AWALI: Pope Francis warned on Friday the world is on the edge of a “delicate precipice” buffeted by “winds of war”, during a trip aimed at building dialogue between faiths.
The 85-year-old Argentine decried the “opposing blocs” of East and West, a veiled reference to the standoff over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His comments came during a speech to religious leaders at the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue in the Gulf state.
“We continue to find ourselves on the brink of a delicate precipice and we do not want to fall,” he told an audience including Bahrain’s king and Shaikh Ahmed al Tayeb, the grand imam of Cairo’s prestigious Al Azhar mosque.
Francis was to meet later with Tayeb.
In his speech, the pope said that “a few potentates are caught up in a resolute struggle for partisan interests, reviving obsolete rhetoric, redesigning spheres of influence and opposing blocs.”
“We appear to be witnessing a dramatic and childlike scenario: in the garden of humanity, instead of cultivating our surroundings, we are playing instead with fire, missiles and bombs.”
The pope’s visit comes with the Ukraine war in its ninth month, and as tensions grow on the Korean peninsula and in the Taiwan Strait.
Ahead of the speech, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who met Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in September, told journalists that there had been “a few small signs” of progress in negotiations with Moscow.
“All peace initiatives are good. What’s important is that we carry them out together and that they’re not exploited for other goals,” he said.
The pope, who is using a wheelchair and a walking stick due to chronic knee problems, was to later meet members of the Muslim Council of Elders.
His second visit to the Gulf comes three years after he and Al Tayeb signed a Muslim-Christian manifesto for peace in the United Arab Emirates.
Leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, Francis has placed inter-faith dialogue at the heart of his papacy, visiting other Muslim-majority countries including Egypt, Turkey and Iraq.
Al Tayeb, who met with the pope on previous Middle East visits, also called on Friday for dialogue between Islam’s two main branches to settle sectarian differences.
The major division in Islam is between Sunni and Shiite, and Tayeb’s call came as sectarian divisions in the Middle East have exacerbated regional conflicts including in Yemen and Syria.
“I… call on my brothers, Muslim scholars, across the world of every doctrine, sect and school of thought to hold an Islamic dialogue,” he said.
“Let us together chase away any talk of hate, provocation and excommunication and set aside ancient and modern conflict in all its forms.”
The pope began the first ever papal visit to Bahrain on Thursday by urging respect for human rights and better conditions for workers.
In the opening speech of his visit, at the Sakhir Royal Palace, he said it was vital that “fundamental human rights are not violated but promoted”. — AFP