NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan – In his final act in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan before boarding a flight back to Rome, Pope Francis on Thursday condemned the “madness of war” and urged world leaders to refrain from “aggressive and destructive” statements that undermine peacemaking efforts.
Speaking at the closing session of a Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in the Kazakh capital of Nur-Sultan on Thursday, Pope Francis said: “Peace is urgently needed.”
“Nowadays, every military conflict or hot spot of tension and confrontation will necessarily have an adverse domino effect and seriously undermine the system of international relations,” he said, insisting that peace is more than “the absence of war” and cannot be reduced “to maintaining the balance of power between opposing forces”.
On the contrary, he said, peace is born of fraternity and grows “through the struggle against injustice and inequality; it is built by reaching out to others.
To that end, he pointed to a passage from the congress’ final declaration that urges world leaders “to end conflict and bloodshed everywhere, and abandon aggressive and destructive rhetoric.”
“We beg you, in the name of God and for the good of humanity: work for peace, not arms! Only by serving the cause of peace will you make a name for yourself in the annals of history,” he said.
Pope Francis spoke on his last day in Kazakhstan, which shares 5,000 miles of border with Russia, and whose President Vladimir Putin has been widely condemned by the international community for inciting war with his invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Although he made no specific mention of Putin throughout his September 13-15 visit, the pope asked during a Mass for Kazakh Catholics: “What else has to happen, and how more deaths will it take before the conflict gives way to dialogue for the good of peoples, nations and all of humanity?
In remarks seen as a rebuke of the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, who has vigorously supported war on religious grounds, Francis, in his opening address to the congress on Tuesday, urged religious leaders to reject war, saying, “ May we never justify violence. May we never allow the sacred to be exploited by the profane.
“The sacred must never be a support for power, nor power a support for the sacred!” he said.
In his address at the closing of the congress on Thursday, Pope Francis stressed the importance of jointly committing to peaceful dialogue, saying it is “more valuable than ever in difficult times like ours, where the problems of the pandemic have been compounded by the utter madness of war.
“Overall there are too many instances of hatred and division, too little dialogue and effort to understand others. In our globalized world, this is all the more dangerous and outrageous,” he said, adding, “Our human family cannot progress if it is simultaneously united and divided, interconnected and torn apart by massive inequalities.” .
Recalling Pope John Paul II’s visit to Kazakhstan in September 2001, just days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, Francis said the attack sparked a collective response needed “to incendiary atmosphere that terrorist violence sought to create, and which threatened to make religion a battleground.
“Pseudo-religious terrorism, extremism, radicalism and nationalism, dressed in religious garb, nevertheless continue to foment fears and anxieties about religion,” he said, saying the congress offered an opportunity to reinforce “the authentic and inalienable essence of religion”.
Quoting the final declaration, he stressed that “extremism, radicalism, terrorism and all other incitement to hatred, hostility, violence and war, whatever their motivations or aims, have nothing to do with the true spirit of religion and should be rejected in the most decisive terms possible.
“Furthermore, since the Almighty created all people equal, regardless of their religious, ethnic or social background, we agree that mutual respect and understanding should be considered essential and indispensable in religious education,” he said.
Pope Francis also stressed the need to maintain a healthy relationship between politics and religion, saying they should be “distinct, but not confused or separated.”
Faith, he said, must be free and “not yield to the temptation to transform itself into power, lest heaven fall to earth, the ‘eternal beyond’ be chained to an earthly present and that love of neighbor does not fall prey to partisan decisions”.
At the same time, faith and politics must never be separated, he said, “because the highest human aspirations cannot be excluded from public life and relegated only to the private sphere.”
Francis expressed his support for those persecuted for their faith and urged governments and political leaders, as well as international organizations, to provide the necessary assistance to religious and ethnic communities “whose human rights and fundamental freedoms have been violated or subjected to violence by extremists and terrorists, also as a result of wars and military conflicts.
He also stressed the importance of making decisions based on the good of humanity, saying this should be “considered before strategic and economic objectives, national, energy and military interests, and before crucial decisions”. , with particular attention to the young and the elderly.
Pope Francis concluded his speech by highlighting the focus of the final declaration on peace, women and young people, saying: “If peace is lacking, it is because care, tender love, the capacity to generate life are lacking”.
The quest for peace, he said, must increasingly involve women, because women “give care and life to the world” and are therefore themselves “a path to peace”.
He stressed the need to “uphold their dignity and improve their social status as equal members of the family and society”, saying that women must be given greater positions of responsibility and authority.
“How many calamitous decisions could have been avoided if women had been directly involved in decision-making!” he said.
Pope Francis concluded his speech by saying that the people of Kazakhstan, “open to tomorrow but aware of the sufferings of yesterday, orients us, by its extraordinary richness of religions and cultures, towards the future”.
“They encourage us to create this future without forgetting transcendence and brotherhood, worship of the Most High and acceptance of our brothers and sisters,” he said, adding, “Let’s move forward on this way, walking together on earth like children of heaven, weavers of hope and artisans of harmony, heralds of peace and unity.