ROME – Pope Francis met with Bahrain’s Muslim Council of Elders on his second day in the country, telling members that peace can only be achieved by moving beyond past conflicts and joining forces to promote the common good.

Speaking at the Mosque of Sakhir Royal Palace Friday, the pope voiced his belief that “increasingly we need to encounter one another, to get to know and to esteem one another, to put reality ahead of ideas and people ahead of opinions, openness to heaven ahead of differences on earth.”

“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 said, asking, “how can believers of different religions and cultures live side-by-side, accept and esteem one another if we remain distant and detached?”

In a world plagued by growing wounds and divisions where “beneath the surface of globalization senses anxiety and fear,” the great religious traditions, he said, “must be the heart that unites the members of the body, the soul that gives hope and life to its highest aspirations.”

Pope Francis met with the Muslim Council of Elders on his second day in Bahrain, after participating in the closing session of “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence,” and holding a private meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Egypt, Ahmed el-Tayeb.

The two have met several times, most recently in Kazakhstan separate high-profile interfaith summit, and in February 2019 they signed a document on human fraternity during the pope’s visit to Abu Dhabi.

Francis, who is the first pope to ever visit Bahrain, is making the Nov. 3-6 trip in a bid to further solidify his outreach to the Muslim community, and to offer support to Bahrain’s small Christian minority.

In his speech to the Council of Elders, the pope voiced his gratitude to be among leaders who “desire to foster reconciliation in order to avoid divisions and conflicts in Muslim communities.”

He asked that God’s blessing would be upon them, “who see in extremism a danger that corrodes genuine religion; upon you, who are committed to dispelling erroneous interpretations that through violence misconstrue, exploit and do a disservice to religious belief.”

The pope also asked that peace would be upon them, as they seek “to spread peace by instilling within people’s hearts the values of respect, tolerance and moderation” and to encourage “friendly relations, mutual respect and trust with those who, like myself, are followers of a different religious tradition.”

He also praised them for their efforts in striving “to provide young people with a moral and intellectual education that opposes all forms of hatred and intolerance.”

God, as the source of peace, “never brings about war, never incites hatred, never supports violence,” he said, insisting that those who believe him are called to promote peace “with tools of peace, such as encounter, patient negotiations and dialogue, which is the oxygen of peaceful coexistence.”

Peace, he said, is “born of fraternity” and as such, it grows through the joint struggle against injustices and inequality and is built “by holding out a hand to others.”

Because of this, “Peace cannot simply be proclaimed; it must be helped to take root,” which requires eliminating the various forms of inequality and discrimination “that give rise to instability and hostility,” he said.

Referring to past divisions and current conflicts raging throughout the world, Francis said pointed to the bible, saying that once man turned his back on God in the Garden of Eden, a series of problems and imbalances “followed in quick succession,” leading to disputes, murder, pride, environmental disasters, and violent conflict.

All modern problems – social, economic, international, and individual – ultimately derive from “estrangement from God and our neighbor,” Francis said, saying it is the “unique and inescapable duty” of religious leaders to help humanity “rediscover the forgotten sources of life.”

As representatives of their various faiths, it is essential, he said, to “bring the faithful closer to worship of the God of heaven and closer to our brothers and sisters for whom he created the earth.”

The path to achieving this is through prayer and fraternity, he said, calling them “modest but effective” weapons in the fight for greater human fraternity.

Francis cautioned against the temptation to achieve peace through “other means, by shortcuts unworthy of the Most High,” such as the global arms trade, and the proliferation of conflicts “subsidized by the purchase of outdated weapons at affordable prices,” and which force people to flee their homes “only to be then identified and turned away at other borders through increasingly sophisticated military equipment.”

“In this way, their hope is killed twice!” he said.

In the midst of these tragic situations, the world pursues strength, power, and wealth, he said, whereas it is the task of religious leaders to proclaim “that God and neighbor come before all else, that transcendence and fraternity alone will save us.”

“It is up to us to uncover these wellsprings of life; otherwise, the desert of humanity will be increasingly arid and deadly,” he said, adding, “Above all, it is up to us to bear witness, more by our deeds than merely by our words, that we believe in this.”

Francis called on interfaith leaders to be “exemplary models of what we preach, not only in our communities and in our homes – for this is no longer enough – but also before a world now unified and globalized.”

As members of the Abrahamic faiths, he said, they cannot be concerned merely with those “who are ‘our own’ but, as we grow more and more united, we must speak to the entire human community, to all who dwell on this earth.”

Stressing their task of preaching the God of peace, the pope urged religious leaders to “support one another in this regard; let us follow up on our meeting today; let us journey together!”

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