The Pope Addresses The Heart Of The Belt & Road Initiative In Kazakhstan
Global religions are working together at the Congress of Leaders Of World & Traditional Religions to work out how to solve the mess the World’s elite political leaders have made
One of the more unusual state visits was made this week as Pope Francis, the Head of State of Vatican City, turned up in Kazakhstan to meet with President Tokayev and attend the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions being held in Astana.
The two-day meeting, which takes place every three years, brought together religious leaders from around the world to focus this time on how religious leaders can foster the spiritual and social development in the post-pandemic world. Over 100 delegations from 50 countries attended the Congress, made up of religious, cultural, civil, governmental, and non-governmental representatives.
Pope Francis was personally invited by the Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. Other senior clerics who attended included the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb, Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, and many other spiritual leaders.
The conference included four main sessions:
The Role of Religions in Strengthening Spiritual and Moral Values in the Modern World.
The Role of Education and Religious Studies in Respectful Coexistence of Religions and Cultures, and in Strengthening Peace and Harmony.
The Contribution of Religious Leaders and Politicians in Promoting Global Interreligious Dialogue and Peace, Countering Extremism, Radicalism and Terrorism; and
Women’s Contribution to the Well-Being and Sustainable Development of Contemporary Society and the Role of Religious Communities in Supporting Women’s Social Status.
Some of these subjects veer directly into politics and regional development.
In his speech to the Congress, the Pope commented that “In the name of the fraternity that unites us…this shared nature then creates naturally “a common bond, an authentic fraternity“ and expressing hopes for the encounter of religions to be based on human relationships marked by “respect, sincere dialogue, respect for the inviolable dignity of each human being, and mutual cooperation.”
He then directly inserted the use of religion into contemporary politics by stating “The pursuit of transcendence and the sacred value of fraternity can inspire and illumine the decisions that need to be made amid the geopolitical, social, economic, ecological, but fundamentally spiritual crises that many modern institutions, including democracies, are presently experiencing, to the detriment of security and concord among peoples. We need religion, in order to respond to the thirst for world peace and the thirst for the infinite that dwells in the heart of each man and woman.”
He also paid tribute to Kazakhstan, recalling how the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan has been a land of encounter involving ideas, faiths, and trade along the ancient silk road route.
Reflecting on how to offer spiritual and social support in a post-pandemic world, the Pope focused on four challenges we all face and urged religions to work together toward a greater unity of purpose. The Covid-19 pandemic put everyone “in the same boat,” the Pope observed, adding how it exposed our common vulnerability and need for help.
He praised the “powerful sense of solidarity” that resulted from the pandemic but warned that the world must not squander it. He said religions are “called to be present on the front lines, as promoters of unity amid the grave challenges that risk dividing our human family even further.”
The Pope then added that believers are “called to care” for humanity and become “artisans of communion, witnesses of a cooperation that transcends the confines of our community, ethnic, national and religious affiliations.” He said we begin by listening to the poor, the neglected, the helpless show “suffer in silence and general disregard.”
“What I propose is not only a path to greater attentiveness and solidarity, but also a path to healing for our societies. For poverty is precisely what enables the spread of epidemics and other great evils that flourish on the terrain of poverty and inequality” he said.
The second global challenge the Pope highlighted is the challenge of peace. Although discussed by religious leaders especially in recent decades, the scourge of war and confrontation still plagues the world, he observed. This requires a “leap forward” by the great religions to actively unite and commit to peace, the Pope said, if people of our day are to be inspired to engage in respectful and responsible dialogue.
The third challenge facing us is “fraternal acceptance,” the Pope explained, noting how every day “children, born and unborn, migrants and elderly persons, are cast aside…yet every human being is sacred.” It is especially the task of the religions to remind the world of this, the Pope said, recalling the massive exodus of people today caused by war, poverty and climate change. He said, “it is our duty to be mindful that we should regard others as the same as us, and in them to see the face of a brother or a sister.”
“Let us rediscover the art of hospitality, of acceptance, of compassion. And let us learn also to be ashamed: yes, to experience that healthy shame born of compassion for those who suffer, sympathy and concern for their condition and for their fate, which we realize that we too share. This is the path of compassion, which makes us better human beings.”
Care For Our Common Home
The final challenge we all face is “care for our common home,” that we protect the natural environment from the damage we cause through pollution, exploitation, and devastation. He noted how “the mindset of exploitation” is destroying our common home and leading to “an eclipse of the respectful vision of our world.”
The Pope summarized his address with a plea: “May we cultivate open and fraternal friendships through frequent dialogue and luminous sincerity of purpose. May we never aim at artificial and conciliatory forms of syncretism, but firmly maintain our own identities, open to the courage of otherness and to fraternal encounter. Poverty is the greatest threat to the world today because it breeds violence and greed. Our days are marked by the plague of war, the inability to reach out to another. We must listen to the most vulnerable, those in need. The pandemic has demonstrated all the inequalities on our planet.”
The occurrence of the Congress at this particular time is a salient one, as increasing tensions between East and West, disruptions to supply chains, and the imposition of energy, food and other shortages all threaten the entire global population. There was criticism for just about everyone within the Pope’s comments, while pleading for solidarity. It is an unfortunate measure of today’s world that figures such as the Pope have to give speeches such as this in the hope of reaching the politicians and world leaders who really should be listening.
El-Tayyeb, for his part, representing the Islamic world, stated “We are talking together about strengthening social ties between religions and respect between people.”
It is not the only time the Vatican has addressed global institutions. In June this year, the Holy See addressed the World Trade Organisation again seeking to promote solidarity and multilateral dialogue, coming at a time of intense US trade pressure on other countries. It could be construed that the Vatican is a supporter of free trade and a rules-based global trade society, which has been somewhat lacking in recent months.
One hopes the messages given will permeate through the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s summit, which Tokayev is attending, as well as the upcoming UN General Assembly.