Pope Francis condemns violence in God's name and says religions need to be more assertive

At the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, the pontiff spoke of victims of war, asking faiths and cultures to join together as 'one human family'

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The world’s great religions must become more assertive in rejecting armed conflict, Pope Francis has said, as he called for renewed efforts to end the “miserable crudeness” of war.

Addressing a multi-faith meeting on Monday at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, which is dedicated to founding President Sheikh Zayed, the pontiff spoke of the victims of conflict in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya.

He warned that “we will either build the future together or there will be no future,” urging members of different faiths and cultures to join an ark of fraternity as one human family to secure peace.

In a wide-ranging speech, the 82-year-old also addressed issues such as safeguarding children from abuse, fake news and the dangers of materialism.

The speech came towards the end of a historic day in which Pope Francis met with UAE leaders and representatives from the Muslim Council of Elders.

He signed an important agreement with Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, to encourage fraternal relationships between all people, bring an end to conflicts and help the poorest in society.

The Human Fraternity document is a declaration of "good and honest intentions" and a "guideline for future generations," a video describing the document said.

Also speaking at the Founder's Memorial, Dr Al Tayeb called on Muslims to protect Christian communities in the Middle East and Muslims in the West to integrate into their communities.

"You are part of this nation ... You are not minorities," he said.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, witnessed the signing.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed described it as "document that aims to reinforce the values ​​of tolerance and coexistence".

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said the UAE "was proud to host the historic meeting of His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayeb".

On Tuesday, the Pope will deliver a landmark public Mass to around 135,000 people in what will be the biggest ever gathering of Christians in the Gulf region.

During the speech, the pontiff repeatedly returned to the theme of renouncing armed conflict. The choice of topic will be seen as particularly prescient as the region has been blighted by wars and sectarianism over recent decades.

Every form of violence must be condemned without hesitation, he said, while no violence can be justified in the name of religion.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - February 04, 2019: Day two of the UAE papal visit - HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Defence (C), His Holiness Pope Francis, Head of the Catholic Church (R) and His Eminence Dr Ahmad Al Tayyeb, Grand Imam of the Al Azhar Al Sharif (L), arrive at the Human Fraternity Meeting, at The Founders Memorial.

( Mohamed Al Hammadi / Ministry of Presidential Affairs )

“Religions, in particular, cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures,” he said.

“The time has come for religions to more actively exert themselves, with courage and audacity and without pretence, to help the human family deepen the capacity for reconciliation, the vision of hope and the concrete paths of peace.”

Closing his speech, he said coexistence based on the principles of education, justice, inclusion and universal rights were the seeds of peace that the world’s religions had a responsibility to promote.

“Perhaps as never before, in this delicate historical situation, it is a task that can no longer be postponed: to contribute actively to demilitarising the human heart,” he said.

“The arms race, the extension of its zones of influence, the aggressive policies to the detriment of others, will never bring stability. War cannot create anything but misery, weapons bring nothing but death.

He talked of how human fraternity requires the people, as representatives of the world's religions, to reject any approval for the word 'war'.

Pope Francis (R) and Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb arrive to attend the Founders Memorial event in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019.  / AFP / Vincenzo PINTO

"Let us return it to its miserable crudeness. Its fateful consequences are before our eyes. I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya," he said.

“Together, as brothers and sisters in the one human family willed by god, let us commit ourselves against the logic of armed power, against the monetisation of relations, the arming of borders, the raising of walls, the gagging of the poor; let us oppose all this with the sweet power of prayer and daily commitment to dialogue.”

Earlier on Monday, Pope Francis held an official meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Dubai Ruler, at the Presidential Palace.

Pope Francis, who has become known for rejecting the trappings of power, arrived in a humble Kia Soul to see a 21-gun salute fired in his honour.

The pontiff presented Sheikh Mohamed with a framed medallion depicting a meeting between St. Francis of Assisi, who the Pope chose to be named after, and Sultan Malek Al Kamel, which took place in Egypt 800 years ago this year.

The pair are said to have built a bond of mutual respect, despite meeting during the Crusades when the Muslim and Christian worlds were at war.

He later visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for a private meeting with members of the Muslim Council of Elders, before travelling to the Founders’ Memorial where he gave his much-anticipated address.

In the remarks, he praised his Emirati hosts and the freedom of religion that exists in the UAE. The country, he said, was one where “sand and skyscrapers meet”, a prosperous and hospitable location that has become an important global meeting place between cultures and religions.

He also warned that with development can come what he called adversaries, such as an “indifference” that sees human beings reduced in the eyes of others to how much they earn or the jobs they do.

“[Indifference] does not care about the dignity of the stranger and the future of children,” he said.

“In fact, a purely utilitarian development cannot provide real and lasting progress. Only an integral and cohesive development provides a future worthy of the human person.”

Pope Francis delivers a speech during the Founders Memorial event in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. Pope Francis rejected "hatred and violence" in the name of God, on the first visit by the head of the Catholic church to the Muslim-majority Arabian Peninsula. / AFP / Vincenzo PINTO

An interfaith meeting held in Abu Dhabi last year, under the theme of child dignity in the digital world, followed a similar congress in Rome on the same topic.

The congress in Italy went ahead with the Pope’s “complete support and encouragement”, and the Pope emphasised the Catholic church's commitment to the protection of minors. He pledged ongoing support to further efforts.

The comments come as the institution has been hit by a series of scandals.

He also spoke about the importance of educating young people, who he said are now often faced with negative messages and fake news.

The younger generation, he added, must learn not to surrender to the "seductions of materialism, hatred and prejudice”.

“They need to learn to object to injustice and the painful experiences of the past,” he said.

“They need to learn to defend the rights of others with the same energy that they defend their own rights.

“One day, they will be the ones to judge us. They will judge us well if we have given them a solid foundation for creating new encounters of civility. They will judge us poorly if we have left them only mirages and the empty prospect of harmful conflicts of incivility."