I never thought I would see this!

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This was the reaction of a Filipino attendee, a resident of Dubai for these past nine years, from the stadium stands where Pope Francis celebrated Mass at Zayed Sport City, February 5 2019 in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“I never thought I would see this, because it’s a Muslim country. It is so nice … I cannot explain it” the women added. Her comment makes perfect sense when one considers, as some analysts have observed, that the Holy Father celebrated the largest show of public Christian worship on the peninsula, the birthplace of Islam.

But, this powerful gesture instead of bringing division it helped a great deal to make religions approach each other. How persuasively powerful was Pope Francis’ address to the Interfaith Meeting at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi on February 4 2019. As a Franciscan myself I cannot miss the key evangelical-franciscan word: Fraternity. Throughout his discourse at this important place which commemorates Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the first President of the United Arab Emirates, who passed away in 2004, Pope Francis used the word Fraternity some 14 times during his speech.

On the example of St. Francis of Assisi who met Sultan al-Malik al Kāmil, precisely eight centuries ago, Pope Francis went to the UAE “as a brother seeking peace with the brethren”. He went to the UAE to proclaim, by his very presence, that, irrespective of our different religions, God is our Father. He said: “We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God”. Thus, our fraternity stems from the basic fact that God is our Father.

For Pope Francis fraternity is the ark that embraces every person in this world. Fraternity is not a buzzword but a healing reality simply because it opens for us the fact that we, as humans, are a family. That is why he caringly suggested: “Today, we too in the name of God, in order to safeguard peace, need to enter together as one family into an ark which can sail the stormy seas of the world: the ark of fraternity”.

By having God as our Father we are all his children and brothers and sisters to each other who enjoy equal filial and fraternal dignity. Hence, “fraternity is established here at the roots of our common humanity, as ‘a vocation contained in God’s plan of creation’. This tells us that all persons have equal dignity and that no one can be a master or slave of others”. Moreover, fraternity saves us from our common enemy: individualism. Because it resists the perversion “of affirm[ing] oneself and one’s own group above others”, fraternity necessarily “embraces variety and differences between brothers and sisters, even though they are linked by birth and are of the same nature and dignity”. Furthermore, variety and differences among us, as believers, call us “to commit ourselves to the equal dignity of all, in the name of the Merciful One who created us and in whose name the reconciliation of conflicts and fraternity in diversity must be sought”. This makes perfect sense since, as the Bible rightly puts it, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (Jas 2:17).

In his speech Pope Francis tackled an important question: “How, in short, can religions be channels of fraternity rather than barriers of separation?” First, by dialogue and prayer. By dialogue the Holy Father meant “the courage of otherness … which is based on sincerity of intentions”. On its turn, dialogue opens us for prayer. In other words, that prayer which helps us “adhere fully to the will of God, who wants all men and women to recognize they are brothers and sisters and live as such, forming the great human family in the harmony of diversity.”
Dialogue and prayer make us people of peace. Yet, as the Pope said, “the dove of peace … needs wings that uphold it: the wings of education and justice”. For the Holy Father, the scope of education is that of “bring[ing] to light the precious resources of the soul.” Therefore, education occurs “in a relationship, in reciprocity” and is totally open to others. When the young are formed into such “open identities”, they will be capable of knowing others reciprocally and thus “prevent violence” and promote the global human family of peace and fraternity. The second wing of peace is justice. Justice is tangibly lived when one lives the Golden Rule: So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets (Mt 7:12).

Fraternity is not war, indifference, judgment, rigidity, violence, arming of borders, raising of walls, suppressing of the poor, but “the sweet power of prayer and daily commitment to dialogue” which is translated into “altruism” of all sorts.

On the same lines of the Filippino lady I too must say that I never thought that I would hear this healing message which made me so much good as a human being, Christian and a Franciscan Capuchin friar!

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