The recent apostolic journey of Pope Francis to Marocco had, as its motto: Pope Francis Servant of hope. This catchy title for me meant a lot! Especially when it came into my mind what the North American novelist, essayist and poet, Barbara Kingsolver, wrote in her novel Animal Dreams: “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
This striking quote from the novel Animal Dreams made me more inquistive to ask: What is the hope that Pope Francis spoke of in Marocco? To what kind of hope the Holy Father is a servant? And, is that hope possible in our world, thorned, as it is, by countless conflicts of all sorts?
Upon his arrival on the Moroccan soil, on Saturday 30 March 2019, as he was meeting the Moroccan people, the authorities, the civil society as well as the diplomatic corps, at the Esplanade of the Hassan Tower in Rabat, Pope Francis said:
“This visit is for me an occasion of joy and gratitude, for it allows me to see at first hand the richness of your land, your people and your traditions. I am also grateful that my visit offers a significant opportunity for advancing interreligious dialogue and mutual understanding among the followers of our two religions, as we commemorate – at a distance of eight centuries – the historic meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. That prophetic event shows that the courage to encounter one another and extend a hand of friendship is a pathway of peace and harmony for humanity, whereas extremism and hatred cause division and destruction. It is my hope that our mutual esteem, respect and cooperation will help strengthen the bonds of sincere friendship, and enable our communities to prepare a better future for coming generations”.
Hope here means nurturing each other’s spirit by recalling that we are all created by the One God who is Father to all of his beloved Children. Thus, true esteem, respect and cooperation has as its beginning, interim and end, the fraternal bonds of frienship and community. Therefore, hope, which is peace and harmony, has to be visible by the way we treat each other. All the more so within a spectrum that runs across faiths, creeds and religious affiliations.
Within this context one cannot not fully appreciate the appeal made by Pope Francis and King Mohammed VI concerning Jerusalem, Al-Quds, the Holy City and a place of encounter, on Saturday 30 March at the Maroccan capital Rabat. Profoundly concerned for Jerusalem’s spiritual connotations as well as its particular calling as a city of peace, both leaders voiced their heartfelt hope:
“We consider it important to preserve the Holy City of Jerusalem / Al-Quds Acharif as the common patrimony of humanity and especially the followers of the three monotheistic religions, as a place of encounter and as a symbol of peaceful coexistence, where mutual respect and dialogue can be cultivated. To this end, the specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem / Al-Quds Acharif must be protected and promoted. It is our hope, therefore, that in the Holy City, full freedom of access to the followers of the three monotheistic religions and their right to worship will be guaranteed, so that in Jerusalem / Al-Quds Acharif they may raise their prayers to God, the Creator of all, for a future of peace and fraternity on the earth”.
Back to the speech Pope Francis delivered at the Hassan Tower Esplanade he refers to hope for the second time in that speech when he says:
“The genuine dialogue we want to encourage also leads to a consideration of the world in which we live, our common home. The International Conference on Climate Change, COP 22, also held here in Morocco, once more demonstrated that many nations are conscious of the need to protect this planet where God has placed us to live and to contribute to a true ecological conversion for the sake of integral human development. I express my appreciation for the progress being made in this area and I am gratified by the growth of authentic solidarity between nations and peoples in the effort to find just and lasting solutions to the scourges that threaten our common home and the very survival of the human family. Only together, in patient, judicious, candid and sincere dialogue, can we hope to devise adequate solutions for reversing the trend of global warming and to achieve the goal of eliminating poverty (cf. Laudato Si’, 175).”
Now Hope is fashioned by a sincere dialogue to help rejuvenate, promote and protect the physical environment. Hence, for Pope Francis, hope for a better world is genuinely entrenched in bringing about an authentic ecological conversion. The created world does not stand there to be ruthlessly exploited but caringly, wisely and prudently stewarded. The keyword that pops up, at least, into my mind, from what Pope Francis says in this speech, is co-responsibility. In other words, a co-responsibility that runs across and embraces our differing religious traditions for the sake of safeguarding our common home.
If hope means being brothers and sisters to one another, voicing our concern to live as one human family and being co-responsible in safeguarding our planet and common home, are we ready to do our utmost to bring hope to those who are suffering religious persecution and the plight of fleeing their country to have a better future somewhere else? As Christians, are we sowing the seeds of hope through “dialogue, cooperation and friendship” with everyone while maintaining and strengthening our faith convictions?