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Pope Francis condemns Quran burning in interview with UAE newspaper

Pope Francis at the general audience in St. Peter’s Square on June 28, 2023. / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rome Newsroom, Jul 3, 2023 / 04:35 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has spoken to Al-Ittihad in his first interview granted to an Arabic news outlet, according to the United Arab Emirates newspaper.

In the July 3 interview, the pope praised UAE authorities and spoke about interfaith cooperation, peace building, and his 2019 Document on Human Fraternity.

Francis also commented on a protester’s burning of a Quran in Sweden on June 28. The Muslim holy book was burned by an Iraqi-born refugee outside a mosque in Stockholm. The incident has sparked outrage among Muslims around the world and led to a raid on the Swedish embassy in Iraq by Shia Muslim protestors.

After other recent permit requests were denied due to plans to burn copies of the Quran, the Swedish courts ruled that the protests should be allowed on the basis of freedom of expression, the BBC reported.

“I have been outraged and disgusted at such deeds,” Pope Francis said in response to a question about last week’s incident. “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 papal interview was published in Arabic by Al-Ittihad with an English transcript provided to journalists.

In the interview, Pope Francis said “the future of interfaith cooperation is based on the principle of reciprocity, respect for the other and the truth.”

He said the message of every religion should be not only to call out evil but also to promote peace: “Our task, without giving in to conciliatory measures, is to pray for one another, asking God for the blessing of peace, and to meet, dialogue, and consolidate harmony in a spirit of cooperation and friendship.”

“Our task is to transform the religious sense into cooperation, fraternity, tangible acts of good,” he added.

The pope said fraternity and caring for others “must be directed to everyone without distinction.”

“If I only do good to those who think or believe like me, my benevolence is hypocrisy,” he said, “because good knows no discrimination nor exclusion.”

Francis called his Document on Human Fraternity, which he signed in 2019 in Abu Dhabi with the Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, an important text “for the peaceful coexistence of all human beings.”

“I would like to say that the document is a light that guides all men and women of goodwill on the path of coexistence and encounter. It is a roadmap for anyone who courageously chooses to be a peacemaker in our world torn apart by war, violence, hate, and terror,” he said.

“Human fraternity,” he continued, “is the antidote the world needs to heal itself from the poison of these wounds.”

The pope also addressed young people and the onslaught of negativity, prejudice, and fake news they are faced with today.

He said youth need to know how to use the tools of “freedom, discernment, and responsibility.”

“Freedom is what distinguishes man,” Francis said. “God created us free even to reject him. Today we can no longer force our youth not to think, to ask the question, to be skeptical, because the question is the way to the truth. And because freedom of conscience, freedom of belief, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression are essential to help them grow and learn.”

“We can no longer force the youth of today, who hold in their hands cellphones that allow them to access any information, into darkness, ignorance, hatred, and isolation,” he added.

Pope Francis also spoke about discernment, which he called a “gift from God” and “the ability to distinguish between the false and the true.”

Pope Francis praised Abu Dhabi’s Abrahamic Family House, which provides a common place for the three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — to worship.

The complex, which has a church, a synagogue, and a mosque, opened earlier this year.

“The Abrahamic Family House is a place for respecting diversity, which God willed, and not turning difference into contempt or a cause for conflict,” he said.

“It is a place of coexistence, tolerance, and faith. Each of us can live his faith with respect for the other’s faith and human freedom,” he added. “Only those who are not sure of their faith live in fear of meeting others and rush into confrontation. A true believer lives his faith without feeling threatened by others and without the need to threaten others.”

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