Interreligious dialogue is not an option but a necessity in a fractured world, Pope Francis this morning told a gathering of religious leaders at the Nunciature in Nairobi. But rather than be seen as a problem to be solved, he extolled religious values and practices as a source of wisdom and solidarity, vital for the building of the common good.
“By upholding respect for that dignity and those rights, the religions play an essential role in forming consciences, instilling in the young the profound spiritual values of our respective traditions, and training good citizens, capable of infusing civil society with honesty, integrity and a world view which values the human person over power and material gain”, the Pope said.
Recalling the Jihadist attacks earlier this year in Kenya, the Pope noted how “young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies” — which made it even more important that religions work for peace.
“The God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace!” he said in unscripted remarks. “His holy name must never be used to justify hatred and violence!”
Later, Pope Francis said Mass for tens of thousands at Nairobi University campus, praising Kenya’s strong families and their respect for the elderly and love of children. Noting that the health of society depends on the health of its families, he called on Catholics “to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.” He also called for them “to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn.”
Both addresses follow.
(1) Address to an ecumenical and interreligious gathering at the Apostolic Nunciature, Nairobi
I am grateful for your presence this morning and for the opportunity to share these moments of reflection with you. In a particular way, I wish to thank Archbishop Wabukala and Professor El-Busaidy for their words of welcome offered on your behalf, and on behalf of their communities. It is always important to me that, when I come to visit the Catholic faithful of a local Church, I have an occasion to meet the leaders of other Christian communities and religious traditions. It is my hope that our time together may be a sign of the Church’s esteem for the followers of all religions; may it strengthen the bonds of friendship which we already enjoy.
To be honest, this relationship is challenging; it makes demands of us. Yet ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.
Indeed, religious beliefs and practice condition who we are and how we understand the world around us. They are for us a source of enlightenment, wisdom and solidarity, and thus enrich the societies in which we live. By caring for the spiritual growth of our communities, by forming minds and hearts in the truths and values taught by our religious traditions, we become a blessing to the communities in which our people live. In democratic and pluralistic societies like Kenya, cooperation between religious leaders and communities becomes an important service to the common good.
In this light, and in an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for interreligious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness. By upholding respect for that dignity and those rights, the religions play an essential role in forming consciences, instilling in the young the profound spiritual values of our respective traditions, and training good citizens, capable of infusing civil society with honesty, integrity and a world view which values the human person over power and material gain.
Here I think of the importance of our common conviction that the God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace. His holy Name must never be used to justify hatred and violence. I know that the barbarous attacks on Westgate Mall, Garissa University College and Mandera are fresh in your minds. All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies. How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect! May the Almighty touch the hearts of those who engage in this violence, and grant his peace to our families and communities.
Dear friends, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, at which the Catholic Church committed herself to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in the service of understanding and friendship. I wish to reaffirm this commitment, which is born of our conviction of the universality of God’s love and the salvation which he offers to all. The world rightly expects believers to work together with people of good will in facing the many problems affecting our human family. As we look to the future, let us pray that all men and women will see themselves as brothers and sisters, peacefully united in and through our differences. Let us pray for peace!
I thank you for your attention, and I ask Almighty God to grant to you and your communities his abundant blessings.
(2) Homily at Nairobi University Campus
God’s word speaks to us in the depths of our heart. Today God tells us that we belong to him. He made us, we are his family, and he will always be there for us. “Fear not”, he says to us, “I have chosen you and I promise to give you my blessing” (cf. Is 44:2).
We hear this promise in today’s first reading. The Lord tells us that in the desert he will pour forth water on the thirsty land; he will cause the children of his people to flourish like grass and luxuriantwillows. We know that this prophecy was fulfilled in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. But we also see it fulfilled wherever the Gospel is preached and new peoples become members of God’sfamily, the Church. Today we rejoice that it was fulfilled in this land. Through the preaching of the Gospel, we have all become part of the great Christian family.
Isaiah’s prophecy invites us to look to our own families, and to realize how important they are in God’s plan. Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderlyand love for children. The health of any society always depends on the health of its families. For their sake, and for the good of society, our faith in God’s word calls us to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.
In obedience to God’s word, we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, do not look after the elderly and threaten the life of the innocent unborn. We are called torespect and encourage one another, and to reach out to all those in need. Christian families have this special mission: to radiate God’s love, and to spread the life-giving waters of his Spirit. This is especiallyimportant today, for we are seeing the growth of new deserts created by a culture of materialism selfishness and indifference to others.
Here, in the heart of this University, where the minds and hearts of new generations are being shaped, I appeal in a special way to the young people of the nation. Let the great values of Africa’straditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always beconcerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God.
All of us are familiar with Jesus’ parable about the man who built his house on sand, rather than rock. When the winds came, it fell with a mighty crash (cf. Mt 7:24-27). God is the rock on which we are called tobuild. He tells us this in the first reading, and he asks us: “Is there a God besides me?” (cf. Is 44:8).
When the Risen Jesus says, in today’s Gospel, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt 28:18), he is telling us that he, the Son of God, is himself the rock. There is none besides him. As the one Saviour of mankind, he wishes to draw men and women of every time and place to himself, so that he can bring them to the Father. He wants all of us to build our lives on the firm foundation of his word.
And that is the charge which the Lord gives to each of us. He asks us to be missionary disciples, men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women whoare channels of God’s grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm. A house which is a home, where brothers and sisters at last live in harmony andmutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God, who has shown us, in Jesus, the way to that freedom and peace for which all hearts long.
May Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the rock on whom we build our lives, guide you and your families in the way of goodness and mercy all the days of your lives. May he bless all Kenyans with his peace.
“Stand strong in faith! Do not be afraid!” For you belong to the Lord.
Mungu awabariki! [God bless you!]
Mungu abariki Kenya! [God bless Kenya!]