Pope Francis made an impassioned plea for urgent action on “scandalous global injustice” and the “shameful scourge of hunger” on the second day of his landmark tour of Bahrain.
The pontiff spoke out about his concerns over self interest and political ideologies taking precedence over the crucial need for the world to unite to tackle its most pressing challenges head on.
He was addressing more than 200 inter-faith leaders and government officials during the closing session of the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence.
The pope said the stark choice facing the global community was to row together or drift alone into an uncertain future.
“It is a striking paradox that, while the majority of the world’s population is united in facing the same difficulties, suffering from grave food, ecological and pandemic crises, as well as an increasingly scandalous global injustice, a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests, reviving obsolete rhetoric, redesigning spheres of influence and opposing blocs,” Pope Francis said at an open-air gathering in the grounds of the Sakhir Royal Palace.
“We are playing with fire, missiles and bombs, weapons that bring sorrow and death, covering our common home with ashes and hatred.”
In a thought-provoking speech, he warned of bitter consequences if the world continued to hurtle down the road of conflict.
The pontiff urged leaders not to shut out the pleas of ordinary people and said it was imperative to co-operate for the good of all.
“These are the choices before us since, in a globalised world, we only advance by rowing together; if we sail alone, we go adrift,” he said.
Education an urgent priority
The pope said that extremist thought thrived in spaces where education was allowed to lie dormant.
“For where opportunities for education are lacking, extremism increases and forms of fundamentalism take root,” he said.
“Yet if ignorance is the enemy of peace, education is the friend of development.
“An education that is 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 stagnant, but inquisitive and open to embracing different and essential aspects of the one human family to which we belong.”
Tolerant values must be put into action
He listed education and employment of women and protection of the rights of children among key priorities.
“It is not enough to say we are tolerant: we really have to make room for others, granting them rights and opportunities,” the pontiff said.
The approach, he said, begins with education and is one that the world's religions can support.
Bringing faiths together
The historic signing of the Document of Human Fraternity during the papal visit to Abu Dhabi in 2019 helped pave the way for greater harmony and understanding between all faiths.
The pope said all forms of religion must stand against hatred and violence carried out in its name.
“For it is not enough to proclaim that a religion is peaceful; we need to condemn and isolate the perpetrators of violence who abuse its name,” Pope Francis said.
“Nor is it enough to distance ourselves from intolerance and extremism; we need to counter them."
The pope quoted sections from the Document of Human Fraternity that highlighted how it was necessary to stop financial support to terrorist movements.
“On the stormy sea of conflicts, let us keep before our eyes the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, which calls for a fruitful encounter between West and East,” he said in his address.
“We are here, as men and women who believe in God and in our brothers and sisters, to reject isolating thinking.
“We want the divergences between East and West to be settled for the good of all.”
He dwelt on the clash between the East and West and how religious leaders could promote dialogue as the uniting path.
“Tragically, East and West increasingly resemble two opposing seas. We, on the other hand, are here together because we all intend to set sail on the same waters, choosing the route of encounter rather than that of confrontation,” he said.
“After two terrible world wars, a Cold War that for decades kept the world in suspense, catastrophic conflicts taking place in every part of the globe, and in the midst of accusations, threats and condemnations, we continue to find ourselves on the brink of a delicate precipice and we do not want to fall.”
While he did not specify the countries, the Russian-Ukraine war and conflicts in other nations were the background to his call to renounce violence and address poverty.
Bahrain's quest for peace
The Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration, launched in 2017, is a call to fight extremism and terrorism and boost moderation, tolerance and peace.
Stressing the need for self-examination, Pope Francis read out sections of the declaration that commits to protection and respect of places of worship and unhindered prayer.
He spoke out against all forms of religious coercion and how recognising freedom of worship would help reject rigidity, narrow-mindedness and violence.