(This article originally appeared in the TAU-USA Summer 2022 Issue #106)

“Human Fraternity”

Can We Dare to Walk Its Path?

by Marie Bianca, OFS

What do you know about our brothers and sisters of the Jewish tradition? What of our Muslim brothers and sisters? Or any other faith tradition?

My work on the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest and the Interfaith/Ecumenical Committee has challenged me to SEE – to see deeply beyond borders, beyond faith traditions, and to learn to celebrate the differences that mark our uniqueness. I have found that when we examine the faith of others, we embark on a journey that reveals just how much we have in common. To embark on this path, however, takes courage.

As you may know, Our Holy Father has taken courageous steps in building unity and peace throughout the world. His travels have taken him to war-torn nations, to countries devastated by natural disasters. He has walked the streets of Argentina, bringing comfort and love, taking food and aid to those who struggle to get by, those in need of shelter, those whose lives are fraught with danger and violence. He has met with world leaders seeking to arbitrate peace and dialogue between fractured communities. He has also shown us an example of how to see beyond faith traditions – to examine where we find common bonds with our brothers and sisters of other faiths.

On February 3-5, 2019, Pope Francis met with Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb in Abu Dhabi. Together they crafted a document that poignantly revealed just how much we work for the same goals. This document “invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters.”[1] This document prescribes a way forward for all to follow: “a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” It concludes by stating: “this declaration may constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all believers, indeed among believers and non-believers, and among all peoples of good will.” A very powerful document.

It took courage, dialogue, negotiating, prayer, faith, and wisdom to make this apostolic journey to the United Arab Emirates, to meet with the Grand Imam, and to create this message of unity of Spirit. Yet we need only to look at the results of this meeting to see how the Holy Spirit was at work. This meeting, and the resulting document, inspired the United Nations in 2021 to establish February 4 as the International Day of Human Fraternity[2], . It also inspired Pope Francis in the writing of Fratelli Tutti[3], where he speaks of that journey and his meeting with Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, stating it “…was no mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment.”

Time and time again we see St. Francis taking steps of courage. It took courage to stand in front of the bishop and abandon a way of life that no longer had meaning for him. It took courage to choose to lead a life of service and simplicity. It took courage to follow ever more closely the way of the Gospel.

There are many other stories of courage to inspire us. In August, at the OFS-USA Quinquennial Congress, we will be screening a documentary film called Stranger/Sister. It is the chronical of two brave women, one Muslim and one Jewish, wanting to establish bridges of peace. They realized that by planting the seeds of unity and peace, maybe they could be a small piece of changing the hatred in the world. They never dreamed it would start an international movement of small fraternities sharing their lives and their dreams. In these gatherings, peace organically blossoms and emanates. They pray together, they break bread together, laugh, and share the pain of their lives. Sound familiar?

Sisters and brothers, we too must be courageous. We too, can taste the experience of building bridges of peace. We need to seek out opportunities to engage with those of other faith traditions, and as we do so, let us remember those three vital components of unity prescribed in the Document on Human Fraternity: “a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”

When we look at other faiths, what is it we share? We share a belief in love, courage, hope, forgiveness, the dignity of every human being, and so much more. My friends, we must take the courageous walk with our brothers and sisters, and risk loving deeply those who may have offended us. Let’s not back away. We are called to die to our own self-centeredness, to self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes. Let us put aside that part of ourselves that seeks to avoid courageous steps of action in community and in fraternity. Let’s reach out to those of other faiths and celebrate with joy our common bonds of faith, hope, forgiveness, compassion, and love. Go in peace, chew on the message, continue the discussions and pray.

Those wishing to explore this topic further might do an internet search on the following, all from the Vatican, or Vatican News:

  • Document on Human Fraternity
  • Cardinal Ravasi: Dialogue is the Root and Heritage of all Faiths
  • Grand Imam pledges support for Human Fraternity Efforts
  • Al-Duwaini: Human Fraternity Values Need to be “Rediscovered”
  • Expo Dubai Celebration of Human Fraternity
  • Pope Francis: Embrace Human Fraternity to Stop Endless Destruction

[1] Document on Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019, His Holiness Pope Francis / The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb

[2] As stated by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, on different occasions.

[3] “In this case, I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi …(this) present Encyclical takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document that we both signed.”