Pope Francis attends an audience with the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See for the traditional exchange of New Year greetings on January 9, 2017 in Vatican. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Alberto PIZZOLI
Pope Francis on Monday described jihadist attacks around the world as “homicidal madness” and urged religious leaders to reassert that “one can never kill in God’s name”.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics also called on government leaders to combat the poverty that, he said, could allow fundamentalism to flourish.
In a hard-hitting and wide-ranging speech to the Vatican diplomatic corps, the 80-year-old pontiff voiced sorrow that, at the start of 2017, religion was still being used as a pretext for “rejection, marginalisation and violence.”
He cited the “fundamentalist-inspired terrorism” that in 2016 claimed victims in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Egypt, France, Germany, Iraq, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey and the United States.
“These are vile acts that use children to kill, as in Nigeria, or target people at prayer, as in the Coptic Cathedral of Cairo, or travellers or workers, as in Brussels, or passers-by in the streets of cities like Nice and Berlin, or simply people celebrating the arrival of the new year, as in Istanbul,” Francis said.
“We are dealing with a homicidal madness which misuses God’s name in order to disseminate death, in a play for domination and power.
“Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”
– Poverty ‘fertile terrain’ –
More controversially, Francis went on to suggest a link between poverty and acts of terror.
“Fundamentalist terrorism is the fruit of a profound spiritual poverty, and often is linked to significant social poverty,” he said.
“It can only be fully defeated with the joint contribution of religious and political leaders.”
While religious leaders had to ensure that believers “do not separate fear of God from love of neighbour” politicians had to deliver religious freedom and societies capable of incorporating it within their model of citizenship, he argued.
“Government leaders are also responsible for ensuring that conditions do not exist that can serve as fertile terrain for the spread of forms of fundamentalism. This calls for suitable social policies aimed at combating poverty…”
The Argentinian pontiff’s comments will have come as no surprise given his determination to make poverty the defining theme of his papacy.
But they are likely to be disputed by those who argue that emphasising the potential role of disadvantage and discrimination in fostering jihadism risks absolving the perpetrators of atrocities of responsibility for their actions.
Francis also touched on several other themes dear to his heart, including the plight of migrants seeking better lives in wealthier countries.
– Korea nuclear warning –
While reiterating past calls for a “common commitment” to offering a dignified welcome to allow migrants, displaced persons and refugees, his New Year message was tempered by a rarer recognition of the difficulties involved.
Integration had to be done in a way that ensured host societies did not sense their security, cultural identity and political-social stability were not threatened, he said.
Immigrants too had to remember their “duty to respect the laws, culture and traditions” of their new homes.
On other issues Francis:
— Said “particularly disturbing” developments on the Korean peninsula risk sparking a new nuclear arms race
— Urged Israel and the Palestinians to resume dialogue, telling them: “No conflict can become a habit impossible to break.”
— Called for intensified efforts to foster peace in Libya, South Sudan/Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo
— Urged efforts to promote peaceful co-existence in Myanmar and international efforts to aid those in “grave and pressing need” – an apparent reference to the country’s persecuted Rohingya Muslims.
— Described Europe as being at a “decisive moment” in its history, one requiring an update of the “idea of Europe” based on a new humanism.