As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!
I consider it a great gift to be able to begin my Visit to Egypt here, and to address you in the context of this
International Peace Conference. I thank the Grand Imam for having planned and organized this Conference, and for
kindly inviting me to take part. I would like to offer you a few thoughts, drawing on the glorious history of this
land, which over the ages has appeared to the world as a land of civilizations and a land of covenants.
A land of civilizations – From ancient times, the culture that arose along the banks of the Nile was
synonymous with civilization. Egypt lifted the lamp of knowledge, giving birth to an inestimable cultural heritage,
made up of wisdom and ingenuity, mathematical and astronomical discoveries, and remarkable forms of
architecture and figurative art. The quest for knowledge and the value placed on education were the result of
conscious decisions on the part of the ancient inhabitants of this land, and were to bear much fruit for the future.
Similar decisions are needed for our own future, decisions of peace and for peace, for there will be no peace
without the proper education of coming generations. Nor can young people today be properly educated unless the
training they receive corresponds to the nature of man as an open and relational being.
Education indeed becomes wisdom for life if it is capable of “drawing out” of men and women the very
best of themselves, in contact with the One who transcends them and with the world around them, fostering a sense
of identity that is open and not self-enclosed. Wisdom seeks the other, overcoming temptations to rigidity and
closed-mindedness; it is open and in motion, at once humble and inquisitive; it is able to value the past and set it in
dialogue with the present, while employing a suitable hermeneutics. Wisdom prepares a future in which people do
not attempt to push their own agenda but rather to include others as an integral part of themselves. Wisdom
tirelessly seeks, even now, to identify opportunities for encounter and sharing; from the past, it learns that evil only
gives rise to more evil, and violence to more violence, in a spiral that ends by imprisoning everyone. Wisdom, in
rejecting the dishonesty and the abuse of power, is centred on human dignity, a dignity which is precious in God’s
eyes, and on an ethics worthy of man, one that is unafraid of others and fearlessly employs those means of
knowledge bestowed on us by the Creator.
Precisely in the field of dialogue, particularly interreligious dialogue, we are constantly called to walk
together, in the conviction that the future also depends on the encounter of religions and cultures. In this regard,
the work of the Mixed Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the
Committee of Al-Azhar for Dialogue offers us a concrete and encouraging example. Three basic areas, if properly
linked to one another, can assist in this dialogue: the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the
courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions.
The duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, because true dialogue cannot be built on
ambiguity or a willingness to sacrifice some good for the sake of pleasing others. The courage to accept
differences, because those who are different, either culturally or religiously, should not be seen or treated as
enemies, but rather welcomed as fellow-travellers, in the genuine conviction that the good of each resides in the
good of all. Sincerity of intentions, because dialogue, as an authentic expression of our humanity, is not a strategy
for achieving specific goals, but rather a path to truth, one that deserves to be undertaken patiently, in order to
transform competition into cooperation.
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An education in respectful openness and sincere dialogue with others, recognizing their rights and basic
freedoms, particularly religious freedom, represents the best way to build the future together, to be builders of
civility. For the only alternative to the civility of encounter is the incivility of conflict. To counter effectively the
barbarity of those who foment hatred and violence, we need to accompany young people, helping them on the path
to maturity and teaching them to respond to the incendiary logic of evil by patiently working for the growth of
goodness. In this way, young people, like well-planted trees, can be firmly rooted in the soil of history, and,
growing heavenward in one another’s company, can daily turn the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of
In facing this great cultural challenge, one that is both urgent and exciting, we, Christians, Muslims and all
believers, are called to offer our specific contribution: “We live under the sun of the one merciful God… Thus, in a
true sense, we can call one another brothers and sisters… since without God the life of man would be like the
heavens without the sun”. May the sun of a renewed fraternity in the name of God rise in this sun-drenched land,
to be the dawn of a civilization of peace and encounter. May Saint Francis of Assisi, who eight centuries ago came
to Egypt and met Sultan Malik al Kamil, intercede for this intention.
A land of covenants – In Egypt, not only did the sun of wisdom rise, but also the variegated light of the
religions shone in this land. Here, down the centuries, differences of religion constituted “a form of mutual
enrichment in the service of the one national community”. Different faiths met and a variety of cultures blended
without being confused, while acknowledging the importance of working together for the common good. Such
“covenants” are urgently needed today. Here I would take as a symbol the “Mount of the Covenant” which rises up
in this land. Sinai reminds us above all that authentic covenants on earth cannot ignore heaven, that human beings
cannot attempt to encounter one another in peace by eliminating God from the horizon, nor can they climb the
mountain to appropriate God for themselves (cf. Ex 19:12).
This is a timely reminder in the face of a dangerous paradox of the present moment. On the one hand,
religion tends to be relegated to the private sphere, as if it were not an essential dimension of the human person and
society. At the same time, the religious and political spheres are confused and not properly distinguished. Religion
risks being absorbed into the administration of temporal affairs and tempted by the allure of worldly powers that in
fact exploit it. Our world has seen the globalization of many useful technical instruments, but also a globalization
of indifference and negligence, and it moves at a frenetic pace that is difficult to sustain. As a result, there is
renewed interest in the great questions about the meaning of life. These are the questions that the religions bring to
the fore, reminding us of our origins and ultimate calling. We are not meant to spend all our energies on the
uncertain and shifting affairs of this world, but to journey towards the Absolute that is our goal. For all these
reasons, especially today, religion is not a problem but a part of the solution: against the temptation to settle into a
banal and uninspired life, where everything begins and ends here below, religion reminds us of the need to lift our
hearts to the Most High in order to learn how to build the city of man.
To return to the image of Mount Sinai, I would like to mention the commandments that were promulgated
there, even before they were sculpted on tablets of stone. At the centre of this “decalogue”, there resounds,
addressed to each individual and to people of all ages, the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13). God,
the lover of life, never ceases to love man, and so he exhorts us to reject the way of violence as the necessary
condition for every earthly “covenant”. Above all and especially in our day, the religions are called to respect this
imperative, since, for all our need of the Absolute, it is essential that we reject any “absolutizing” that would justify
violence. For violence is the negation of every authentic religious expression.
As religious leaders, we are called, therefore, to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is
based more on the “absolutizing” of selfishness than on authentic openness to the Absolute. We have an obligation
to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the
name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God
of peace, God salaam. Peace alone, therefore, is holy and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of
God, for it would profane his Name.
Together, in the land where heaven and earth meet, this land of covenants between peoples and believers,
let us say once more a firm and clear “No!” to every form of violence, vengeance and hatred carried out in the
name of religion or in the name of God. Together let us affirm the incompatibility of violence and faith, belief and
hatred. Together let us declare the sacredness of every human life against every form of violence, whether physical,
social, educational or psychological. Unless it is born of a sincere heart and authentic love towards the Merciful
God, faith is no more than a conventional or social construct that does not liberate man, but crushes him. Let us say
Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today
perhaps more than ever. Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism, our task is that of praying for one
another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting
harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship. For our part, as Christians, “we cannot truly pray to God the
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Father of all if we treat any people as other than brothers and sisters, for all are created in God’s image”.
Moreover, we know that, engaged in a constant battle against the evil that threatens a world which is no longer “a
place of genuine fraternity”, God assures all those who trust in his love that “the way of love lies open to men and
that the effort to establish universal brotherhood is not vain”. Rather, that effort is essential: it is of little or no
use to raise our voices and run about to find weapons for our protection: what is needed today are peacemakers, not
fomenters of conflict; firefighters and not arsonists; preachers of reconciliation and not instigators of destruction.
It is disconcerting to note that, as the concrete realities of people’s lives are increasingly ignored in favour
of obscure machinations, demagogic forms of populism are on the rise. These certainly do not help to consolidate
peace and stability: no incitement to violence will guarantee peace, and every unilateral action that does not
promote constructive and shared processes is in reality a gift to the proponents of radicalism and violence.
In order to prevent conflicts and build peace, it is essential that we spare no effort in eliminating situations
of poverty and exploitation where extremism more easily takes root, and in blocking the flow of money and
weapons destined to those who provoke violence. Even more radically, an end must be put to the proliferation of
arms; if they are produced and sold, sooner or later they will be used. Only by bringing into the light of day the
murky manoeuvrings that feed the cancer of war can its real causes be prevented. National leaders, institutions and
the media are obliged to undertake this urgent and grave task. So too are all of us who play a leading role in culture;
each in his or her own area, we are charged by God, by history and by the future to initiate processes of peace,
seeking to lay a solid basis for agreements between peoples and states. It is my hope that this noble and beloved
land of Egypt, with God’s help, may continue to respond to the calling it has received to be a land of civilization
and covenant, and thus to contribute to the development of processes of peace for its beloved people and for the
entire region of the Middle East.
As-salamu alaykum! Peace be with you!