Rabbi David Rosen
Pope Francis and religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faiths came together at the Vatican on Dec. 2 to call for an end to slavery by 2020.
At a ceremony in which they signed a declaration to that effect, the pope joined the head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and representatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar Mosque, Ahmed Muhammad Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The leaders said it was a “human and moral imperative” to wipe out human trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, and organ trafficking. It also committed the signatories to do all they could to free the estimated 35 million people enslaved across the world.
“Modern slavery … fails to respect the fundamental conviction that all people are equal and have the same freedom and dignity,“ the joint statement said.
“We pledge ourselves here today to do all in our power, within our faith communities and beyond, to work together for the freedom of all those who are enslaved and trafficked so that their future may be restored.”
Religious leaders agree the Islamic State — also known as ISIL or ISIS — must be stopped. Their struggle is how best to do it.
“As mainstream religious leaders of different faiths get together, it strengthens the voice of moderation,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group.
A group of mainstream Muslim scholars sought to strip the Iraqi and Syrian militants of any legitimacy under the cover of Islam in an open letter in Arabic issued Sept. 24.
U.S. Christian leaders have also spoken out and say they hope to dissuade youth from joining the Islamic State ranks by developing an alternative world view that counters the group’s religious claims.
“To offer a different world view endorsed by religions, as well as governments, in the long term will go a long way to defeating its appeal to those who are looking to join them,” said Antonios S. Kireopoulos of the National Council of Churches. The council represents about 45 million Christians, from mainstream Protestants to “living peace” congregants.
Recent comments by Pope Francis about the conflict rocking the Middle East have left some religious leaders mixed about his intent.
In his first official meeting with a Jewish delegation, Pope Francis on Monday reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s condemnation of anti-Semitism and vowed to further deepen Catholic-Jewish relations.
“Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!” he told a delegation of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, the Vatican’s official partner for interfaith dialogue with the world’s Jews.
In his speech, Francis stated that the church condemns “hate, persecution, and all manifestations of antisemitism.”
Jews worldwide welcomed newly elected Pope Francis as a friend on Wednesday, and pointed in particular to his sympathetic and strong reaction to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in his native Argentina — the deadliest bombing in the country’s history.
As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis “has had a warm relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina, and enjoyed close friendships with many prominent rabbis,” said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “As far as I have heard and read in the few minutes since he was elected pope, he has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews,” said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. “It’s a good starting point.”