Pope to religious leaders: the sacred is not the prop of power

Francis' words to leaders of all confessions gathered from 50 countries in Nur-Sultan: "Religion is not a problem, but part of the solution for a more harmonious life in society. We never justify violence". The vulnerable world bequeathed by the pandemic, peace, the fraternal acceptance of migrants, and the custody of creation mentioned as common challenges for people of faith today.


Nur Sultan (AsiaNews) - "The sacred must never be a prop for power, nor power a prop for the sacred!". So that religions, beyond the prejudice inculcated in these very lands by decades of state atheism, may once again be recognised as "an essential condition for genuinely human and integral development".

This is the message that Pope Francis wished to deliver this morning from Nur-Sultan to the religious leaders who are taking part with him in the interreligious conference promoted by the government of Kazakhstan for the past 20 years.

The pontiff spoke to an audience of over 100 delegations from 50 countries: Seated around the same table with him were personalities such as Metropolitan Anthonij - the 'foreign minister' of the Russian Orthodox Church -, the Russian Grand Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb the Greek-Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilus III, the two Chief Rabbis of Israel, the Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau and the Sephardic Yitzhak Yosef, representatives of Hinduism, Shintoism and Zoroastrianism.

The Pope's address focused on the role of religions in society. Speaking at the opening session of the meeting held in the Nur-Sultan Palace of Independence, he repeatedly quoted the verses of the Kazakh national poet Abai (1845-1904): "What is the beauty of life, if one does not go deep?".

Francis commented, "tIt is time to realize that the fundamentalism defiles and corrupts every creed; time for open and compassionate hearts. It is also time to consign to the history books the kind of talk that for all too long, here and elsewhere, has led to distrust and contempt for religion, as if it were a destabilizing force in modern society.  Inhese lands are all too familiar with the legacy of decades of state-imposed atheism: that oppressive and stifling mentality for which the mere mention of the word “religion” was greeted with embarrassed silence. Religion is not a problem, but part of the solution for a more harmonious life in society. TThe pursuit of transcendence and the sacred value of fraternity can inspire and illumine the decisions that need to be made amid the geopolitical, social, economic, ecological, but fundamentally spiritual crises that many modern institutions, including democracies, are presently experiencing, to the detriment of security and concord among peoples'.

He spoke of religious freedom as a "fundamental, primary and inalienable right" not to be limited only to freedom of worship because "relegating to the sphere of the private sphere the most important creed in life would deprive society of an immense wealth," before going on to note that religions today are called upon to take up four great global challenges.

The first is the legacy left by the pandemic: "Iit is up to us, who believe in the Divine, to help our brothers and sisters at the present time not to forget our vulnerability. Not to fall into illusions of omnipotence fostered by a technological and economic progress that is of itself insufficient. Not to let ourselves be entangled in the web of profits and earnings, as if they were the solution to every evil. Not to back an unsustainable development that fails to respect the limits imposed by creation. Not to let ourselves be taken in by the superficial allure of consumerism, since material goods are for man and not man for material goods."

 And the path is that of caring for humanity in all its dimensions, starting from listening to the weakest: "the poor, the needy who have suffered most from the pandemic, those who, still today, do not have easy access to vaccines", the pope listed. Because "the greatest risk factor of our times remains poverty. As long as inequality and injustice continue to rage, the worst viruses of the Covid will not cease: those of hatred, violence, terrorism'.

Alongside this is the question of peace: the Pope recalled how many times in recent years religious leaders have come together to talk about this issue, "and yet, we see our days still marked by the scourge of war, by a climate of exasperated confrontation, by the inability to take a step back and extend a hand to the other".

Francis invited men of faith first of all to "purify ourselves of the presumption of feeling self-righteous, with no need to learn anything from anyone. Let us free ourselves of those reductive and destructive notions that offend the name of God by harshness, extremism and forms of fundamentalism, and profane it through hatred, fanaticism, and terrorism, disfiguring the image of man as well.  We never justify violence. Let us not allow the sacred to be instrumentalised by the profane. God is peace and always leads to peace, never to war'. And he pointed to 'the only means blessed by Heaven and worthy of man' for resolving conflicts: 'encounter, dialogue, patient negotiations, which are carried out with children and the younger generation in mind'.

Another challenge is that of fraternal acceptance: ' Each day children, born and unborn, migrants and elderly persons, are cast aside, discarded. There exists a throwaway culture. Many of our brothers and sisters die sacrificed on the altar of profit, amid clouds of the sacrilegious incense of indifference."  A great exodus fuelled by wars, poverty, climate change, and the search for a well-being that the globalised world makes possible, but which is often difficult to access, is underway. "This is not just another item on the daily news; it is an historic event demanding concordant and farsighted solutions. To be sure, we instinctively defend our own hard-won securities and close our doors out of fear; it is easier to suspect strangers, to accuse them and condemn them, than it is to get to know and understand them. Yet it is our duty to be mindful that the Creator, who watches over each of his creatures, exhorts us to regard others as he does, and in them to see the face of a brother or a sister. Our migrant brothers and sisters need to be accepted, accompanied, promoted and integrated'.

Finally the last challenge, that of the care for our common home.: "WWith loving care, the Most High provided a common home for all life. How can we, who claim to be his, allow it to be polluted, mistreated and devastated? Let us also join our efforts in meeting this challenge. It is not the least in importance." "The mindset of exploitation is in fact destroying the home in which we live. And not only that. It is leading to an eclipse of the respectful and religious vision of the world willed by the Creator. It is essential, then, to encourage and promote the protection of life in every one of its forms".

The Pope concluded: "Dear brothers and sisters, let us go forward together, so that the journey of the religions may be increasingly marked by friendship. Abai said that “a false friend is like a shadow: when the sun shines on you, you can’t get rid of him, but when clouds gather over you, he is nowhere to be seen” (Word 37). May this never happen with us! May the Almighty set us free from the shadows of suspicion and insincerity, and enable us to cultivate open and fraternal friendships through frequent dialogue and luminous sincerity of purpose."