Dialogue is “the oxygen of peace”

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During the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday morning, November 9, Pope Francis reflected on his recent apostolic journey to Bahrain, indicating three key words that sum up his experience: dialogue, encounter and journey. The Holy Father also expressed his closeness to the Cypriot people after the death of His Beatitude Chrysostomos II and renewed his invitation to pray for martyred Ukraine. The following is a translation of the Holy Father’s words that he shared in Italian.

Dear brothers and sisters,
Good morning!

Before I start talking about what I have prepared, I would like to draw attention to these two children who came here. They didn’t ask permission. They didn’t say, “I’m scared.” They went straight up. That’s the way we should be with God: direct. They gave us an example of how we should behave with God, with the Lord: go for it! He is still waiting for us. It was good for me to see the confidence of these two children. He was an example for all of us. This is how we should always approach the Lord—freely. Thanks.

Three days ago, I returned from my trip to the Kingdom of Bahrain, which I really did not know. I didn’t really know what this realm looked like. I would like to thank all those who accompanied this visit with the support of their prayers, and to renew my gratitude to His Majesty the King, to the other Authorities, to the local Church and to the people, for their warm welcome. And I also want to thank those who organize these trips. For this trip to happen, it takes a hustle and bustle of people. The Secretariat of State works a lot to prepare the speeches, to prepare the logistics, everything, there is a lot of activity… then the translators… and then the Gendarmerie Corps, the Corps of Swiss Guards, who are formidable. It’s a colossal job! To all of you, to all of you, I would like to thank you publicly for all that you do to ensure that the Pope’s trips go well. Thanks.

It is natural to wonder why the Pope wanted to visit this small country with such a strong Islamic majority. There are so many Christian countries – why not go to one of them first? I would like to answer in three words: dialogue, encounter and journey.

Dialogue: the opportunity for the much-desired Journey was offered by the King’s invitation to a Forum on dialogue between East and West, a dialogue that seeks to discover the richness that other peoples, traditions and beliefs possess. Bahrain, an archipelago made up of many islands, made us understand that we should not live isolated, but by getting closer. In Bahrain, which is made up of islands, they got closer, they brushed against each other. The cause of peace demands it, and dialogue is “the oxygen of peace”. Don’t forget that. Dialogue is the oxygen of peace. Even for peace in our homes. If there is a war there between husband and wife, they can move forward in peace, in dialogue. In the family too, dialogue; dialogue, because peace is preserved through dialogue. Nearly 60 years ago, the Second Vatican Council, speaking of the construction of an edifice of peace, declared that “it certainly demands that [men and women] extend their thoughts and minds beyond the limits of their own nation, that they put aside national selfishness and the ambition to dominate other nations, and that they harbor a deep reverence for the whole of humanity, which already journeys so laboriously towards greater unity” (Gaudium and Spes, 82). I felt this need in Bahrain and hoped that religious and civil leaders around the world could look beyond their own borders, their own communities, to care for the whole. This is the only way to face certain universal problems, for example, the forgetfulness of God, the tragedy of hunger, the care of creation, peace. These things can all be thought of together. In this sense, the Dialogue Forum, entitled “East and West for Human Coexistence”, encouraged to choose the path of encounter and reject that of confrontation. How much we need! There is such a need to meet. I think of the madness of war—mad! — of which the martyred Ukraine is the victim, and of many other conflicts, which will never be resolved with the infantile logic of arms, but only with the sweet power of dialogue. But in addition to the tormenting Ukraine, think of the wars that have been going on for years, and think of Syria — more than 10 years! — think, for example, of Syria, think of the children of Yemen, think of Myanmar: everywhere! Right now, Ukraine is closer. What are wars for? They destroy, they destroy humanity, they destroy everything. Conflicts should not be resolved by war.

But there can be no dialogue without the second word – meet. We met in Bahrain. Several times, I have heard emerge the desire that encounters between Christians and Muslims increase, that they establish stronger relations, that this be taken more to heart. As is customary in the East, in Bahrain people place their hand over their heart when greeting someone. I did it too, to make room in myself for the person I was meeting. Because without this reception, the dialogue remains empty, apparent. It remains a question of ideas rather than reality. Among the many meetings, I remember the one with my dear brother, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar — my dear brother! — and the one with the young people of the school of the Sacred Heart, students who gave us a good lesson: Christians and Muslims studying together. Young people, boys and girls, children need to get to know each other so that the fraternal encounter can prevent ideological divisions. And now I would like to thank Sacred Heart School; I thank Sister Rosalyn who made this school move forward so well, and the young people who participated in their talks, in prayer, in dancing, in singing — I remember them well! Thanks a lot! But even the elderly offered testimony of brotherly wisdom. I remember meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders, an international organization established a few years ago that promotes good relations between Islamic communities under the banner of respect, moderation and peace, opposing fundamentalism and violence.

So we come to the third word: journey. The trip to Bahrain should not be considered an isolated episode. It is part of an approach initiated by Saint John Paul II during his trip to Morocco. Thus, the first visit of a Pope to Bahrain represents a new stage in the journey between Christian and Muslim believers – not to confuse things or water down faith, no – dialogue does not water down – but to create fraternal alliances in the name of Father Abraham, who was a pilgrim on earth under the merciful gaze of the one God of Heaven, the God of peace. This is why the motto of the trip was: “Peace on earth to men of good will”. And why do I say that the dialogue is not diluted? Because to dialogue, you have to have your own identity, you have to start from your own identity. If you don’t have an identity, you can’t dialogue because you don’t even understand who you are. For the dialogue to be good, it must always be rooted in its own identity, it must be aware of its own identity, and from there the dialogue can take place.

Dialogue, encounter and travel in Bahrain also took place among Christians. For example, the first meeting was ecumenical, a prayer for peace with the dear Patriarch and Brother Bartholomew, and with brothers and sisters of various confessions and rites. It took place in the cathedral dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia, whose structure resembles a tent, where, according to the Bible, God would meet Moses in the desert along the journey. The brothers and sisters in faith, whom I met in Bahrain, truly live “on the road”. They are mostly immigrant workers who, far from home, discover their roots in the People of God and their families within the great family of the Church. It is wonderful to see these migrants – from the Philippines, India and elsewhere – Christians coming together and supporting each other in faith. And they move forward with joy, in the certainty that God’s hope does not disappoint (cf. Rom 5:5). Meeting pastors, consecrated men and women, pastoral agents, and in the festive and moving Mass celebrated in the stadium with so many faithful who also came from other Gulf nations, I brought them the affection of all the Church. It was the trip.

And today I would like to convey to you their authentic, simple and beautiful joy. As we met and prayed together, we felt like one heart and one soul. Thinking of their journey, of their daily experience of dialogue, do we all feel called to broaden our horizons – please open hearts; not closed, hard hearts. Open your hearts because we are all brothers and sisters and so that this human brotherhood can move forward. Expand your horizons, be open, broaden your interests and devote yourself to getting to know others. If you dedicate yourself to knowing others, you will never be threatened. But if you are afraid of others, you yourself will be a threat to them. Each person is necessary for the path of brotherhood and peace to progress. I can give my hand, but if there is no hand on the other side, it is useless. May Our Lady help us on this journey! Thanks!

Special greetings

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims participating in today’s Audience, especially those from Denmark, Finland, Canada and the United States of America. Upon you all I invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Lord. God bless you!

Last Saturday, Sister Maria Carola Cecchin of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo was beatified in Meru, Kenya. She died in 1925 at the age of 48, after having witnessed to the Gospel of charity among the African people. May her example of a caring and wise woman support those who work to extend the Kingdom of God. A round of applause for the new Blessed!

My thoughts turn to the Cypriot people who are in national mourning following the death of His Beatitude Chrysostomos II. He was a forward-looking pastor, a man of dialogue and a lover of peace, who strove to foster reconciliation between the different communities of the country. I remember with gratitude and affection the fraternal encounters we shared in Cyprus during my visit last year. Let us pray for the eternal rest of his soul.

I renew my invitation to pray for the martyred Ukraine: ask the Lord for peace for this people so tried and who suffer so much cruelty, so much cruelty on the part of mercenaries who wage war.

Finally, as usual, my thoughts turn to young peopleat the sickat old people and to newly weds. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. With her, let us remember the churches in which your communities meet to celebrate the divine mysteries. May the bond with your Church arouse in each of you a surge of joy in journeying together in the service of the Gospel, in the offering of prayer and in the sharing of charity. I offer you all my blessing.

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