The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world’s Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood.
The document pledges that al-Azhar and the Vatican will work together to fight extremism. Claiming to be in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice”, it warns against a “third world war being fought piecemeal”.
It says: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
In a statement released on 30th May, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said: ‘The need to reconstruct towns and villages [in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains] destroyed by Daesh (Isis) and rebuild trust in that region is pressing.’
Highlighting how the presence of Christians in Nineveh dates back almost 2,000 years, the Cardinal said: ‘We are united in prayer and support for the Christians and other minorities in that region as they seek to rebuild their lives.’
Reflecting on his meeting with Archbishop Warda, the Cardinal described his visit to Iraq four years ago just after invading Daesh militants forced entire communities in Nineveh and nearby Mosul to flee in fear of their lives: ‘Since my visit to Iraq in 2015, when Archbishop Warda hosted us and we visited numerous refugee camps across Erbil, the plight of persecuted Christians and other minorities in those ancient lands has been of particular concern.’
From a pre-2003 total of 1.5 million, Iraq’s Christian population has declined rapidly, raising fears for the community’s survival, amid declarations of a genocide by Daesh against minorities in the region.
Francis, who has clashed with Trump before on migration issues, discussed the situation at the U.S.-Mexican border with veteran Vatican reporter Valentina Alazraki, who is Mexican.
“I don’t know what’s happening with this new culture of defending territories by building walls. We already knew one, that (one) in Berlin, which brought so many headaches and so much suffering,” he said.
Trump, who met the pope at the Vatican in 2017, has said the wall is needed to address a crisis of drugs and crime flowing across the border into the United States and has clashed with the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and some judges on how to fund it.
Last year, Pope Francis criticized the Trump administration policy of separating children from parents who had illegally crossed the U.S.-Mexico border, a policy Trump later reversed after a widespread outcry.
Last month, Trump denied media reports that his administration was considering reinstating the policy.