Calling himself one of the “humble heirs” of ancient schools of wisdom and quoting the Buddha, Pope Francis on Sunday urged all religions to live in harmony and shun ideological fundamentalism that foments violence.
Francis was speaking at an inter-religious meeting in the Mongolian capital Ulaanbaatar, sharing a theatre stage with a dozen other religious representatives – the type of gathering that Francis’ conservative critics have assailed in the past.
The primary purpose of the pope’s visit to Mongolia is to meet the country’s tiny Catholic community, at 1,450 members one of the world’s smallest. He is due to say a Mass for them later on Sunday.
Mongolia borders with China, and the pope has used his trip to send an apparent message to Beijing that governments have nothing to fear from the Catholic Church because it has no political agenda. China, which human rights groups say represses religious freedom, has difficult relations with the Vatican.
Since he started the trip, Francis has praised religious freedom in Mongolia, which was severely repressed while the country was in the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence – a fact mentioned by one of the Buddhist leaders who addressed him.
“Religions are called to offer the world this harmony, which technological progress alone cannot bestow,” Francis said after listening to addresses from leaders representing Mongolian Buddhists, Muslims, evangelicals, Jews, Orthodox, Mormons, Hindus, Shintos, Bahais and shamans.
“Brothers and sisters, today we are meeting together as the humble heirs of ancient schools of wisdom. In our encounter with one another, we want to share the great treasure we have received, for the sake of enriching a humanity so often led astray on its journey by the myopic pursuit of profit and material comfort,” he said.
Francis quoted from a writings of the Buddha that says “the wise man rejoices in giving”, noting it was similar to Jesus’ saying “It is more blessed to give than to receive”.