VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked Wednesday's anniversary of the Second Vatican Council's declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions by saying the world looks to religious believers for their ability to pray.
“Prayer is our treasure, to which we draw in accordance with our respective traditions, to ask for the gifts for which humanity yearns,” he said at his Oct. 28 general audience in St. Peter's Square.
The world looks to believers for answers in many areas, the Pope said, such as peace, hope, environmental crisis, violence committed in the name of religion and crises in the family and the economy.
“We believers have received these problems, but we have one great resource: prayer. And we believers pray. We must pray!”
Pope Francis' remarks came on the 50th anniversary of the release of Nostra Aetate, and his general audience was focused on interreligious dialogue. Other speakers included Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Pope extended a special welcome to those individuals and groups present in St. Peter's Square representing other religions.
He cited the the Second Vatican Council as an “extraordinary time of reflection, dialogue and prayer for renewing the Catholic Church's gaze upon itself and on the world.”
It was “a reading of the signs of the times, in view of an update oriented by due loyalty: loyalty to the tradition of the Church, loyalty to Church tradition and loyalty to the history of men and women in our times.”
Pope Francis recalled the various interreligious initiatives and events that have sprung up in the years following Nostra Aetate's release.
He noted in particular the interreligious encounter in Assisi, Italy, in 1986, the fruit of a meeting between St. John Paul II and a group of young Muslims in Casablanca a year earlier.
“The flame, ignited in Assisi, has spread around the world and is a permanent sign of hope,” he said.
Pope Francis made particular mention of the transformation in the relationship between Christians and Jews that has come about over the last 50 years. “Indifference and opposition have turned into collaboration and goodwill: From enemies and strangers, we have become friends and brothers.”
Nostra Aetate led the way in saying “Yes” to rediscovering “Christianity's Jewish roots” and “No” to “every form of anti-Semitism,” while condemning “every insult, discrimination and persecution which comes with it.”
The Pope noted that Nostra Aetate promoted renewed relations not only with the Jewish people, but also with persons of other religions, especially Muslims.
He cited passages from the document that acknowledge the points of commonality between Christianity and Islam: reference to the paternity of Abraham, the veneration of Jesus as prophet and esteem for Mary, as well as such practices as almsgiving and fasting.
The aim and condition of interreligious dialogue is “mutual respect,” Pope Francis said: “respect for the right to life of others, to physical integrity, to fundamental freedom, namely, freedom of conscience, of thought, of expression and of religion.”
Pope Francis spoke of the “violence and terrorism” that has led to religion becoming the object of suspicion and condemnation.
While there is always the risks of fundamentalism or extremism in any religion, he said, we must nonetheless “look at the positive values which they live and propose and which are sources of hope.”
The Pope reflected on the various areas of collaboration possible between persons of different religions: serving the poor, the elderly and migrants and caring for creation, etc.
“All believers of every religion, together we can praise the Creator for having given us the garden of the world to cultivate and protect as a common good,” he said, and also work together to “combat poverty and ensure secure conditions of a dignified life for every man and woman.”
The Pope went on to remind those present that the upcoming Year of Mercy, beginning in December, will offer an opportunity for those works of charity.
“But the mercy to which we are all called embraces all of creation,” he said. “God has entrusted (creation) to us because we are stewards, not exploiters or, worse still, destroyers.”
Pope Francis concluded the audience with an appeal for victims of the earthquake that struck Pakistan and Afghanistan on Monday.
The Guardian reports that more than 370 people have been killed and thousands injured in the 7.5-magnitude quake, which also affected the Kashmir region. Scores of homes have also been destroyed, causing concern with the approaching winter months.
“We pray for the departed and their families, for all the wounded and without shelter, imploring from God relief in suffering and courage in the adversity. May our concrete solidarity not be lacking for our brothers and sisters.”