Unmask violence posing as holy, pope tells religious leaders in Egypt

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Carol Glatz

CAIRO (CNS) — Calling his visit
to Egypt a journey of “unity and fraternity,” Pope Francis launched a
powerful call to the nation’s religious leaders to expose violence masquerading
as holy and condemn religiously inspired hatred as an idolatrous caricature of

“Peace alone, therefore, is
holy, and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God, for it
would profane his name,” the pope told Muslim and Christian leaders at an
international peace conference April 28. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of
Constantinople was in attendance.

Pope Francis also warned of
attempts to fight violence with violence, saying “every unilateral action
that does not promote constructive and shared processes is, in reality, a gift
to the proponents of radicalism and violence.”

The pope began a two-day visit
to Cairo by speaking at a gathering organized by Egypt’s al-Azhar University,
Sunni Islam’s highest institute of learning.

He told reporters on the papal
plane from Rome that the trip was significant for the fact that he was invited
by the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb; Egyptian President
Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi; Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II; and Coptic Catholic
Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak of Alexandria.

Having these four leaders invite
him for the trip shows it is “a trip of unity and fraternity” that
will be “quite, quite intense” over the next two days, he said.

Greeted with a standing ovation
and a few scattered shouts of “viva il papa” (long live the pope),
the pope later greeted conference participants saying, “Peace be with
you” in Arabic.

He gave a 23-minute talk
highlighting Egypt’s great and “glorious history” as a land of
civilization, wisdom and faith in God. Small olive branches symbolizing peace
were among the greenery adorning the podium.

Religious leaders have a duty to
respect everyone’s religious identity and have “the courage to accept
differences,” he said in the talk that was interrupted by applause several

Those who belong to a different
culture or religion “should not be seen or treated as enemies, but rather
welcomed as fellow-travelers,” he said.

Religion needs to take its
sacred and essential place in the world as a reminder of the “great
questions about the meaning of life” and humanity’s ultimate calling.
“We are not meant to spend all of our energies on the uncertain and
shifting affairs of this world, but to journey toward the absolute,” he

He emphasized that religion
“is not a problem, but a part of the solution” because it helps
people lift their hearts toward God “in order to learn how to build the
city of man.”

Egypt is the land where God gave
Moses the Ten Commandments, which include “Thou shalt not kill,” the
pope said. God “exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary
condition for every earthly covenant.”

“Violence is the negation
of every authentic religious expression,” he said. “As religious
leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as
purported sanctity and is based more on the ‘absolutizing’ of selfishness than
on authentic openness to the absolute.”

“We have an obligation to
denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to
justify every form of hatred in the name of religion and to condemn these
attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.” God is holy, the pope said,
and “he is the God of peace.”

He asked everyone at the
al-Azhar conference to say “once more, a firm and clear ‘No!’ to every
form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or
in the name of God.”

Not only are faith and violence,
belief and hatred incompatible, he said, faith that is not “born of
sincere heart and authentic love toward the merciful God” is nothing more
than a social construct “that does not liberate man, but crushes

Christians, too, must treat
everyone as brother and sister if they are to truly pray to God, the father of
all humanity, the pope said.

“It is of little or no use
to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection,” he
said. “What is needed today are peacemakers, not fomenters of conflict;
firefighters, not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of

The pope again appealed for
people to address the root causes of terrorism, like poverty and exploitation,
and stopping the flow of weapons and money to those who provoke violence.

“Only by bringing into the
light of day the murky maneuverings that feed the cancer of war can its real
causes be prevented,” he said.

Education and a wisdom that is
open, curious and humble are key, he said, saying properly formed young people
can grow tall like strong trees turning “the polluted air of hatred into
the oxygen of fraternity.”

He called on all of Egypt to
continue its legacy of being a land of civilization and covenant so it can
contribute to peace for its own people and the whole Middle East.

The challenge of turning today’s
“incivility of conflict” into a “civility of encounter”
demands that “we, Christians, Muslims and all believers, are called to
offer our specific contribution” as brothers and sisters living all under
the one and same sun of a merciful God.

The pope and Sheik el-Tayeb
embraced after the sheik gave his introductory address, which emphasized that
only false notions of religion, including Islam, lead to violence. The grand
imam expressed gratitude for the pope’s remarks in which he rejected the
association of Islam with terror.

The sheik began his speech by
requesting the audience stand for a minute’s silence to commemorate the victims
of terrorism in Egypt and globally, regardless of their religions.

“We should not hold
religion accountable for the crimes of any small group of followers,” he
said. “For example, Islam is not a religion of terrorism” just
because a small group of fanatics “ignorantly” misinterpret texts of
the Quran to support their hatred.

The security surrounding the
pope’s arrival seemed typical of many papal trips even though the country was
also in the midst of a government-declared three-month state of emergency
following the bombing of two Coptic Orthodox churches on Palm Sunday. The
attacks, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility, left 44 people dead
and 70 more injured.

Egypt Prime Minister Sherif
Ismail and other Egyptian officials warmly greeted Pope Francis on the airport
red carpet after the pope disembarked from the plane.

They walked together, chatting
animatedly, to the VIP hall of Cairo International Airport, then the pontiff
was whisked off to the presidential palace to meet el-Sissi at the start of his
brief 27-hour visit.

Pope Francis repeated his calls
for strengthening peace in his speech to hundreds of officials representing
government, the diplomatic corps, civil society and culture.

“No civilized society can
be built without repudiating every ideology of evil, violence and extremism
that presumes to suppress others and to annihilate diversity by manipulating
and profaning the sacred name of God,” he said.

History does not forgive those
who talk about justice and equality, and then practice the opposite, he said.

It is a duty to “unmask the
peddlers of illusions about the afterlife” and who rob people of their
lives and take away their ability to “choose freely and believe

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Contributing to this story was
Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan.

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