“The God we are trying to serve is a God of peace. His holy Name should never be used to justify hatred and violence”. This is Pope Francis’ reflection during the ecumenical and inter-religious meeting at the Apostolic Nunciature, the second stop on his apostolic journey to Kenya which opened yesterday his visit to Africa. I know that memories about the barbarous Westgate Mall, Garissa University College and Mandera attacks are still vivid. Too often young people are transformed into extremists in the name of religion to sow discord, to sow fear and to tear the very fabric of our society apart. How important it is for us to be acknowledged as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite the others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect”.
To the heads of the different Christian confessions (Anglican, evangelical, Methodist, Pentecostal, African Inland Church, etc.) and other major religions in Kenya (traditional-animist and Muslim), the Pope said: “Our relationship is challenging; it raises questions. Yet, the ecumenical and inter-religious dialog is not a luxury. It is not an extra nor optional, but essential, and something our world, wounded by conflicts and divisions, is more and more in need of”. By promoting respect for human dignity and human rights, he added, “religions play an essential role in forming consciences, in inspiring young people with deep spiritual values towards the respective traditions and in preparing good citizens, capable of instilling honesty, integrity, and a vision of the world that will strengthen human beings in the face of power and material interests”.
At the end of the meeting with the representatives of other faiths, the Holy Father held his first mass in Africa on the Campus of the University of Nairobi. “We are witnessing the advance of new deserts, created by a culture of selfishness and indifference towards the others – he stressed in the homily -. The health of any society always depends on the health of the families; faith in the Word of God calls us to support the families in the mission they have inside a society, welcome children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of every man and woman because we are all brothers and sisters in one human family”.
Bergoglio has invited young people to “resist practices that foster arrogance in people, injure or scorn women, do not care for the elderly and threaten the lives of the innocent yet unborn”. Then, he made an appeal to those present “may the great values of the African tradition, the wisdom and the truth of the Word of God and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in your commitment to form a society that will be increasingly more fair, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. Be always concerned with the needs of the poor; discard whatever leads to injury and discrimination because these things – as we all know – do not belong to God”.