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Pope Francis in Cairo sends message of religious peace, asking to “unmask the violence” 

by Carlo Marroni

Pope Francis's words arrive from the heart of Sunni Islam: Cairo's mosque-university Al-Azhar, “the Splendid,” a beacon for millions of Muslims across the world.

“Let us say once more a firm and clear ’No!’ to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the name of religion or in the name of God. Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and hatred. Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical, social, educational or psychological,” Francis said during his speech to participants at the International Peace Conference, alongside the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyib.

The speech comes a year after they met in the Vatican, signalling a return to dialogue after a break in relations.

“It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people's lives are increasingly ignored in favour of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise,” Francis said. “These certainly do not help to consolidate peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.”

The Imam of Al-Azhar affirmed that Islam is not a religion of terrorism, and no religion is.

These are strong words, shared in a moment when the terror offensive against Christians (and not only) is picking up. Pope Francis did not respond to this trend with tones of religious wars, but on the contrary of profound dialogue.

And Al Tayyib also sent a firm signal: “Islam is not a religion of terrorism,” he said, adding that neither is Christianity nor Judaism. “We have to purify religions from everything that sows hatred and from any deviation.”

On this point, the Pope reminded everyone of their responsibilities: “As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute. We have an obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God.”

A “minute of silence” for “the victims of terrorism of all nationalities” was observed at the international conference. The moments of concentration were requested by the Grand Imam.

“In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and weapons destined to those who provoke violence,” the Pope added. This was a “political” step, a call that he often makes on the theme of war, which is always fueled by interests and never by true religion.