Pope Francis' Comments On Islam Couldn't Have Come At A More Appropriate Time
If there was ever a time the world needed a spiritual leader, it's now. Pope Francis is again reaching out to the Muslim community, this time in Sri Lanka — marking the first papal visit to the island country since the end of its 30-year-long civil war in 2009. There, the popular pontiff further repaired relations with the greater Muslim community, proving once again that he might be the antidote we need in troubled times.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist nation, with just 10 percent of the population identifying as Muslim (even fewer people are Catholic). But when Francis arrived on the island Tuesday, he received a big welcome from the Muslim community, the Associated Press reports.
The pope's trip began with an interfaith meeting of religious leaders, including Ash-Sheikh M.F.M Fazil. With Francis by his side, the Muslim representative denounced the Charlie Hebdo and kosher market attacks in France, as well as the December school massacre in Peshawar, Pakistan:
As we know very well, Islam has no relationship with regard to such practices and evil conduct and deeds. ... Terrorists, extremists — they have used many religions as a shelter to cover their own evil deeds. Islam is used by these extremists and terrorists in harming and imposing corruption on this planet. At this moment ... we need to unite, we need to understand each other's faith, we need to support each other and build a healthy nation for mankind to live.
Francis, addressing both Sri Lanka's devastating civil war and the world's most recent strife, reiterated the message:
For the sake of peace, religious beliefs must never be allowed to be abused in the cause of violence and war. We must be clear and unequivocal in challenging our communities to live fully the tenets of peace and coexistence found in each religion, and to denounce acts of violence when they are committed.
The pontiff also encouraged dialogue between different religious communities as a way to find a sort of common ground — a point as relevant as ever, given the recent news cycle. "New avenues will be opened for mutual esteem, cooperation and, indeed, friendship," Francis said.
He's barely been pope for two years, but Francis has already sent quite the message to terrorists who cause violence in the name of religion — so much so that there were even (unconfirmed) reports last summer that the pontiff was being targeted by ISIS. In the week following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Francis has spoken publicly several times, denouncing religious fundamentalism.
While addressing members of the Vatican on Monday, shortly before his journey to Sri Lanka, the pope urged both international and religious leaders to step up and take stronger accountability for some of these crimes:
I appeal to the entire international community, as I do to the respective governments involved, to take concrete steps to bring about peace and to protect all those who are victims of war and persecution, driven from their homes and their homeland. I express my hope that religious, political and intellectual leaders, especially those of the Muslim community, will condemn all fundamentalist and extremist interpretations of religion which attempt to justify such acts of violence.
But when it comes to Islam, which has had a rocky relationship with the Catholic Church for years, Francis is making monumental strides. Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVII, who once called the teachings of Islam "evil and inhuman," Francis has been open and conciliatory as he forms a bridge between the two religions. Just two months ago, the pontiff prayed in Istanbul's most famous mosque alongside the Grand Mufti Rahmi Yaran. The Vatican called it a "silent moment of adoration."
In December, on his way back from Turkey, Francis denounced Islamaphobia, saying being angry about terrorism shouldn't make you "enraged" against Muslims. He told reporters:
You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists. We have our share of them (fundamentalists). All religions have these little groups. They [Muslims] say: ‘No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace.'
A month later, as emotions swell in Western Europe and beyond, Francis' words seem a bit prophetic.
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