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Pope asks nations to dialogue at Mongolia faith gathering

Religions share a great responsibility to establish peace and harmony in the world, pope says
Pope Francis (C) attends an Ecumenical and interreligious meeting in Ulaanbaatar on September 3, 2023. Pope Francis will show support for interfaith dialogue during his final full day in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, a visit that has seen him seek to build bridges with China

Pope Francis (C) attends an Ecumenical and interreligious meeting in Ulaanbaatar on September 3, 2023. Pope Francis will show support for interfaith dialogue during his final full day in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, a visit that has seen him seek to build bridges with China. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP)

Published: September 03, 2023 06:22 AM GMT
Updated: September 04, 2023 04:43 AM GMT

Pope Francis lauded religion's power to resolve conflict and promote peace on Sept. 2, on his final full day in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar for a visit that has seen him seek to build bridges with neighboring China.

The inter-religious gathering united some 10 leaders and hundreds of others from major religions in Mongolia, which observers see as the 86-year-old pope’s tacit message to the nation's neighbors, in particular China, that spirituality is healthy for societies and not a threat.

The religious leaders meeting “together in one place already sends a message: it shows that the religious traditions, for all their distinctiveness and diversity, have impressive potential for the benefit of society as a whole.

The morning address took place in the intimate Hun Theatre, nestled in the low mountains surrounding the city and designed in the round shape of the nomadic "ger" dwelling.

Christian leaders, as well as representatives of Buddhism and Shamanism, Islam and Judaism, Hinduism, the Russian Orthodox Church, Mormonism, Baha'i and others, attended the program.

“If the leaders of nations were to choose the path of encounter and dialogue with others, it would be a decisive contribution to ending the conflicts continuing to afflict so many of the world's peoples,” Francis said.

Mongolia, which became a democracy in 1992 following long years of communist rule, allows religious freedom.

The Vatican has strained relations with landlocked Mongolia's neighbors — China and Russia.

The Vatican continues parleys to streamline its relations with China, which was once part of the larger Mongol empire. It has also unsuccessfully attempted to broker peace between warring Ukraine and Russia.   

Pope Francis said  it was “impressive” that Kharakorum, the ancient Mongolian capital, housed places of worship belonging to different creeds within its walls, “thus exemplifying a commendable harmony.”

He said the world harmony has “Asian accents” as it is a “special relationship born of the creative interplay of differing realities, without imposition or amalgamation, but with complete respect for their differences, in view of a serene life in common.”

“I ask myself: Who, more than believers, is called to work for harmony among all?” he told the religious leaders.

Narrowness, unilateral imposition, fundamentalism, and ideological constraint destroy fraternity. They fuel tensions and compromise peace. But harmony flourishes through kindness, the pope said.

He referred to India’s non-violent independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, who said religions are called to offer the world this harmony.

He said they were meeting “together as the humble heirs of ancient schools of wisdom. In our encounter with one another, we want to share the great treasure we have received, for the sake of enriching humanity.

Asia has much to offer and Mongolia, “which lies at the heart of this continent, possesses a great patrimony of wisdom that its various religions have helped to create and that I would like to urge all to explore and appreciate,” the pope said.

He then listed ten aspects, including a healthy relationship to tradition, respect for your elders care for the environment, a sense of frugality, respect for simplicity and a culture that pursues the good of individuals and of the community.

Leaders of religion share a great responsibility, “especially in this period of history, for we are called to testify to the teachings we profess by the way we act; we must not contradict them and thus become a cause of scandal,” he said.

“There can be no mixing, then, of religious beliefs and violence, of holiness and oppression, of religious traditions and sectarianism,” he stressed without mentioning any country.

However, the pope referred to Buddhist communities and said past sufferings strengthen religions to transform “senseless violence into wisdom of life, devastating evil into constructive goodness.”

In a world beset by conflict and discord, the joint effort of religions to “promote dialogue and the building of a better world will not be in vain. Let us cultivate hope,” he said.

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