ROME — Pope Francis told Muslim elders in Bahrain Friday that God is the source of peace and he “never brings about war, never incites hatred, never supports violence.”
“I have come among you as a believer in God, as a brother and as a pilgrim of peace,” the pontiff told the Muslim Council of Elders, so that “we can journey together.”
In passing, the pope also addressed concerns of alleged human rights abuses in the majority Sunni Muslim nation, especially of the country’s minority Shiite Muslim community. In recent years many Shiite activists have been imprisoned or deported, and the largest Shiite opposition group has been outlawed.
“I offer … my prayerful hope that the peace of the Most High may descend upon each of you … who desire to foster reconciliation in order to avoid divisions and conflicts in Muslim communities,” Francis said.
“We, who believe in [God], are called to promote peace with tools of peace, such as encounter, patient negotiations and dialogue, which is the oxygen of peaceful coexistence,” he said.
“Peace is born of fraternity; it grows through the struggle against injustice and inequality; it is built by holding out a hand to others,” he declared, which is made possible “by eliminating the forms of inequality and discrimination that give rise to instability and hostility.”
The pope praised his hearers for seeing in extremism “a danger that corrodes genuine religion” and for their commitment “to dispelling erroneous interpretations that through violence misconstrue, exploit and do a disservice to religious belief.”
“We need to put a future of fraternity ahead of a past of antagonism, overcoming historical prejudices and misunderstandings in the name of the One who is the source of peace,” he asserted.
“[I]n a world that is increasingly wounded and divided … the great religious traditions must be the heart that unites the members of the body, the soul that gives hope and life to its highest aspirations,” he said.
“[S]ocial, international, economic, and individual evils, as well as the dramatic environmental crisis of our time … ultimately derive from estrangement from God and our neighbor,” Francis said.
As he has done on various occasions of late, the pope denounced the arms trade for stoking international conflicts.
“[T]he Most High … is dishonored by those who put their trust in power and nurture violence, war and the arms trade, the ‘commerce of death’ that, through ever increasing outlays, is turning our common home into one great arsenal,” he said.
“How many obscure intrigues and disturbing inconsistencies lie behind all this!” he said, citing “all those people forced to migrate from their own lands due to conflicts subsidized by the purchase of outdated weapons at affordable prices, only to be then identified and turned away at other borders through increasingly sophisticated military equipment.”
“Amid these tragic scenarios, while the world pursues the illusions of strength, power and money, we are called to proclaim, with the wisdom of our elders and fathers, that God and neighbor come before all else, that transcendence and fraternity alone will save us,” he said.