Pope Francis in Iraq stresses brotherhood of Christianity, Judaism, Islam
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March 8, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Close to what is considered the dwelling place of Abram before he left the sanctuary city of Ur at God’s call to father the nation of Israel under his new name of Abraham, Pope Francis conducted an interreligious meeting earlier Saturday as one of the highlights of his Apostolic journey to Iraq.
He called the place “home” for the representatives of the various religions who had gathered there in an embodiment of the spirit of the Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity signed two years ago by Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb of Al-Azhar University of Cairo, the supreme Sunni authority. God was mentioned as the “Most High,” but not the Most Holy Trinity, nor Our Lord Jesus Christ. It could hardly have been otherwise as the aim was to stress the brotherhood of the so-called “monotheistic religions” of which Abraham was being presented as the founder.
This was also true of the common prayer that made no distinction between the believers of the “Abrahamic” faith and even included “other believers and all persons of good will,” not as people called upon to know the true God but as grateful persons thanking God for the example and the qualities of Abraham.
Pope Francis was the star of the event, occupying the central seat on the podium built in the plain of Ur at some distance of the heavily restored ziggurat that was the temple of the moon god in ancient times. But many religions were present and honored: He was joined by representatives of Christian and Muslim communities, but also by believers of the Yezidi, Sabaean and Zoroastrian faiths who all prayed together on an equal footing.
The meeting was supposed to have included Jewish representatives but this turned out to be impossible because “it is almost impossible for Jews to stay in Irak,” remarked Jean-Marie Guénois of the French daily Le Figaro. The so-called “unity” among the “children of Abraham” was contradicted at the very meeting that was supposed to be celebrating it.
The meeting opened with a reading from the Book of Genesis, followed by the chanting of a passage of the Quran about the pardon of sins and prayer. A young Christian and a young Muslim who have founded a clothes’ shop together in Bassorah gave witness of their lasting friendship.
It was Pope Francis who gave the longest speech, its opening words already hinting at the premise of equality under which the interfaith meeting took place:
This blessed place brings us back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions. Here, where Abraham our father lived, we seem to have returned home. It was here that Abraham heard God’s call; it was from here that he set out on a journey that would change history. We are the fruits of that call and that journey.
Remember that these words were addressed to Christians and Muslims alike (and, despite their physical absence, to the Jews); they were presented as equal fulfilments of Abraham’s faithful response to God’s call that “asked Abraham to raise his eyes to heaven and to count the stars” that represented his descendants.
Pope Francis held on to the image to depict the horizon of all faiths, once more revealing the syncretism of the approach:
Today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honour our father Abraham by doing as he did: we look up to heaven and we journey on earth. We look up to heaven. Thousands of years later, as we look up to the same sky, those same stars appear. They illumine the darkest nights because they shine together. Heaven thus imparts a message of unity: the Almighty above invites us never to separate ourselves from our neighbors.
If all these “children” of Abraham — the Muslims who consider themselves to be the descendants of Ismael, the son of Abraham’s slave, present-day Jews who are descended from Isaac, the legitimate son of Sara, and the Christian nations insofar as they are the true inheritors of God’s promise — are all necessary stars in the firmament, so to speak, the three religions are simply different facets of God’s alliance with mankind.
The Pope’s speech contained truths such as this:
Man is not omnipotent; we cannot make it on our own. If we exclude God, we end up worshiping the things of this earth. Worldly goods, which lead so many people to be unconcerned with God and others, are not the reason why we journey on earth. We raise our eyes to heaven in order to raise ourselves from the depths of our vanity; we serve God in order to be set free from enslavement to our egos, because God urges us to love. This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbour.
But his insistence on “fraternity” between believers of all religions as a way to show God’s “paternity” completely left aside the true sense of the paternity of God, whom we call Father through His only Son and by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
In a condemnation of terrorism, Pope Francis proclaimed:
From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.
This proclamation rests on the idea that all religions are founded on love of God and neighbor, ignoring the fact that the Koran and the Hadiths (sayings and teachings of Mohammed) includes many calls to violence, in various degrees, towards Jews, Christians and infidels, and also calls to treat these as second-rate citizens insofar as it does not distinguish between the realms of the temporal and the spiritual.
What is the “greatest blasphemy” according to Francis? In this kind of discourse, echoing the humanist creed of ideologies as that which the United Nations fundamentally serves, it is characterized not by the taking in vain of God’s name as the Ten Commandments tell us, but by an attitude toward His creatures. And while it is true that as Christians we must serve God in our neighbor, our first duty is to God.
Besides, this reference to “hating” our “brothers and sisters” can include the improper sense of “hate,” as in “hate speech,” where the proclamation of a truth or the desire to serve first those who are our brethren in the true faith, or our family or fellow citizens, is so easily equated with discrimination and racism.
The Pope also called on all to help protect and repair each other’s holy places, commending the young Christian and Muslim volunteers who “are restoring mosques and churches together” in war-scarred Iraq. He added, quoting the Muslim university professor who spoke before him:
Professor Ali Thajeel spoke too of the return of pilgrims to this city. It is important to make pilgrimages to holy places, for it is the most beautiful sign on earth of our yearning for heaven. To love and protect holy places, therefore, is an existential necessity, in memory of our father Abraham, who in various places raised to heaven altars of the Lord (cf. Gen 12:7.8; 13:18; 22:9). May the great Patriarch help us to make our respective sacred places oases of peace and encounter for all!
Here once more the Pope set Islam, Judaism and Christianity on an equal footing, their pilgrimages being presented as full of value as such, and not because their object is true and good.
Several of Pope Francis’ catch-phrases were present in his speech: He repeated, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, that “no one is saved alone,” with no mention of the Redemption through the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. Francis also spoke of Abraham’s “journey outwards,” adding:
Abraham had to leave his land, home and family. Yet by giving up his own family, he became the father of a family of peoples. Something similar also happens to us: on our own journey, we are called to leave behind those ties and attachments that, by keeping us enclosed in our own groups, prevent us from welcoming God’s boundless love and from seeing others as our brothers and sisters.
Again in the logical continuation of so many United Nations and UNESCO documents that present traditional religions as a factor for war and division that need to be rejected as such, Pope Francis presented an amended version of the traditional religions:
The Patriarch Abraham, who today brings us together in unity, was a prophet of the Most High. An ancient prophecy says that the peoples ‘shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks’ (Is 2:4). This prophecy has not been fulfilled; on the contrary, swords and spears have turned into missiles and bombs. From where, then, can the journey of peace begin? From the decision not to have enemies. Anyone with the courage to look at the stars, anyone who believes in God, has no enemies to fight. He or she has only one enemy to face, an enemy that stands at the door of the heart and knocks to enter. That enemy is hatred. While some try to have enemies more than to be friends, while many seek their own profit at the expense of others, those who look at the stars of the promise, those who follow the ways of God, cannot be against someone, but for everyone. They cannot justify any form of imposition, oppression and abuse of power; they cannot adopt an attitude of belligerence.
Does this mean that there can be no just war? Can one really be “for” everyone in this world? Jesus Christ does not ask us to have no enemies, He asks us to love our enemies, which also means that He wants us to bring them His Truth and work and pray so that they also may obtain the means of salvation.
Pope Francis called on humanity to turn “instruments of hatred into instruments of peace,” so that the goods of this earth may be used for the needs and goods of all. Such cooperation with men of good will is not to be rejected; when the Pope says “that the lives of the unborn, the elderly, migrants and men and women, whatever the color of their skin or their nationality, are always sacred and count as much as the lives of everyone else,” he recalls man’s duty to his fellow-man, grounded on man’s very nature.
But the lack of reference to all that the faithful followers of Christ know and believe, and in particular to the Revelation that objectively contradicts those faiths that do not accept it, in a context where all are turned to God, amounted to a watering down if not an obliteration of the Christian faith – if it is supposed to peacefully coexist with other religions and consider them as having equal value with itself, then truth is impossible. If it is enough to look at the stars as an image of God’s love of diversity, then the One and Triune God is just one among others.
The concluding words of Pope Francis appeared to be saying just that:
Brothers and sisters of different religions, here we find ourselves at home, and from here, together, we wish to commit ourselves to fulfilling God’s dream that the human family may become hospitable and welcoming to all his children; that looking up to the same heaven, it will journey in peace on the same earth.
The Pope’s speech was followed by the “Prayer of the Children of Abraham.”
God was addressed following the least common denominator as the Almighty and the Creator, so that all could say the same prayer without appearing to submit to the other faiths, with special thanks for Abraham:
As children of Abraham, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with other believers and all persons of good will, we thank you for having given us Abraham, a distinguished son of this noble and beloved country, to be our common father in faith.
We thank you for his example as a man of faith, who obeyed you completely, left behind his family, his tribe and his native land, and set out for a land that he knew not.
We thank you too, for the example of courage, resilience, strength of spirit, generosity and hospitality set for us by our common father in faith.
We thank you in a special way for his heroic faith, shown by his readiness even to sacrifice his son in obedience to your command. We know that this was an extreme test, yet one from which he emerged victorious, since he trusted unreservedly in you, who are merciful and always offer the possibility of beginning anew.
The prayer included many demands for peace, protection for the weak, help for us “to care for the earth, our common home,” and a future for those returning to war-torn countries, culminating with the hope for “a new, serene and prosperous life.”
And above us, only stars? Surely, the Pope is not calling for “no religion” in John Lennon’s wake, but the universal religion of religions, with its “one size fits all spirituality,” offers a worldly horizon, instead of hope and prayer for the eternal beatitude and adoration of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.