Amid Russias war, pope says faith cannot justify such evil


Pope Francis has told the Russian Orthodox hierarchy and other faith leaders that religion must never be used to justify the evil of war and that God must never be held hostage to the human thirst for power.

Against the backdrop of Russias invasion of Ukraine, Francis on Tuesday opened an interfaith conference in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan by challenging delegations to unite in condemning war.

He cited a Kazakh poet in warning that he who permits evil and does not oppose it cannot be regarded as a true believer. At best he is a half-hearted believer.

In the audience of the 80 imams, patriarchs, rabbis and muftis was Metropolitan Anthony, in charge of foreign relations for the Russian Orthodox Church, which has firmly backed Russias invasion.


His boss, Patriarch Kirill, was supposed to have participated in the congress but cancelled last month.

Kirill has justified Russias invasion on spiritual and ideological grounds, calling it a metaphysical battle with the West. He has blessed Russian soldiers going into war and invoked the idea that Russians and Ukrainians are one people.

Francis didnt mention Russia or Ukraine in his remarks, which alongside those of Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev opened the gathering of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Taoist and other faith groups aimed at promoting interreligious dialogue and fraternity as a force for peace in the world.

But speaking from Russias southern neighbour as the seven-month war rages on, Francis told the faith leaders that they themselves needed to take the lead in promoting a culture of peace, saying it was hypocritical to expect that non-believers would promote peace if religious leaders dont.

If the creator, to whom we have devoted our lives, is the author of human life, how can we who call ourselves believers consent to the destruction of that life? he asked.

Mindful of the wrongs and errors of the past, let us unite our efforts to ensure that the Almighty will never again be held hostage to the human thirst for power.

Francis then laid down a challenge to all those in the room to commit themselves to resolving disputes through dialogue and negotiation, not with recourse to arms.

May we never justify violence. May we never allow the sacred to be exploited by the profane. The sacred must never be a prop for power, nor power a prop for the sacred! The religious leaders included Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the seat of Sunni learning in Cairo, who warmly greeted Francis with a kiss on the cheek when the pope arrived in a wheelchair.

Francis and al-Tayeb signed a joint Christian-Muslim document promoting human fraternity as a force for peace in 2019 a document that Tokayev cited in his own speech opening the congress.

There had been speculation that Francis could meet with Kirill on the sidelines of the congress after both confirmed their presence earlier this year. The two met for the first time in 2016 in Cuba the first-ever meeting of a pope and Russian patriarch and spoke by video-conference in the early weeks of the war.

Francis afterward publicly criticized Kirills justification of Ukraines invasion and warned that he mustnt become Putins altar boy.

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