Pope Francis said, “Religions cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures.” (Francis, Speech Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4) And this urgency has been experienced as the holy father sent a video message to the people in Arabian Peninsula greeting, “As-salāmu alaykum!”, Peace be with you. The name ‘Francis’ always echoed in the church for ‘peace’. Here we have new Francis, who imitated St. Francis of Assisi. He also tried to use the words, ‘human fraternity’, ‘reconciliation’, ‘peace’, ‘joy’ throughout his papacy, which had a greater value on the UAE visit.
‘The west is meeting the East’ is the one of the famous phrases echoed during the visit of Pope Francis to UAE and meeting with Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayebb. Br. Michael A. Perry, OFM, Minister General, adressed to the Order of Friars Minor, all Franciscan Family, and all Muslim sisters and brothers, “Eight hundred years ago, our Seraphic Father St. Francis set sail for Egypt, finally fulfilling a long-held dream of reaching out to Muslims. He arrived at the camp of the crusading army, among Latin Christians who through years of preaching and the rhetoric of holy war had been taught to scorn Muslims” (Michael A. Perry, Quae placuerint Domino (RnB 16.8) Rome, 7th January 2019). The world proclaimed this historical visit of Pope Francis is commemoration of eight hundred years anniversary of great meeting between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al Kamil. The visit of pope Francis also opened a new era of Christianity meeting Islam in its land. It gave a new hope for the inter religious dialogue and reconciliation.
The visit of the Holy Father is an invitation to all the people of good will to work for the human fraternity. Pope Francis said. “The time has come when religions should more actively exert themselves, with courage and audacity and without pretense, to help the human family deepen the capacity for reconciliation, the vision of hope and the concrete paths of peace.”
Being a Christian means entering into the world with the Trinitarian communion. The all incarnation mystery invites us into this great challenge, which is understanding the signs of the times (Mt 16:3). “The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men” (Nostra Aetate 2). “Human Fraternity” document which was signed by His holiness Pope Francis and The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb begins as “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need” (Human Fraternity, Abu Dhabi, 4 February 2019). In fact, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself” (Nostra Aetate 2).
Religion, however, is not meant only to unmask evil; it has an intrinsic vocation to promote peace, today perhaps more than ever. Without giving in to forms of facile syncretism, our task is that of praying for one another, imploring from God the gift of peace, encountering one another, engaging in dialogue and promoting harmony in the spirit of cooperation and friendship (Francis, Speech at the International Peace Conference,28 April 2017). Pope Francis has invited the whole Christians saying, “I ask for you the grace to preserve peace, unity, to take care of each other, with that beautiful fraternity in which there are no first- or second-class Christians.” He concluded his homily in UAE with a prayer for them, saying: “May Jesus, who calls you blessed, give you the grace to go forward without becoming discouraged, abounding in love ‘to one another and to all’” (1 Thes 3:12).
Midhun J Francis is a Jesuit priest belongs to Kerala Province of the Society of Jesus. He is currently doing Licentiate in Systematic Theology at JDV Pune. He is also working in Christian-Muslim relationship and inter religious dialogue among Christians and Muslims.