peace Conference. I thank the Grand Imam for having planned and organized this Conference, and for kindly inviting me to take part. I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.

A land of civilizations

From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was synonymous with civilization. Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage, made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of architecture and figurative art. The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future. Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace without the proper education of coming generations. Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard, the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to transform competition into cooperation.
An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict. To counter effectively the barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and, growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.
In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: “We live under the sun of the one merciful God... Thus, in a true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters... since without God the life of man would be like the heavens without the sun”.2 May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land, to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter. May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.

A land of covenants

In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the religions shone in this land. Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted “a form of mutual enrichment in the service of the one national community”.3 Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good. Such “covenants” are urgently needed today. Here I would take as a symbol the “Mount of the Covenant” which rises up in this land. Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand, religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension fof the human person and society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.
To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone.4 At the centre of this “decalogue”, there resounds, addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13). God, the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary condition for every earthly “covenant”. Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any “absolutizing” that would justify violence. For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.
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: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam. Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it would profane his Name.
Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers, let us 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. Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred. Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological. Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him. Let us say together: the more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in the love of our neighbour.
Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever.6 Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism, our task is  that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship. For our part, as Christians, “we cannot truly pray to God the Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God’s image”.8 Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer “a place of genuine fraternity”, God assures all those who trust in his love that “the way of love lies open to men and that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain”.9 Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.
It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise. These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.
In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence. Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used. Only by bringing into the light of day the murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented. National leaders, institutions and the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture; each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace, seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states. It is my hope that this noble and beloved land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the entire region of the Middle East.
As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!

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