In his final speech in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis spoke at length praising the good interreligious relations in the country, but also cautioned that religion must always be respected in civil society, and can never be used as a tool to justify violence.
“Society must always overcome the temptation to take advantage of
religious factors,” the Pope said Oct. 2.
Religions, he said, “must
never be instrumentalized, nor can they ever lend support to, or approve
of, conflicts and disagreements.”
To illustrate his point, the Pope referred to the traditional
artistic windows of Azerbaijan made solely out of wood and tinted glass,
with no glue or nails used in the process.
With te traditional means of crafting, the wood and the glass are
set together through “time-consuming and meticulous effort,” leading the
wood to support the glass, which in turn lets the light in, he
Using this method as a metaphor, he said it is “the task of every
civil society to support religion, which allows a light to shine
through, indispensable for living.”
In order for this to happen, “an effective and authentic freedom must
be guaranteed,” and artificial forms of “glue” that “bind people to
believe, imposing on them a determined belief system and depriving them
of the freedom to choose,” cannot be used.
The Pope also condemned the use of “external nails” such as
worldliness and the yearning for power and money. God, he said, “cannot
be used for personal interests and selfish ends; he cannot be used to
justify any form of fundamentalism, imperialism or colonialism.”
He then made a heartfelt appeal for “no more violence in the name of
God! May his most holy Name be adored, not profaned or bartered as a
commodity through forms of hatred and human opposition.”
Pope Francis traveled to Azerbaijan as the last stop of his three-day
trip there and to Georgia, both of which have a small minority of
Catholics. Azerbaijan marks the first time the Pope has ever traveled to
a majority Shi’ite nation.
The last encounter of the day was an ecumenical meeting that brought
together Allahshükür Hummat Pashazade, who as Sheikh and Grand Mufti of
the Caucasus is one of the most influential Muslim voices in the world,
as well as the local religious leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church
and those of the Jewish communities.
In his speech, Francis highlighted the good relations Catholics enjoy
with Muslims in the area, pointing to “the tangible help” that the
Islamic leader has offered to the Catholic community on several
He also pointed to the positive relationship between Catholics and
Orthodox in the area, as well as the friendship they enjoy with the
There is a desire within Azerbaijan to protect the religious heritage
of each and to pursue greater openness, he said, adding that “it is not
opposition but cooperation that helps to build better and more peaceful
The fraternity sought by the various religions in the area directly
opposes those who wish to focus on division or reawaken tensions that
come from opposition and differences, he said.
Opening oneself to others “does not lead to impoverishment but rather
enrichment, because it enables us to be more human,” he said, adding
that it helps all parties to act “with neither abstract idealism nor
with interventionism, not by harmful interference or forceful actions,
but rather out of respect for the dynamics of history, cultures and
Religions, he said, have the key task of accompanying people through
life, helping them to understand that “the center of each person is
outside of himself, that we are oriented toward the Most High and toward
the other who is our neighbor.”
Part of this task involves providing authentic answers to those who
often find themselves lost among “the swirling contradictions of our
Among these contradictions is a seemingly dominant attitude of
nihilism on the part of those who don't believe in anything “except
their own well-being, advantage and profit,” he said.
On the other hand, there is a growing presence of “rigid and
fundamentalist” attitudes from “those who, through violent words and
deeds, seek to impose extreme and radical attitudes which are furthest
from the living God.”
Contrary to these attitudes, religions are called to build and foster
“a culture of encounter and peace,” based on mutual understanding and
humility. True peace, achieved through prayer and dialogue, is a duty
for both Christians and other religious communities, he said.
To be open and hope for the good of others is not a type of
“accommodating facile syncretism, nor a diplomatic openness which says
yes to everything in order to avoid problems,” the Pope said.
Rather, it is “a path of dialogue with others and a path of prayer
for all,” allowing love to rise “where there is hatred, and forgiveness
where there is offence, of never growing weary of imploring and tracing
the ways of peace.”
“The blood of far too many people cries out to God from the earth,”
he said, stressing that in the current global context, “we are
challenged to give a response that can no longer be put off: to build
together a future of peace.”
“Now is not the time for violent or abrupt solutions, but rather an
urgent moment to engage in patient processes of reconciliation,” he
said, praying that amid the ongoing “night of conflict” overshadowing
the global community, religions would be a sign of peace amid “the
devastation of death.”
The Pope prayed that religions, particularly in the Caucasus region,
would be “active agents” in overcoming the tragedies and tensions of the
past and present.
“The treasures old and ever new of the wisdom, culture and religious
sensibility of the people of the Caucasus, are a tremendous resource for
the future of the region and especially for European culture,” he said,
and prayed that they would always be known and valued.