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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' interfaith prayer meeting for world peace, held two days before the Vatican is expected to renew its secret concordat with China, excluded prayers for Christians and Uyghur Muslims persecuted by the communist regime.
Tuesday's prayer service, led by the pontiff with leaders of other Christian denominations in Rome's Basilica of Saint Mary in Aracoeli, named and prayed for 26 countries in alphabetical order — beginning with Afghanistan and ending with Yemen.
There were specific prayers for persecuted Christians in Burkina Faso, dialogue in Belarus, reconciliation in Burundi, peace agreements in Columbia and South Sudan, and for the end to tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The intercessions conspicuously skipped the world's most populous nation — notorious for human rights violations and for its persecution of Christians, Uyghur Muslims and other religious sects — and moved on to pray for Iraq and an end to Indo-Pakistani strife.
Rahima Mahmut, head of the U.K. World Uyghur Congress, also told Church Militant she found it "particularly noticeable and profoundly disappointing that Pope Francis has consistently failed to say anything, even a prayer, for the Uyghurs who are facing genocide, or Christians in China facing the worst persecution since the Cultural Revolution."
"At an interfaith meeting for world peace, one would expect the pope to say something about some of the worst human rights violations in the world today taking place in China. His silence on these issues increasingly undermines his moral authority," she lamented.
Damian Thompson, associate editor of Britain's The Spectator, told Church Militant that "the Vatican's omission of China from the list of countries where Christians are persecuted is not only scandalous, it is sinister."
"What more evidence do we need that the Vatican under Pope Francis has essentially done a deal with the Devil, betraying faithful and suffering Catholics and other Christians into the hands of their totalitarian persecutors?" asked Thompson, presenter of the Holy Smoke religion podcast.
"We should pay no attention to claims that this evil concordat is the work of Cdl. [Pietro] Parolin — dreadfully compromised though he is — and that the pope has merely been misled on this. The responsibility for this wicked act lies squarely with the pope himself," Thompson stressed.
Rogers, a self-confessed admirer of Pope Francis, simultaneously extolled and blasted the pontiff's recent encyclical, labeling it "beautiful — and hypocritical."
"There is nothing in Pope Francis' new encyclical — Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers) — with which I disagree, except its hypocrisy," Rogers wrote, asking: "But core as those principles have been to Francis' papacy, why have they never been consistently applied to the Vatican's relationship with China?"
Francis' talks at the interfaith event, based on the passion narratives in the Gospels, have also given rise to accusations of the pontiff misinterpreting the texts to push a humanist agenda.
Catholics on social media have widely criticized the title of the interfaith event — "No One Is Saved Alone: Peace and Fraternity" — as smacking of relativism and universalism.
In comments to Church Militant, eminent New Testament scholar Steve Walton noted that "at best, Pope Francis' handling of the Gospel texts is unbalanced, for his focus is on the human side of what Christ achieves in his death."
Francis preached: "God does not come only to free us from our ever-present daily problems, but rather to liberate us from the real problem, which is the lack of love. This is the primary cause of our personal, social, international and environmental ills."
Professor Walton responded: "Pope Francis treats the human problem as 'lack of love,' whereas the New Testament consistently regards the human problem as alienation from God brought about by human sin."
Francis preached: "Jesus allowed himself to be crucified in order to teach us not to shift evil to others."
But Walton emphasized: "Jesus dies not only to teach us how to live, but to reconcile us to God by bearing our sins. A Christian perspective on 'peace' has to begin with Christ's work of 'making peace through his blood, shed on the Cross'" (Colossians 1:20).
Walton underscored: "Walls which divide people are overcome only through Christ, as Paul sees between Jew and Gentile in the ancient world (Ephesians 2:14)" and "Christian engagement with people of other faiths requires openness about the indispensable and pivotal place of the New Testament's understanding of the Cross in making peace between God and humanity."
Francis also misquoted a verse from Luke's gospel, taking out of context where Jesus tells his disciples: "[T]he one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. … They said, 'Lord, look, here are two swords.' He replied, 'It is enough'" (Luke 22:36b, 38).
The pontiff preached: "'Enough!' says Jesus (Luke 22:38), when his disciples produce two swords before the passion. 'Enough!' That is his unambiguous response to any form of violence."
"I'm not sure it's possible to deduce pacifism from that passage — 'enough' does not necessarily mean they are not to use the swords," Walton explained.
The ecumenical prayer meeting attended by Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I, and other Orthodox and Protestant representatives was followed by an interreligious ceremony in Michelangelo's Square on Rome's Capitoline Hill.
Reeling from accusations of syncretism, the Vatican organized the interfaith meeting — said to be in the "spirit of Assisi" — with representatives of different religious praying separately.
Jews gathered in the synagogue of Rome while Muslims, Buddhists and representatives of other Eastern religions prayed in separate rooms in the Capitoline Museums.