Pope in Bahrain: religious freedom, education and concrete action against violence

In his address to the Forum for dialogue with other religious leaders, the Pope calls for fraternity to be made concrete: "In the garden of humanity, instead of caring for the totality, people play with fire, with missiles and bombs. Religion should not be constraint, but freedom, which is opening up to the good for which we were created".

Awali (AsiaNews) - It is not enough to say that a religion is peaceful: one must act accordingly. It is not enough to affirm religious freedom: it is necessary to truly overcome every constriction in matters of faith and to work so that even education does not become a self-referential indoctrination, but a way to truly open space to others. 

Pope Francis delivered a message on the concrete consequences of fraternity this morning to Bahrain when addressing the other religious leaders and personalities present at the "Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence", the event on dialogue that is the occasion of the current apostolic journey.  

Exponents of different religious confessions summoned to the Gulf country for this occasion were present in Al-Fida' square of the royal palace of Awali, together with the sovereign Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. They included the Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed al Tayyeb, and the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew whom Francis greeted with affection. "East and West increasingly resemble two opposing seas," said the Pontiff, commenting on the theme of the meeting. "We, on the other hand, are here together because we intend to navigate in the same sea, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of conflict".

This task is as urgent as ever in today's world marked by conflicts: even from Awali, Francis did not fail to raise his voice to call for an end to the war in Ukraine. "While the majority of the world's population finds itself united by the same difficulties, afflicted by serious food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as by an increasingly scandalous planetary injustice," he said, "a few powerful people are concentrating on a resolute struggle for partisan interests, exhuming obsolete language, redrawing zones of influence and opposing blocs. He called it "a dramatically infantile scenario: in the garden of humanity, instead of taking care of the totality, they play with fire, with missiles and bombs, with weapons that cause weeping and death, covering the common house with ashes and hatred".

Therefore  believers of all religions must respond by following the path of fraternity, already indicated in 2019 in the Declaration signed in Abu Dhabi with al Tayyeb and recalled by the same Declaration of the Kingdom of Bahrain discussed during the meeting of these days. But so that they do not remain just words, Francis today indicated three concrete challenges: prayer, education and action.

First of all, the dimension of prayer: 'the opening of the heart to the Most High,' he explained, 'is fundamental to purify us from selfishness, closure, self-referentiality, falsehood and injustice. He who prays, receives peace in his heart and cannot but become its witness and messenger". But for this to happen, an indispensable premise is needed: religious freedom. "It is not enough," the Pope emphasises, "to grant permits and recognise freedom of worship, true religious freedom must be achieved. And not only every society, but every creed is called to verify this. It is called to ask itself whether it constrains from the outside or liberates within the creatures of God; whether it helps man to reject rigidity, closure and violence; whether it increases in believers true freedom, which is not to do as one pleases, but to dispose oneself to the purpose of good for which we were created".

A second challenge indicated by the Pontiff is education, an alternative to ignorance, which is the enemy of peace. But it must be an education that is truly "worthy of man, to be dynamic and relational: therefore 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 static, but enquiring, to embrace different and essential aspects of the one humanity to which we belong".

It must teach to "enter into the heart of problems without presuming to have the solution and to solve complex problems in a simple way, but with the disposition to inhabit the crisis without giving in to the logic of conflict". An education that grows the capacity "to question oneself, to enter into crisis and to know how to dialogue with patience, respect and in a spirit of listening; to learn the history and culture of others. Because it is not enough to say we are tolerant, we must truly make room for the other, give him rights and opportunities'.

Francis  said that  teh educational question also conatins three urgencies: firstly, 'the recognition of women in the public sphere'. Secondly, the protection of children's fundamental rights: "Let us educate ourselves," urged the pope, "to look at crises, problems, wars, with the eyes of children: this is not naive goodness, but far-sighted wisdom, because only by thinking of them will progress be mirrored in innocence instead of profit, and contribute to building a future on a human scale". And then education for citizenship, renouncing "the discriminatory use of the term minority, which carries with it the seeds of feeling isolated and inferiority".

Finally, fraternity calls to action, to translate into coherent gestures the "no to the blasphemy of war and the use of violence". "It is not enough to say that a religion is peaceful," Francis specified, "it is necessary to condemn and isolate the violent people who abuse its name. The religious man, the man of peace, also opposes the arms race, the business of war, the market of death. He does not favour alliances against anyone, but paths of encounter with all: without giving in to relativism or syncretism of any kind, he pursues only one path, that of fraternity, of dialogue, of peace".

"The Creator," Francis concluded, "invites us to act, especially in favour of too many of his creatures who still do not find enough room in the agendas of the powerful: the poor, the unborn, the elderly, the sick, migrants... If we, who believe in the God of mercy, do not listen to the miserable and give voice to the voiceless, who will? Let us be on their side, let us work to come to the aid of the wounded and tried. In so doing, we shall draw upon the world the blessing of the Most High'.