NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (AP) – Pope Francis reaffirmed Thursday’s critical value of interreligious dialogue to counter the “madness of war”, even though one of his own bishops warned that Francis’ participation in a major interreligious conference of peace in Kazakhstan could imply papal approval of a “supermarket of religions”.
Francis gave the closing speech of the triennial conference of traditional religions of the Kazakh government, which brought together about 80 Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist and Taoist religious leaders who called for greater inter-religious efforts to fight war, poverty, climate change and other evils facing the world.
Francis praised the summit and stressed his conclusion that religion can never be used to justify war, an appeal that came against the backdrop of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The final document states that “extremism, radicalism, terrorism and all other forms of violence and wars, whatever their goals, have nothing to do with true religion and must be rejected in the strongest possible terms. “.
Without mentioning Russia or any other warring country by name, the final document calls on world leaders to “abandon all aggressive and destructive rhetoric that leads to the destabilization of the world and to cease conflict and bloodshed in all corners of our world. world”.
Francis told the meeting that interreligious meetings such as the Kazakh summit are “more precious than ever in difficult times like ours, when the problems of the pandemic have been aggravated by the madness of war”.
With a delegation from the Russian Orthodox Church at the table, Francis said that peace is “urgently needed”.
“We beg you, in the name of God and for the good of humanity: work for peace, not for arms! Only by serving the cause of peace will you make a name for yourself in the annals of history, ”she said.
A note of caution, however, came from Bishop Athenasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana and one of Francis’ most vocal critics. Schneider has joined with other traditionalist and conservative cardinals and bishops in criticizing many of Francis’ signature gestures and what they say are his doctrinal ambiguities on issues such as divorce and remarriage, homosexuality and interfaith awareness.
As auxiliary bishop of the capital of Kazakhstan, Schneider had to help host Francis during his three-day visit and played a leading role in the pope’s visit to the capital’s cathedral on Thursday morning. He accompanied Francis’s wheelchair down the aisle at the start of the meeting and introduced a series of dignitaries who met the pontiff later, acting as a translator.
But Schneider also joined with American Cardinal Raymond Burke in criticizing a key 2019 document that Francis signed with the grand imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar University in which, among other things, he stated that all religions are “willed. from God “. Some Catholic critics have argued that the idea that God actively wanted a plurality of religions could lead to relativism that would accept that all religions are equally valid paths to God, when the Vatican argues that Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.
The document of the so-called “Human Fraternity” was presented as an example of “great historical significance” by the president of Kazakhstan at the beginning of the interreligious conference, and the final communiqué acknowledged “its importance and value” in asking for “peace, dialogue, mutual understanding and mutual respect between believers for the common good ”.
Speaking to reporters in the cathedral, Schneider defended his occasional criticism of the pontiff as respectful and “fraternal” advice to the pope, motivated by love and providing “real help to the church.”
“This is normal because we (bishops) are not dependent on the pope,” he said. “We are brothers. We must respectfully say when we recognize that something is a danger to the whole church. This is a help.”
He welcomed the pope’s visit to Kazakhstan, but warned that Francis’ participation in such a large international interreligious event could question what, according to him, is the unique role of the Catholic Church in providing the only way to salvation.
“The congress as such has a good goal of promoting mutual respect and understanding in today’s world. But it also has a danger because it could give the impression of a ‘supermarket of religions’ and this is incorrect because there is only one true religion, which is the Catholic Church, founded by God himself, ”said Schneider.
He urged the Vatican to reconsider participating in such international events in the future and instead focus on building relationships at a more local level.
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