After a meeting between Pope Francis and the UN Secretary General Friday, the two men released a joint video message acknowledging the fact that many Christians around the world won’t be able to safely celebrate the Christmas season.
“This is a time of peace and goodwill, and I am sad to see Christian communities – including some of the world’s oldest – unable to celebrate Christmas in safety,” said Antonio Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister who’s held the UN’s highest post since 2017.
“Tragically we see Jews being murdered in synagogues, their gravestones defaced with swastikas; Muslims gunned down in mosques, their religious sites vandalized; Christians killed at prayers, their churches torched,” Guterres said.
Guterres was in Rome to talk to the pontiff, among other things, about the recently concluded COP 25, held in Madrid, where world leaders failed to reach agreement to reduce carbon emissions which would help curb climate change.
Bombings in churches on Christmas Eve, or gunmen killing dozens after Christmas Day services, have become an unfortunate staple of the season, with recent years seeing attacks in Iraq, Egypt, Burma, Nigeria, Pakistan, Indonesia and India. An estimated 150 Christians were murdered for their faith during the 2017 Christmas season.
There also are countries where celebrating the birth of Christ is illegal, and those who do risk death, imprisonment or heavy fines, including Saudi Arabia, North Korea, and Somalia (where Christmas was banned in 2015, six years after the country adopted Sharia), as well as Tajikistan and Brunei.
Guterres and Francis condemned religiously motivated hatred in the video.
“We cannot, nor should we look the other way when, in many parts of the world, believers of different religious denominations are persecuted,” Francis said. “The use of religion to incite hated, violence, oppression, extremism and blind fanaticism, cries out to God.”
So does the use of religion to force exile or marginalization, the pontiff said.
Francis listed several other social ills to which he said humanity cannot turn a blind eye, including “injustices, inequalities, the scandal of world hunger, of poverty, of children who die because they have no water, food, necessary care.”
“We cannot look the other way in the face of any type of abuse against the little ones,” he said. “We must all fight this plague together.”
“We cannot close our eyes before our brothers who, because of the conflicts and the violence, misery or climate change, leave their countries and often go to meet a sad fate,” Francis continued. “We cannot remain indifferent to human dignity trampled and exploited, to attacks on human life, either that yet to be born or that of any person in need of care.”
As he did during his recent trip to Japan, where he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only two cities in the world to have experienced nuclear weapons, the pope said the arms race and the “nuclear re-arming” also cries to God.
“It is immoral not only to deploy but to possess nuclear weapons, which have such a destructive capacity that even the mere danger of an accident represents a dark threat for humanity,” Francis said in the video message.
Humanity, he said, cannot remain indifferent seeing the many wars still being fought and the many innocents dying. Instead, he urged dialogue among peoples and nations, in multilateralism and the role of international organizations and diplomacy to build a “peaceful world.”
Francis also called for a commitment to reduce polluting emissions and to care for the earth which, “generation after generation, has been entrusted to us by God,” before noting that action needs to be taken on this “before it is too late.”
In his remarks, Guterres urged all countries to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, “in line with what the scientific community tells us is necessary to rescue the planet.”
The UN leader also praised Francis, saying his “clear moral voice” shines through when he speaks about the most vulnerable, including refugees and migrants, confronting poverty, appealing for disarmament and building bridges between communities. He defined the head of the Catholic Church as a “messenger for hope and humanity – for reducing human suffering and promoting human dignity.”
The pontiff’s messages, Guterres said, “coincide with the core values of the United Nations Charter,” which affirms the dignity of the human person, the promotion of love of people and the care for the planet.
On religious-motivated violence, Guterres called for further action to promote “mutual understanding” and to tackle “rising hatred,” and he praised the pope’s interreligious efforts, including what he called a “landmark” declaration with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar on “human fraternity for world peace and living together.”
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma
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