Starting from the day of his installation as the Bishop of Rome, His Holiness Pope Francis has been a frequent flier to many parts of the world, amongst other things. His enthusiasm for the good of people has given him the energy to pursue his aspirations for a better world. For this reason, since the day he assumed the papacy, he has visited Brazil, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, South Korea, Turkey, Mexico, Tunisia and Armenia to name a few.
He is yet to visit Philippines on January 15 to 19, 2015, to bring messages of “mercy and tolerance” to Asia. He will gather Buddhist, Muslim and Christian leaders and will hopefully deliver a common statement on love, brotherhood and mercy.
Asia exhibits a high level of religious diversity, with the world’s major religions represented by vast numbers of people in the area. Yet -with the exception of some countries, the Eastern Asia region has long been the victim of non-democratic regimes that have caused only misery and anguish. The region, mostly influenced by the economically empowered China, a single-party state led by a communist party that tolerates no opposition, lives on the verge of collapse in terms of spiritual life.
Either long-time traditions of military-backed regimes like that of Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand, or the communist based systems of China, North Korea, Laos and Vietnam, have both been failures in terms of communities and led people to poverty – maybe not physical poverty in some countries – but surely a spiritual poverty, stripping them of their self-esteem and basic human rights.
People’s faces become dull, their existences monotonous, as they are living one day after another only for survival, without any interest in a better world where love, compassion, happiness and peace prevails. Their lives lack the elegance, beauty and quality that the human nature seeks.
Such regimes do not grant their citizens the right to unrestricted information; people enjoy no freedom of thought. The elite that governs them do not give their lives any worth and find it easy to impose the most inhumane practices on them, even capital punishment whenever they find it necessary. The majority of people have so little idea of the vast information on the Net, such that many do not even know their own basic rights.
It is almost as if the fictitious party of George Orwell’s 1984 shouts its slogans: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength”. In Orwell’s words, “Progress in our world will be progress toward more pain”. Rightfully so, people in that fictional world took no joy in life, nor feel any hope for future.
At this point, the Pope’s visit to the Philippines and his meeting with leaders of various religions of the region are quite crucial. However, if the Pope and other religious leaders release statements of love, mercy and tolerance as always and the Pope leaves the region finding this work sufficient, it would be a surprise if it would change anything for the Asian people. It would bring some hope maybe, but would solve nothing more.
Such gatherings in the name of ending wars, bringing about love and brotherhood take place quite often in our world but coming together and speaking rhetoric do not pay off as expected. If it were so, many of our world’s problems would have been untangled by now. It is only sincerity that can make a speech move beyond mere words and that affects people deep within, warms the hearts and in turn reforms entrenched systems and lifestyles.
Therefore, spiritual leaders of our world right now have a lot more to do than they recognize since the world is in need of a spiritual makeover. The faces we encounter in the streets should be smiling, happy faces. People should greet each other when they run across another person, even if they are not familiar. This should be done not as a rule, but by will.
People should be caring, loving and affectionate towards one another. For instance, The World Hug Day, a cultural event that was born in China, is an indicator of the exigency for eliminating hatred from our lives. Smiles should not be masks that hide unhappiness beneath them. That is how the world we live in should be.
The Dalai Lama states the importance of love in our lives as, “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness; the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.” Religion is the essence of life. Without religion, there is something missing in life. Religion gives people the love and spirituality they are in need of. All religions are based on love. If a religion has become far from love, this means it has distanced itself from its original source.
Hence, as a holy leader, Pope Francis can exceed the boundaries of tradition and do more than issue statements. As a matter of fact from his first day on, Pope Francis has surprisingly been a non-traditional style Pope, one that is forthright in doing the first of things. For instance, in his first prayer as Pope, he bowed and asked for the crowd for its blessing on him. Then he went on with many actions which people would not imagine his predecessors could have done. He is indeed a believer in the idea that social outreach to humanity, rather than doctrinal battles, are essential for the church.
Therefore, his visit to this troubled part of the world must get beyond a symbolic meaning. Pope Francis should assume more responsibility for the spiritually suffering, unhappy people and do the utmost of what is in his power. For a start, he should call individuals and non-governmental organisations to act. He should advise them to unite on common grounds so that they have the power they need. He should teach them the language of love, and tell them to use this language in society. His message should resonate in the region and not be forgotten.
Certainly this cannot be achieved in a visit of a few brief days, but it would be a spark to ignite the fire. The Pope should continue his interactions with the region and should be persistent in getting results.
He should bring a spirit of genuine hope to Asia and also to other parts of the world. The world is in expectation of more of him. – January 9, 2014.
Adnan Oktar's piece on the Malaysian Insider: