Religion, Belief and conflict:
the protection of members of
religious and belief groups
in conflict and religious actors in
New York, 19 March 2021
The Holy See thanks the United Kingdom for hosting this important Arria-Formula Meeting. The need to protect those who are persecuted, detained or killed for their religious belief allows us to consider the gravity of these heinous acts and the dangerous ideologies that drive those who commit them, as well as the extraordinary impactful role that believers, faith leaders and religious and communities play in advancing peace.
Returning from his recent Apostolic Journey to Iraq, Pope Francis told journalists that reading Nadia Murad’s book, “The Last Girl” was one of the reasons he was inspired to visit Iraq. Indeed, in Iraq, Pope Francis made specific mention of “the Yazidi community, which has mourned the deaths of many men and witnessed thousands of women, girls and children kidnapped, sold as slaves, subjected to physical violence and forced conversions”. In addition, he underscored that “when terrorism invaded the north of [Iraq], it wantonly destroyed part of its magnificent religious heritage, including the churches, monasteries and places of worship of various communities.” Indeed, where there is conflict, members of religious communities are often left insecure, and their places of worship are specifically targeted. It has become a hallmark of ethnic cleansing and genocidal acts not only to attack a community’s religion, but to deface or even destroy its religious sites. Such heinous crimes, which seek to erase both the historical memory and living presence of these foundational communities, are to be condemned and must stop. Authorities must protect their citizens and the communities to which they belong, without distinction. The international community likewise plays an important role. Recalling his moving visits to Iraq’s destroyed churches, Pope Francis asked a pertinent if inconvenient question: “Who sells the weapons to the destroyers? They do not make weapons at home.”
There are some, meanwhile, who, instead of considering how religion brings people together, seek rather to lay the blame for violence and other social ills at their door, as if religion is the cause of division and even bloodshed. We must not confuse the violent extremist ideologies of those who claim to be religious but who act with “the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted,” with the countless men and women, who throughout the ages, have, in accordance with the tenets of their faith or religious beliefs sought to make a positive change within society. As Pope Francis said in Abraham’s birthplace, “Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion. We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings.”
Rather than give way to accepting or propagating negative portrayals of religion, we must uncover the many positive examples of healing, reconciliation and conflict resolution which people of faith have given. One such example is certainly “the young Muslim volunteers of Mosul, who helped to repair churches and monasteries, building fraternal friendships on the rubble of hatred, and those Christians and Muslims who today are restoring mosques and churches together”, along with the powerful examples of forgiveness such as that of Mrs. Doha Sabah Abdallah who gave her testimony in Qaraqosh whose son was killed by a mortar shell. Another is the platform of religious leaders in the Central African Republic, where leaders of different confessions have come together, united by their quest for reconciliation and lasting peace for their country and its population. There are many other examples, from Colombia to South Sudan, and more recently in Myanmar, where people of faith and conviction, have shown that there is another way, one that does not involve recourse to “the instruments of death” but purposefully chooses to broker peace through dialogue.
It is appropriate for the international community, and particularly those responsible for peace and security, such as the United Nations Security Council, to listen to these authentic religious actors and to learn from their very real, lived experience on the ground, and to build upon it. As critical stakeholders, religious actors should have a meaningful seat at the table, participating in the many meetings and programs currently being convened and promoted by the international community. Their experiences are an essential contribution at the legislative, security and administrative level, both nationally and internationally.
This is the opportunity before us: to engage and support religious actors – be they religious leaders, faith-based organizations or individuals driven by their faith to do good in and for their communities – and to help advance peace and human fraternity, allowing them to lead us by example. In an increasingly interconnected world, it is in the best interest of the international community to recognize religious actors as a valuable resource and to promote the invaluable contacts that religious groups and faith-based organizations have, especially in less connected places. At the same time, leaders cannot turn a blind eye to suffering that believers and faith communities currently endure. This includes urgent and necessary efforts, at both national and international levels, to ensure in word and deed the full respect for the universally recognized freedom of religion or belief.
Since today’s meeting is examining, among other topics, the situation in the Middle East, it seems appropriate to recall the words the Pope addressed to the diplomatic corps, just last month, about the importance of ensuring “ a pluralistic, tolerant and diversified Middle East in which the Christian community can make its proper contribution and not be reduced to a minority in need of protection.” As the Security Council has been told before, the desire of so many Christians is only to help their countries in the Middle East, to rebuild and construct their common future rather than to leave it behind. Such an opportunity should not be taken away from any citizen.
In our efforts to achieve a safer, more just and secure world, it is of crucial importance to recognize, appreciate and catalyze the positive contribution of religion and members of religious communities to peace and development in our societies today.
 Cf. Pope Francis, In-Flight Press Conference from Baghdad, 8 March 2021
 Pope Francis, Interreligious Meeting, Plain of Ur, Iraq, 6 March 2021
 Pope Francis, ibid.,
 Pope Francis, In-Flight Press Conference from Baghdad, 8 March 2021
 Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahamad al-Tayyib, “A Document on Human Fraternity and Living Together”, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019.
 Pope Francis, Interreligious Meeting, Plain of Ur, Iraq, 6 March 2021.
 Pope Francis, ibid.,
 Pope Francis, Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 8 February 2021.