CNS PHOTO | L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO VIA CATHOLIC PRESS PHOTO
Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople March 20.
For the good of all people, the care of the poor and the future of the Earth, religions must cooperate in reminding modern men and women that God exists and has a plan for their lives and their behaviour, Pope Francis said.
"The Catholic Church knows the importance of promoting friendship and respect among men and women of different religious traditions," he said, repeating the entire phrase twice for emphasis.
The pope met March 20 with the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Jain delegations that had come to the Vatican for his inauguration.
The Catholic Church, he said, "is equally aware of the responsibility that all have for this world, for creation – which we must love and protect – and we can do much good for those who are poor, weak and suffering, to favour justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace."
"But more than anything," he said, "we must keep alive in the world the thirst for the Absolute. We must never allow a one-dimensional vision of the human person to prevail – a vision that reduces the person to what he produces and consumes."
"This is one of the most dangerous, insidious things of our age," Pope Francis told his guests.
Too much violence, he said, has resulted from "the attempt to eliminate God or the divine" from people's personal and social lives.
To be open to the transcendent, to seek God, is part of being fully human, and continues to exist in the human heart, he said.
The pope told the religious leaders that he and they have an obligation to be close to people who do not belong to a faith community, but who are "searching for the truth, goodness and beauty."
Such people, he said, "are our precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity in building peaceful coexistence among peoples and in safeguarding creation."
Pope Francis spoke explicitly about the Second Vatican Council for the first time in a public speech, and he quoted the council's description of Muslims as people who "adore the one, merciful God."
The pope sat in a simple chair, not a throne, as he met the delegates. Sitting closest to him on one side was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, "first among equals" of Orthodox bishops, and on the other was Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome.
He offered special greetings to members of the Jewish community "with whom we have a very special spiritual bond."
Greeting the Christian delegates, Pope Francis said he wanted to continue Pope Benedict's Year of Faith and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the council's opening, "promoting a kind of pilgrimage toward that which is essential for every Christian: a personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ."
Pope Francis said the heart of Vatican II's message was "precisely the desire to proclaim this perennially valid treasure of faith to the people of our time."
The pope said that with so many Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant communities present at his inauguration March 19, he felt even more strongly the call to work and pray for Christian unity.
The inauguration Mass offered a bit of a foretaste of how good it is for Christians to pray together, he said.