AWALI, Bahrain (CNS) — A true love for the divine Creator means acting on behalf of his children who are neglected by the powerful: the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the infirm and migrants, Pope Francis told representatives of different religious faiths and international leaders.
If believers do not listen to and take the side of the voiceless, who will, he asked.
“It is our duty to encourage and assist our human family — interdependent yet at the same time disconnected — to sail the sea together,” he said Nov. 4, closing the two-day Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence, sponsored by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
The forum, held in Al-Fida’ Square at Sakhir Palace, shows that despite the divisions and destruction ravishing the world, there are people who choose to come together “because we all intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation, the path of dialogue,” he said.
The pope arrived in a compact white Fiat with Vatican City plates, flanked by royal guards on horseback. Two helicopters flew overhead: one carrying the flag of the Holy See, the other with the flag of Bahrain. The pope was then invited to pour water from a metal pitcher onto the base of a large palm tree.
In his address, the pope said the world is faced with a choice: it can continue to foment conflict and simplistic divisions, impose “despotic, imperialist, nationalist and populist visions,” and close its ears to the ordinary people and the poor. Or people can make an effort to understand each other and cooperate for the good of everyone.
God wants his children to be “one family: not islands, but one great archipelago,” like Bahrain, whose 33 islands dot the edge of the Persian Gulf, the pope said. The world can “only advance by rowing together; if we sail alone, we go adrift.”
All people of faith, “as people of peace,” must oppose the arms race, “the commerce of war” and “the market of death,” he said. True believers “do not support ‘alliances against some,’ but means of encounter with all.”
Departing from his prepared text, the pope echoed his own and the king’s repeated calls for an end to the war against Ukraine and the beginning of “serious negotiations.”
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told reporters at the event that there must be an openness to and willingness for talks, otherwise, the war will never end. In addition to the pope’s repeated calls for peace during his general audiences talks and Angelus prayers, the Vatican has made it clear it is ready “to help in any way possible,” the cardinal said.
Pope Francis told religious leaders at the forum that the 2019 Document on Human Fraternity and the 2017 Bahrain Declaration, which both call for peace through collaboration, continue to challenge them to make their shared principles a concrete reality.
And, he said, the declarations call for true freedom of religion, which is more than granting permits to build places of worship and recognizing the freedom to worship.
Every community and creed, he said, must ask itself “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.”
Another key ingredient for peace is education, and its priorities include recognizing the rights of women to be active in the public sphere, the right of children to go to school and the need for an “education for citizenship” that rejects “the discriminatory use of the term ‘minorities,’ which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority,” he said.
“Let us press forward on the journey,” the pope said, showing the world that a “path of encounter is possible” and necessary, “since force, arms and money will never paint a future of peace.”
The more than 1,000 participants at the forum included: Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university; top representatives of the Muslim Council of Elders, an international group of Islamic scholars and experts; Iraqi Cardinal Louis Sako, patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church; Lebanese Cardinal Bechara Rai, Maronite patriarch; Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople; Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee; as well as representatives of the Hindu faith, the government of Saudi Arabia, and leaders promoting education, human rights and peace.