It is the task of religions to remind society of the sacredness of all human life, Pope Francis told leaders of the world’s religions in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
The pope spoke at the opening and plenary session of the Seventh Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions at the Palace of Independence in Nur-Sultan.
“Today we find it hard to accept the human being,” Pope Francis told attendees of the inter-religious summit.
“Each day children, born and unborn, migrants and elderly persons, are cast aside. Many of our brothers and sisters die sacrificed on the altar of profit, amid clouds of the sacrilegious incense of indifference. Yet every human being is sacred.”
“Homo sacra res homini,” he said, quoting Roman philosopher Seneca. “It is above all our task, the task of the religions, to remind the world of this.”
The opening session of the interreligious summit began with a few minutes of private prayer before Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev gave his opening remarks, followed by the speech of Pope Francis and three other religious leaders: Grand Imam Ahmed El Tayeb of al-Azhar, Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk from the Moscow Patriarchate, and Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yitzhak Yosef.
In his address, Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of defending religious freedom.
“Religious freedom is a basic, primary, and inalienable right needing to be promoted everywhere, one that may not be restricted merely to freedom of worship,” he said. “Each person has the right to render public testimony to his or her own creed, proposing it without ever imposing it.”
“To relegate to the private sphere our most important beliefs in life,” the pope continued, “would be to deprive society of an immense treasure.”
He said the best way to enhance the distinctive features of religious, ethnic, and cultural differences is “to work for a society marked by respectful coexistence.”
We should “bring people together while respecting their diversity,” he said, and promote “their loftiest aspirations without compromising their vitality.”
Pope Francis arrived Sept. 13 in Kazakhstan’s capital city of Nur-Sultan, where he spoke to Kazakh civil authorities and diplomats of the Muslim-majority country located between Russian and China.
His visit to the Central Asian country will also include private meetings with religious leaders and participation in the closing session of the interreligious congress.
The pope will celebrate Mass and meet the Catholic bishops, priests, seminarians, consecrated men and women, and other pastoral workers of the region. On the morning of his final day, he will have a private meeting with Jesuits, as he does on all his foreign trips.
Francis’ speech at the opening and plenary session of the religious leaders summit Sept. 14 was organized around four global challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic, peace, fraternal acceptance, and care for our common home.
He said in the wake of the pandemic, we are called to care for others, beginning with the poor and needy, “who suffered most from the pandemic, which so forcefully brought out the injustice of global inequalities and imbalances.”
“As long as inequality and injustice continue to proliferate, there will be no end to viruses even worse than COVID: the viruses of hatred, violence, and terrorism,” he said.
Francis urged his fellow religious leaders to continue to promote peace. “A leap forward is required, and it needs to come from us,” he said.
“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? And how can we imagine that the men and women of our time, many of whom live as if God did not exist, can be inspired to engage in respectful and responsible dialogue if the great religions, which are the soul of so many cultures and traditions, are not themselves actively committed to peace?” he said.
“God is peace,” Pope Francis underlined. “He guides us always in the way of peace, never that of war.”
“Let us commit ourselves, then, even more to insisting on the need for resolving conflicts not by the inconclusive means of power, with arms and threats, but by the only means blessed by heaven and worthy of man: encounter, dialogue, and patient negotiations, which make progress especially when they take into consideration the young and future generations,” he said.
“For the young embody the hope that peace will come about, not as the fragile outcome of painstaking negotiations, but as the fruit of persevering commitment to an education that can support their aspirations for development and a serene future.”