Faith-Justified Violence and Hatred Condemned by Muslim and Christian Leaders at Intl Peace Meeting

Participants in the International Peace Meeting held in Rome have called for renouncing violence against Christians in the Middle East and separating religion from politics.

Participants pointed out that the relationship between populations in the Middle East and North Africa must be based on common citizenship and not on religious affiliation.

Archbishop Ghaleb Bader of Algiers warned of the decrease in the number of Christians in the Middle East and North Africa after the Arab Spring, indicating that the struggles between various components of Islam show the fragility of coexistence in the region.

"Well-established coexistences in the minds and hearts for centuries have been questioned in recent times in the countries present in that region. The culture of violence replaced the culture of living together," said the archbishop during a speech organized by the Community of Sant'Egidio.

Archbishop Bader stressed the need to "separate religion from politics because politics dirty religion."

The archbishop added that "the relationship between populations within countries in North Africa and the Middle East must be based on common citizenship and not on religious affiliation."

For his part, Anwar Ibrahim, a member of the Malaysian Parliament and leader of the Islamic Opposition Party, said, "Muslims must denounce the atrocities committed against the Christian minorities and challenge those Muslims who fight the Christians."

Syrian Orthodox Archbishop Jean Kawak said Pope Francis could change the course of history through prayer for peace in Syria.

"Prayer can be a power throughout history. This is what happened through the vigil of prayer for Syria convened by Pope Francis in the beginning of September," the archbishop said.

He also reminded attendees of the kidnapping of Syrian bishops, Yohanna Ibrahim and Bolous Yazigi, abducted five months ago by armed rebels. Their fate and whereabouts are still unknown.

Armand Puig, director of the Faculty of Theology of Catalonia in Barcelona, said religions have various challenges and one of the most difficult challenges is the use of the name of God in killing others.

"The worst blasphemy that one can address to God is the one of making him the God of violence instead of recognizing him as the God of peace. The terrorist who kills, sometimes by giving his own life in the massacre, does not serve God's will, but an ideology of death which takes God as a justification for hatred and violence," the Catholic theologian added.