By Charles Igwe
In his first-ever interview with an Arabic news outlet, Pope Francis spoke to Al-Ittihad, a United Arab Emirates newspaper. The interview, conducted on July 3, focused on interfaith cooperation, peace-building, and the pope’s 2019 Document on Human Fraternity, which emphasizes unity among different faiths.
During the interview, Pope Francis expressed his outrage and disgust at the recent incident in which a protester burned a Quran outside a mosque in Stockholm, Sweden. The act, carried out by an Iraqi-born refugee, sparked widespread anger among Muslims worldwide and led to protests at the Swedish embassy in Iraq by Shia Muslim demonstrators.
Although previous requests to burn copies of the Quran had been denied by Swedish authorities, the courts eventually allowed the protests on the grounds of freedom of expression.
In response to a question about the incident, Pope Francis stated, “I have been outraged and disgusted at such deeds. Any book considered sacred by its people must be respected out of respect for those who believe in it. The freedom of expression should never be used as an excuse to offend others. Allowing that is to be rejected and condemned.”
The interview, originally published in Arabic by Al-Ittihad, also provided an English transcript for journalists. Pope Francis emphasized that the future of interfaith cooperation relies on reciprocity, respect for others, and truth. He asserted that the message of every religion should not only denounce evil but also promote peace. The pope called for prayer, dialogue, and the cultivation of harmony in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.
Pope Francis emphasized the importance of transforming religious sentiment into tangible acts of goodwill and fraternity, stating that such care should be extended to everyone without discrimination. He criticized selective benevolence, noting that true goodness knows no bounds or exclusions.
Regarding his Document on Human Fraternity, signed in 2019 in Abu Dhabi with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, Pope Francis described it as a guiding light for peaceful coexistence among all human beings. He regarded the document as a roadmap for individuals who courageously choose to be peacemakers in a world plagued by war, violence, hatred, and terror. The pope highlighted human fraternity as the antidote necessary for healing the wounds afflicting society.
The interview with Pope Francis serves as a testament to his dedication to fostering interfaith harmony, promoting peace, and denouncing acts of disrespect or offense towards any sacred religious text.