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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Religious leaders must courageously cooperate in supporting each other in opposing hatred and promoting peace, Pope Francis said.
"As religious leaders, I believe that, first of all, we must serve the truth and declare what is evil when it is evil, without fear or pretense, even and especially when it is committed by those who profess to follow the same creed as us," he said in a written message to those taking part in the G20 Interfaith Forum in Bologna, Italy, Sept. 12-14.
"We must also help each other, all together, to combat the religious illiteracy that permeates all cultures: It is a widespread ignorance that reduces the experience of belief to rudimentary dimensions of the human and seduces vulnerable souls into adhering to fundamentalist slogans," he said.
"It truly is no longer time for alliances of one against another, but for a common search for solutions to the problems we all face. Young people and history will judge us on this," the pope said in his message.
The G20 Interfaith Forum is an annual event inviting religious leaders and institutions together to discuss global issues with the aim of presenting faith-informed ideas and recommendations to global leaders and help shape the global policy and agenda for each G20 summit for international economic cooperation. The interfaith forum takes place each year in the same host country as the annual summit of the G20 heads of state and government, which will be held in Rome Oct. 30-31.
In his written message, which the Vatican released Sept. 11, Pope Francis praised the forum's purpose of bringing religious, political and cultural leaders together to dialogue and sharing ideas "to promote access to fundamental rights, above all religious freedom, and to cultivate the leaven of unity and reconciliation where war and hatred have sown death and lies."
Religious leaders are essential for promoting and preserving fraternity and charity on earth and helping each other in liberating the sacred space of creation "from the dark clouds of violence and fundamentalism," he said.
The rising temperature of religiously motivated hatred and violence represents a new kind of "climate change" threatening the religious environment, he said.
"We need only think of the outbreak of violence that exploits the sacred: In the last 40 years, there have been almost 3,000 attacks and around 5,000 killings in various places of worship, in those spaces, that is, that should be protected as oases of sacredness and fraternity," the pope said.
"It is all too easy for those who blaspheme God's holy name by persecuting their brothers and sisters to obtain funding. Again, the inflammatory preaching of those who, in the name of a false god, incite hatred, often spreads unchecked," he added.
In response, he said, all religious leaders "must serve the truth," call out evil, fight "religious illiteracy" and promote "equitable, solidarity-based and integral development that increases opportunities for schooling and education, because where poverty and ignorance reign unchecked, fundamentalist violence takes hold more easily."
People of faith cannot fight hatred with the violence of weapons, which only leads to "an endless spiral of retaliation and revenge," he said.
Leaders must not kill, he said. Instead, they must help each other and forgive each other, which takes courage, truth and giving aid freely without conditions.
The path to peace is found not in weapons, but in justice, he said, "and we religious leaders must be the first to support these processes, bearing witness that the capacity to fight evil does not lie in proclamations, but in prayer; not in revenge, but in concord; not in shortcuts dictated by the use of force, but in the patient and constructive force of solidarity."
The pope supported a proposal to establish a common memorial to people killed in places of prayer. "Let us preserve together the common memory of our brothers and sisters who have suffered violence, let us help each other with concrete words and gestures to oppose the hatred that seeks to divide the human family!"