Ahead of Pope Francis’s April 28-29 trip to Egypt, the Vatican’s representative to the United Nations has decried the “violent chaos and new lows of barbarism” caused by terrorism in some parts of the Middle East.
Archbishop Bernardito Auza called the Palm Sunday terrorist bombings in Egypt “abominable attacks” that went against “the very foundation of human dignity and rights.”
He said the upcoming papal visit would be used to “stress once again that there is no greater antidote to violence and hatred than dialogue and encounter.”
The Vatican representative made his remarks while the UN Security Council was discussing the situation in the Middle East on Thursday.
Auza called on the Security Council to “intensify efforts to spare [religious and ethnic minorities] from the genocidal scourge of violent terrorist groups and other non-state actors.”
The Vatican is a non-member observer state at the UN, which gives it the right to participate in debates at the world body.
“Twisted religious claims mixed with irredentist ideologies contribute to the bloodshed in the region,” the archbishop said, “unimaginably barbaric acts are being perpetrated supposedly in the name of God or religion.”
Auza said ethnic and religious minority groups who have peacefully coexisted with the Muslim majority communities for over a thousand years have been targeted by extremists.
“Their cultural and historical patrimony has been destroyed, threatening to annihilate every trace of their long-standing presence in the region,” he said.
The archbishop also urged religious leaders “to speak out forcefully against such terror and to act to control effectively their followers who are reprehensibly claiming to act in God’s name by means of terror.
“No religious leader should tolerate using religion as a pretext for actions against human dignity and against the fundamental rights of every man and woman, above all, the right to life and the right of everyone to religious freedom,” Auza said.
The archbishop also complained that the “blood of innocent civilians cries out against the unchecked flow of arms” into the Middle East.
He said the Vatican “cannot stress enough” that the disregarding of arms control treaties is contributing to armed conflict, crime, and terrorism.
Auza said the main victims of this arms flow are civilians, and added that the weapons are often used to attack civilian infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and water and food facilities.
He said the illicit arms trade undermines “peace and security, stability and sustainable development.”
Auza also drew attention to the recent chemical attack on refugees trying to escape violence in Syria, calling it a “gross violation of international humanitarian law and the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Auza said “unilateral decisions, acts of violence and inflammatory rhetoric can only further deepen wounds, intensify hatred and widen divisions, making negotiations more difficult and reconciliation more distant.
“Leaders and citizens on both sides must have the foresight and courage to make fair concessions, because an agreement would be impossible as long as mutually excluding and impossible demands remain,” he said.
Auza reiterated the Vatican’s support for a two-state solution, and said the pope assures all parties “of his efforts and prayers that the deep wounds dividing Israelis and Palestinians may experience healing.”
The pontiff visited Israel, Jordan, and Palestine in 2014.
Francis’s next trip to the region is in a week, when he is scheduled to be in Cairo on April 28-29.
He will be visiting the Al-Azhar mosque and university in Cairo that’s seen as the most important center of learning in the Sunni world.
In addition, the pontiff is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, celebrate Mass, meet the bishops of Egypt, and also hold an event for clergy, religious, and seminarians.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the “first among equals” of the Eastern Orthodox Christian world, will join the pope during his journey.