ROME — Pope Francis spoke to representatives of different religions Thursday, telling them that acts of terrorism and violence must be very clearly condemned, while love and mercy – the heart of authentic religion – must be promoted.
“Sadly, not a day passes that we do not hear of acts of violence, conflict, kidnapping, terrorist attacks, killings and destruction,” Pope Francis said, adding that “it is horrible that at times, to justify such barbarism, the name of a religion or the name of God himself is invoked.”
“May there be clear condemnation of these iniquitous attitudes that profane the name of God and sully the religious quest of mankind.”
Instead, he asked that “the aimless paths of disagreement and closed-mindedness” be rejected, and replaced with the path of a “peaceful encounter” among believers.
As part of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis met with around 200 members of different religions at the Vatican Nov. 3. The representatives included Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and others, who all work in fields related to charity and mercy.
In his speech, the pope lamented the many attacks against religious freedom, saying that mercy can’t be proclaimed in words alone, but must be manifested in action, and above all, “by a truly merciful way of life marked by disinterested love, fraternal service and sincere sharing.”
“The Church increasingly desires to adopt this way of life,” he said. “The religions are likewise called to this way of life, in order to be, particularly in our own day, messengers of peace and builders of communion.”
Warning against the error of religious syncretism, which blends different religions together, Francis urged unity through dialogue and encounter as a way to combat division and intolerance around the world.
“This is pleasing to God and constitutes an urgent task, responding not only to today’s needs but above all to the summons to love which is the soul of all authentic religion,” he said.
Emphasizing that compassion is the “authentic spirit” of religion, the pope said we must “draw near to all those living in situations that call for our concern, such as sickness, disability, poverty, injustice and the aftermath of conflicts and migrations.”
“This is a summons rising from the heart of every genuine religious tradition.”
Pope Francis recalled the verse in Isaiah: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even though she may forget, yet I will never forget you,” saying that often we forget and distance ourselves from God, from our neighbor and from history.
“This is the drama of evil, the grim depths to which our freedom can plunge when tempted by evil, ever-present, waiting to strike and bring us down.”
Yet here is where we also find the most amazing aspect of merciful love, he pointed out. The love that does not forget us, but draws near like a mother draws near her child. This is the mercy we thirst for, he said.
The pope explained how for Catholics, among the most meaningful rites of the Jubilee of Mercy is going through the Holy Door, becoming “fully reconciled” by the mercy of God.
But this also requires that we forgive others, because we receive God’s forgiveness in order to share it. “Forgiveness is surely the greatest gift we can give to others, because it is the most costly,” he explained, yet “it is what makes us most like God.”
In closing he urged those present to reject disagreement and close-mindedness, praying that religions may never again, “because of the conduct of some of their followers,” convey a “distorted message, out of tune with that of mercy.”
“May there instead be fostered everywhere the peaceful encounter of believers and genuine religious freedom,” he said. “Here, our responsibility before God, humanity and the future is great; it calls for unremitting effort, without dissimulation.”