For the good of all people, the care of the poor and the future of the earth, religions must cooperate in reminding modern men and women that God exists and has a plan for their lives and their behaviour, Pope Francis has said.
“The Catholic Church knows the importance of promoting friendship and respect among men and women of different religious traditions,” he said, repeating the entire phrase twice for emphasis today during a meeting with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration.
The Catholic Church, he said, “is equally aware of the responsibility that all have for this world, for creation – which we must love and protect – and we can do much good for those who are poor, weak and suffering, to favour justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.”
“But more than anything,” he said, “we must keep alive in the world the thirst for the Absolute. We must never allow a one-dimensional vision of the human person to prevail – a vision that reduces the person to what he produces and consumes.
“This is one of the most dangerous, insidious things of our age,” Pope Francis told his guests from other Christian churches and other religions.
Too much violence, he said, has resulted from “the attempt to eliminate God or the divine” from people’s personal and social lives.
To be open to the transcendent, to seek God, is part of being fully human, and continues to exist in the human heart, he said.
The Pope told the religious leaders that he and they have an obligation to be close to people who do not belong to a faith community, but who are “searching for the truth, goodness and beauty”. Such people, he said, “are our precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity in building peaceful coexistence among peoples and in safeguarding creation”.
Before meeting the entire group, the Pope held private meetings with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the “first among equals” of Orthodox bishops and a frequent visitor during Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy, and Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of ecumenical relations for the Russian Orthodox Church.
At the beginning of the audience with all of the religious leaders, Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the Pope, congratulating him on his election and emphasising the importance of the Catholic Church’s involvement in the search for Christian unity as a sign of the credibility of the Gospel message and a way of strengthening the good Christians can do in the world.
“We have an obligation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, cure the sick and, more in general, to care for those in need,” the Patriarch said, acknowledging how much Pope Francis did that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
He said Pope Francis’s choice of a simple papal style was a sign of his focus “on the essential, which fills with joy the hearts” of Catholics and non-Catholics alike, because it demonstrates the priority of “justice and mercy” in Christian teaching.
In his talk to the group, Pope Francis spoke explicitly about the Second Vatican Council for the first time in a public speech, and he quoted the council’s description of Muslims as people who “adore the one, merciful God”.
Pope Francis sat in a simple chair, not a throne, as he met the delegates in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace. Sitting closest to him on one side was Patriarch Bartholomew and on the other was Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome.