This week we celebrate the International Day of Human Fraternity. The instauration of this day by the UN took note of the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad al-Tayyib, on the 4th February 2019 in Abu Dhabi, which resulted in the signing of the document entitled ‘Human fraternity for world peace and living together’. The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres praised the document as a ‘model for interfaith harmony and human solidarity’ and as an inspiration ‘to renew our commitment to stand together as one human family’.
In an attempt to highlight the role of religious communities – in particular of Islam and Christianity, the document aims to serve as a guide for present and 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’. The document calls people of all faiths and none to adopt a ‘cultural dialogue’ as a path, ‘reciprocal understanding’ as a method and standard and ‘mutual cooperation’ as a code of conduct.
The first part of the document, delves into the three causes of what it calls ‘the crisis in the modern world’. These causes include a desensitise human conscience, the prevailing materialism and individualism and a ‘distance’ from religious values. It then goes into upholding statements which emphasise the role of religions in building world peace. Among those statements we find a conviction that the ‘authentic’ teachings of Islam and Christianity (and other religions) are rooted in the values of peace, of freedom of conscience and religion, of the pursue of justice and the rejection of violence.
In the final section, the document turns into reflecting about critical areas where there is need for promoting peace education and awareness, calling for a more enriched dialogue between the East and the West. Here also, the urgent need to protect the rights of women, children and the elderly is highlighted.
The document’s proposed paths, methods and codes of conduct are not alien to the experience we have as missionaries or indeed as citizens living in multicultural societies. Cross-cultural experience allows people to recognise in dialogue and mutual cooperation the only way to building prosperous and safe communities. Since the publication of the document four years ago, our communities have been affected by a global pandemic and a surge in violent conflicts, internationally and locally. The commemoration of the International Day of Human Fraternity is an occasion to make us reflect on how our faith practice help in growing the gift peace within ourselves, in our families, communities and in the world.