As news of Muslim fundamentalists killing Christians continues to come out of Syria and Iraq — and Christian extremists murdering Muslims in the Central African Republic — Pope Francis has come out to decry the killings, saying that no religion is immune to extremism.
“In any confession, there’s a small group of fundamentalists whose job is to destroy for the sake of an idea, not a reality,” Francis said in an interview with the Argentinian radio station Milenium.
“God in Judaism, in Christianity, in Islam, accompanies his people,” he said. “God is a God who comes close to us. [But] fundamentalists take God away from his people, disembodying him. In the name of that ideologist God, they kill, attack, destroy, slander.”
Francis was interviewed by a close friend, Marcelo Figueroa, anchorman of the show “Dialogues for the Encounter.” They taped the one-hour interview Aug. 25 and it was aired Sunday.
The interview was mostly about friendship, with a special focus on inter-denominational friendships, since Figueroa is a Presbyterian preacher. In 2010, Francis (then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio) had TV show with Figueroa and Rabbi Abraham Skorka called “Bible: An Active Dialogue.”
On the need for inter-religious dialogue, Francis said that “in our sin, our weaknesses, we foster a culture of enmity.”
From the horrors of war to damaging gossip in the workplace, the pope said, “we must work for a culture of encounter.”
Francis was also honest about how personal relationships have changed for him since being elected pope, saying that he has felt “used” by people who introduce themselves as his friends, “when I’ve seen them once or twice in my life.”
“The utilitarian sense of friendship, calculating what I can get from approaching that person and becoming friends, hurts me,” Francis said. “I’ve never had as many ‘friends’ as I do now. Everybody is friends with the pope. Friendship is a sacred thing.”
The two friends also spoke of the care of the environment, to which the pope has dedicated a full teaching document, known as an encyclical: “Laudato Si.’”
The Argentinian pontiff quoted “a very important political leader” saying that the need to care for creation is no longer about making the world a better place for future generations, because “if we continue [destroying] it at this pace, there will be nothing left.”
Francis also said he has hope, because even if the destruction of the earth reaches “catastrophic” levels, he believes “in the new earth and the new heavens. I hope and I know that creation will be transformed.”
(The expression of a new earth and heavens is used in the Bible to describe the final state of redeemed humanity.)
Francis acknowledged that he, too, is a sinner, and admitted that he has to constantly fight against his ego. Everything good he has is “pure gift,” he said; he often tells Jesus, “Hey, how good people are, how they think, how good they are!”
At the end, Francis had some words for those who spent their time listening to the show: “We’re not necessarily a soap opera,” he said. “I’d like to thank [you] for all you can do to take care of creation, ask you to pray for me, and I wish from the bottom of my heart, for God to bless you.”