Human fraternity and interfaith outreach

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Like many of you, I attended a 9/11 remembrance ceremony, one here on the island of Wildwood. I actually attended three such remembrances, which were touching and well attended. You would think after 18 years since the event that the number of people  attending would diminish. However, my experience was that the number of attendees seems to grow each year with many young people who were not even alive 18 years ago in attendance. It is a testimony to our desire as a nation never to forget and to pray for the continued healing of so many families touched by those tragic events.

Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar mosque and university, sign documents during an interreligious meeting at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Feb. 4, 2019. The document was on “human fraternity” and improving Christian-Muslim relations. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Pope Francis met on Sept. 11 with a committee of Muslim leaders and other Vatican officials involved in interfaith outreach to promote religious dialogue and world peace. They choose this day to meet and pray for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and all victims of terrorism. The committee was created by the United Arab Emirates, as a working committee dedicated to the implementation of the goals outlined in the Joint Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed in Abu Dhabi this past February by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb.

At the time that Pope Francis learned of the formulation of the Committee, he said he was “pleased to learn of the initiative,” calling it part of the “hidden sea of goodness that is growing,” making it possible to create a “world of fraternity and peace.” The Holy See Press Office released a statement regarding the meeting, saying that Sept. 11 was chosen “as a sign of the will to build life and fraternity where others sowed death and destruction.”

The members of the Committee representing the Holy See are Cardinal-designate Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and Msgr. Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, the pope’s personal secretary. Representing the University of Al-Azhar are its president, Prof. Dr. Mohamed Husin Abdelaziz Hassan, Mohmoud Abdel Salam, judge and former advisor to Grand Imam Al-Tayyib. Representing the United Arab Emirates are His Excellency Mohamed Khalifa Al Mubarak, chairman of Abu Dhabi Culture and Tourism; Yasser Saeed Abdulla Hareb Almuhairi, writer and journalist, and Sultan Faisal Al Khalifa Alremeithi, Secretary General of the Muslim Elders. This new committee is one of several initiatives taken by the UAE during what they have proclaimed to be the “Year of Tolerance.” Each member of the committee received a copy of the document by Pope Francis personally. His words expressed both gratitude and encouragement for these “artisans of fraternity.” He said that he hopes that they might be fundamental in initiating policies that not only represent “outstretched hands” but also “open hearts.”

The document on human fraternity, generally referred to as the Abu Dhabi declaration, invites “all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it many 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.” Abu Dhabi discusses the important role that religion plays in building a peaceful and free society and the challenges of an increasingly secular world. The document states that religious plurality is willed by God. “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which he created human beings,” the document states.

The committee began its work by appointing leaders and formulating the statutes which will govern the committee’s activity. They identified several concrete initiatives to initiate its activity, such as a proposal directed to the United Nations that a date between Feb. 3-5 being proclaimed as a “Day of Human Fraternity,” and another proposal to invite representatives of other world religions to participate on the committee. At the conclusion of the meeting, each member prayed according to their own tradition for the victims of terrorism around the world. The next meeting took place on Sept. 20 in New York.  

Cardinal-designate Ayuso said, “I think the Abu Dhabi declaration is a global appeal to the ‘civilization of love’ which contrasts with those who want a clash of civilizations. Prayer, dialogue, respect and solidarity are the only winning weapons against terrorism, fundamentalism and all kinds of war and violence.”

Father Joseph D. Wallace is director, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.