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True belief leads to respect, peace, pope says at interreligious meeting

04 Feb 2019 – By Cindy Wooden

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (CNS) — In an officially Muslim nation where Christians are welcomed as guest workers and free to worship, Pope Francis urged leaders of the world’s main religions to embrace a broader vision of freedom, justice, tolerance and peace.

Addressing the interreligious Human Fraternity Meeting in Abu Dhabi Feb. 4, Pope Francis said all those who believe in one God also must believe that all people are their brothers and sisters and demonstrate that belief in the way they treat others, especially minorities and the poor.

The Human Fraternity Meeting, which brought together some 700 religious leaders from Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and other religious communities, was a centerpiece of Pope Francis’ visit. The meeting was sponsored by the Abu Dhabi-based international Muslim Council of Elders and was promoted as a key part of the UAE’s declaration of 2019 as the “Year of Tolerance.”

In the presence of Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and Egyptian Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar and chair of the Muslim Council of Elders, Pope Francis thanked the emirates for the respect and tolerance shown toward Christians, but later in his speech he called for more.

“A justice addressed only to family members, compatriots (and) believers of the same faith is a limping justice; it is a disguised injustice,” Pope Francis told the gathering.

“We cannot honor the Creator without cherishing the sacredness of every person and of every human life: Each person is equally precious in the eyes of God,” the pope said.

Some 80 percent of the people living in the United Emirates, including almost all the Catholics, are foreign workers who have no right to citizenship, but are a key part of the country’s booming economy.

While they are free to attend churches, which have been built on land donated by the emirates’ ruling families, they must exercise care lest they be accused of proselytizing. The government also closely controls the practice of Islam to block the influence of groups it considers politically dangerous or related to terrorism.

Sheik el-Tayeb, speaking before the pope, told his fellow Muslims to “embrace your Christian brothers and sisters … there are special bonds between us. Even the Quran speaks of these bonds.”

The imam insisted all those who believe in God must believe in the obligation to respect human life, which God created, and, he said, “the name of God must not be used to justify violence. God did not create us to cause suffering.”

Sheik el-Tayeb also insisted that Christians should be treated “as citizens with full rights.”

Religious freedom, Pope Francis told the gathering, “is not limited only to freedom of worship but sees in the other truly a brother or sister, a child of my own humanity whom God leaves free and whom, therefore, no human institution can coerce, even in God’s name.”

Straying slightly from his prepared text, the pope said that differences of sex, race and language are all signs of “God’s wisdom” and must never be a pretext to limit a person’s freedom.

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