(CNSNews.com) – Pope Francis said Sunday he does not like speaking about Islamic violence, telling reporters on a flight to Rome that violent people were found in all religions, including his own.
“There is always a small group of extremists in practically every religion,” he said. “We have them too.”
The pontiff also said that putting the “god” of money at the center of the world’s economy – rather than human beings – was the “first form of terrorism.”
On a flight home from a five-day visit to Poland for World Youth Day celebrations, Pope Francis was asked about the murder of Father Jacques Hamel, the 86-year-old French priest killed by two men linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS/ISIL) as he celebrated morning Mass in a Catholic church in Normandy on Tuesday.
“You told us that all religions seek peace, yet he was killed in the name of Islam,” a reporter said, referring to comments the pope had made en route to Poland on Wednesday. “Why do you never mention the word ‘Islam’ when you speak about terrorism?”
“I don’t like speaking of Islamic violence because I come across violence every day when I leaf through the newspapers here in Italy,” Pope Francis replied, according to a translation of his remarks published by La Stampa.
“You read about someone who’s killed his girlfriend or his mother-in-law, and these are violent baptized Catholics.”
“If I talk about ‘Islamic’ violence should I speak about ‘Catholic’ violence too? Not all Muslims are violent,” he said.
“There is always a small group of extremists in practically every religion. We have them too. (The Catholic News Agency translated the pope’s word as fundamentalists: “There is always a small group of fundamentalists. Fundamentalists. We have them.”)
“And when extremism goes as far as to kill – you can kill with your tongue, the apostle James says so, not me, and you can kill with a sword – it is not right to identify Islam with violence,” he added.
Pope Francis recalled a conversation with the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the institution in Cairo regarded as the top seat of learning in Sunni Islam.
“I had a long conversation with the grand imam of Al-Azhar,” he said. “They seek peace and understanding.”
(Pope Francis met the imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, in the Vatican last May. Three years earlier, Al-Azhar urged the pope to declare Islam to be a peaceful religion, prompting some Coptic Christian advocates to suggest al-Tayyeb start by denouncing violence against Egypt’s Christian minority.)
Continuing with his response to the reporter’s question, the pope suggested that some Muslims who join terrorist groups do so because of the godless way of life in Europe.
“I wonder how many young people have we as Europeans robbed of their ideals so that they turn to drugs, alcohol or they go there [to Mideast warzones] and enroll.”
ISIS was “just a small group,” he said. “You cannot, and it is not true and not right to call Islam a terrorist faith.”
Asked what concrete initiatives could be used to counter terrorism, Pope Francis replied, “Terrorism is everywhere. Just think of the tribal terrorism that exists in some African countries. Terrorism grows when there is no other option.”
“Now I’m going to say something that may be risky,” he continued. “When you make the money god the center of the world economy instead of man and woman, then this is a first form of terrorism. You have erased the magnificence of creation and placed money at the center. This is a first basic form of terrorism. Let’s just think about that.”
‘Touch the hearts of terrorists’
On Saturday, during a visit to a church in Krakow that is home to relics of two Polish Franciscans killed in 1991 by the Maoist Shining Path terror group in Peru, the pope in a prayer remembered victims of terrorism.
He asked God to “keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of Your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.”
The pope prayed for those killed in “brutal terrorist attacks” and for those “wounded in these acts of inhuman violence: children and young people, old people and innocent people accidentally involved in evil.”
Pope Francis also prayed for the terrorists themselves.
“Touch the hearts of terrorists so that they may recognize the evil of their actions and may turn to the way of peace and goodness, of respect for the life and for the dignity of every human being, regardless of religion, origin, wealth or poverty.”
After last week’s terror attack in northern France, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said “the Holy See was “particularly shocked because this horrible violence took place in a church, in which God’s love is announced, with the barbarous killing of a priest and the involvement of the faithful.”