(LifeSiteNews) – Pope Francis has expressed his intention of joining the upcoming 7th World Religions Congress in Kazakhstan in September in a move that will give great importance to one of the major interreligious meetings at international level.
The Congress has met every three years in Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana) in the mainly Islamic country of Kazakhstan since 2003, and aims to promote “interfaith” tolerance, harmony, and dialogue under the auspices of the government of the former Soviet Republic.
Pope Francis had been invited to participate in person at the Congress by Maulen Ashimbayev, president of the Senate of Kazakhstan and head of the interreligious organism’s secretariate, during an audience in the Vatican in November. The Pope spoke of his desire to travel to the Asiatic country during a live video conference with Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Monday, according to the director of the Holy See’s press office, Matteo Bruni.
“We see how diverse and united your country is. This is a basis for stability. We are happy that in Kazakhstan you understand that. You can count on my support, and I appreciate your efforts,” the Pope stated during the talk, according to the website of the Kazakh president.
The “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions” – its full title – will take place on September 14-15 with the theme: “The Role of Leaders of World and Traditional Faiths in the Socio-Spiritual Development of Humanity after the Pandemic.”
One can only wonder how this will play out, both because in many countries most religious leaders, including Catholic leaders, bowed down to the banning of public worship and other interference with the way religious worship was conducted, and because the spiritual development of humanity is not and should not be the result of a mixture of faiths and beliefs.
The expression is all too reminiscent of a search for a syncretistic spirituality where all religions are considered equal and none claims to being in full accordance with the truth. Indeed, the first Congress held in 2003 when the international gatherings were initiated by former president Nursultan Nazarbayev, was explicitly modeled on the “Day of Prayer for Peace” convened by Pope John Paul II in January 2002 – an event that sparked criticism for having placed various religions on an equal footing. The “excuse” for the initiative was the fight against terrorism for religious reasons in the wake of the September 11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York.
Nursultan Nazarbayev joined the Kazakh Communist Party in 1962 at age 22 and became the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan’s prime minister in 1984. He was provisionally replaced by a Russian one year later before becoming head of the Kazakh Communist Party in 1989 and then president of the Supreme Soviet of his country in 1990. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remained at the head of Kazakhstan as its first president and remained at that post until 2019. He was replaced by Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, also a former Soviet dignitary. Tokayev played a role at the United Nations from 2011 when he was appointed head of the United Nations Office at Geneva by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, until he replaced Nazarbayev eight years later – some say under pressure of the Russian political police FSB, which is said to have increased its links with Kazakh security forces.
The idea that wars, confrontations, and terrorism are the consequence of the mutual opposition of religions in the course of world history is one of the main themes of United Nations rhetoric, especially in its cultural division, UNESCO. Apart from the fact that atheism and materialism are surely responsible for the majority of violent deaths and persecution during the bloody 20th century, this approach has underpinned many initiatives favoring “interreligious dialogue” by which all religions are considered as legitimate expressions of un underlying “spirituality.”
But while it is true that the Holy See supported the Kazakh initiative, with a message of encouragement from Pope John Paul II to the participants of the first meeting in 2003, 18 years later, Pope Francis’s participation would give even more weight to the event. Besides, the particular “flavor” given to the Congress is now even more identifiable by its humanist and Masonic overtones. That first meeting in 2003 was touted as a “unique event” where representatives of the entire religious world gathered at one table for the first time.
Another major theme of the September 2022 meeting will be “gender equality” and the “contribution of women to the well-being and sustainable development of society and the role of religious communities in support of her social status.” A roundtable was held March 30 to prepare this section of the 7th Congress under the sign of “progressive strategy.” During the meeting, one participant spoke of the “harmony of Islamic civilization and the Kazakh worldview.”
“As a result of the event, the participants proposed recommendations on strengthening the ideas of gender equality in the world, developing new ideas for expanding the role of women in religion and building interreligious and intercultural dialogue, which will be taken into account in preparation for one of the sections of the VII Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, dedicated to the contribution women in the well-being and sustainable development of society,” according to the Congress’ website.
The Congress has the full support of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, whose “High Representative,” Miguel Angel Moratinos, the UN’s Under-Secretary-General, was present at the 19th session of its Secretariate in October to prepare the upcoming meeting.
“This unique platform offers a good opportunity for politicians, religious leaders, international, regional organizations, and all concerned parties to collectively discuss the problems of interreligious dialogue and sustainable development in a more polarized world. The UN Alliance of Civilizations will be actively engaged in the work of the VII Congress,” he said.
Moratinos, a Spanish politician from the Socialist party, was minister of foreign affairs under Zapatero’s first government in 2004 and was instrumental in restoring diplomatic relations with communist Cuba.
At the last Congress held in 2018 in what was still called Astana, the Catholic delegation was headed by Cardinal Francesco Coccopalmerio, now president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and included the Apostolic Nuncio to Kazakhstan, Archbishop Francis Assisi Chullikatt, and Monsignor Khaled Akasheh, Head of the Department of Dialogue with Islam at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. Akasheh continues to play a prominent role in relations with the Congress of Religions.
The Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions presents its first mission as consisting in the “Search for universal reference points in world and traditional forms of religions.” Second is “The functioning of the permanent international Institute for the implementation of interreligious dialogue and concerted action.”
Its objectives include “Promoting global dialogue between civilizations, cultures and religions,” “Deepening and strengthening mutual understanding and respect between religious communities,” and the “Development of a culture of tolerance and mutual respect as a counterbalance to the ideology of hatred and extremism.” Finally, it hopes to prevent “the prevalence of theses about the ‘Clash of Civilizations,’ expressed in the opposition of religions and spiritual traditions, further politicization of theological disputes, attempts to discredit one religion on the part of the other.”
The problem here is once again that any criticism of a religion or presenting it as untrue can be construed as an unacceptable attitude that goes against “peace, harmony and tolerance,” and can only lead to relativism.
The scope of religions who join this “dialogue” is very large: at present, the Secretariate of the Congress includes plenipotentiary representatives of leaders of world and traditional religions from Islam, Christianity (Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Lutheranism), Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, and Shintoism.
Representatives at the Secretariate’s October 2021 meeting included the Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Studies from Egypt (whose Grand Imam Al-Tayyeb co-signed the relativistic Abu Dhabi Document on Human Fraternity with Pope Francis), the Islamic World League (Saudi Arabia), the Caucasian Muslims Office (Azerbaijan), the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Appeal and Instruction (Saudi Arabia), the Islamic Research Institute of the International Islamic University of Islamabad (Pakistan), Ministry of Waqfs of Egypt, Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Bureau of Islam of the Pontifical Council of the Holy See for Interreligious Dialogue (Vatican), the Church of England (UK), Lutheran World Federation, Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel, World Buddhist Community (Thailand), Chinese Buddhist Association, Chinese Taoist Association, Shinto organization «Jinja Honche» (Japan), Program on Interfaith Relations and Mutual Understanding of «Somaya Vidyavihar» University (India), UN Alliance of Civilizations (USA), Muslim Council of Elders (UAE) and others.
The 2018 Congress included 15 Chinese delegates (out of a total of about 200). The Chinese Communist Party-controlled Global Times hailed the event quoting a Muslim Chinese representative, Jin Rubin, who told the daily: “There is no major conflict among religions in China and this is an extremely rare situation in the world. China’s practice and experience should be shared globally, because China has taken a path that has ensured harmonious coexistence among various religions.” Religious persecution in China seems not to be a problem when the interreligious Congress invites official representatives vetted by the Chinese Communist Party.
The September meeting which Pope Francis intends to join will take place in the pyramid-shaped building constructed specially for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions aafyer its first meeting in 2003. The “Palace of Peace and Reconciliation” first hosted a Congress in 2006 and is presented among the “World Religious Sacred Places” on the Congress’ website.
The pyramid – straight from Masonic symbolism – serves as a non-denominational national spiritual center contains accommodations for different religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism, and other faiths. It houses a 1,300-seat opera house in its basement while the meeting room for the Congress of religious leaders is directly under its apex. There, a round table symbolizing the sun, with an “eye” at its center, accommodates participants while the tip of the pyramid offers an opening towards the light of the sun.
The city of Astana – now Nur Sultan – sprang up in the middle of nowhere in the Central Asian desert when Nursultan Nazarbayev decided to give his nation a new capital. In a fascinating book dedicated to “the munificent people of Kazakhstan, the wayshowers of the 21st century,” the Canadian architectural historian Frank Albo calls Astana “one of the most remarkable cities on Earth, “an architectural roadmap for the peaceful destiny of the world.” He is a specialist of the “Hermetic Code” of the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg and its “Masonic mysteries,”
Albo (who obtained support from the Kazakh government for his work) wrote that “Astana offers a prescriptive urban salve in which architecture and city planning are not ancillary to the state, but rather the instruments of a global message that seeks to fundamentally change our world.”
“Nazarbayev may be the first modern leader to have used architecture and fantasy to crystallize the dreams of a nation, while also conveying broader objectives committed to world peace, global ecology and interfaith harmony,” Albo wrote later on in his book, Astana, Architecture, Myth and Destiny.
About the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation, he wrote, “The Pyramid of Astana is dedicated to the renunciation of bigotry and violence, and to the promotion of peace and human equality. Like the entire city, it is endowed with symbolic, mythic, and numerological meaning. The Pyramid is a modern cathedral of the world faith … Just as the city is the blueprint for the new Kazakhstan, the Pyramid is the symbolic blueprint for the permeation of light over darkness … Nazarbayev chose the pyramidal form immaculately as an ecumenical signifier that appeals to the ‘universal truth’ of all religious faiths.”