As I have noted in at least one previous column, the calendar itself gives us opportunities to reflect on the strivings of humanity. We find simultaneously that “the march of time” leaves us missing some of those opportunities.
The first International Day of Human Fraternity occurred this month, on the fourth day of February. Declared by the United Nations, this Day has been inspired by such efforts as those of Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Cairo, when they issued their document on human fraternity on Feb. 4, 2019, during Francis’ visit to the United Arab Emirates.
This document begins: “Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved.” We keep in mind that the word “fraternity” refers to people as brothers and sisters — not the most obvious thing to us, since frater is the Latin word for “brother.”
Another striking statement of this document addresses misguided attempts to “defend” the one God: “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people.”
Repeatedly, the document promotes “dialogue,” explaining: “Dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for. It also means avoiding unproductive discussions.”
The entire document can be found on the Vatican website.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proclaimed: “Cultural diversity and freedom of belief are part of the rich tapestry of civilization. As we commemorate Human Fraternity Day, let us commit to do more to promote cultural and religious tolerance, understanding and dialogue.”
I think we can do better than tolerate, which essentially means “put up with.” Our own church teaching, from the Second Vatican Council, really calls us to a sense of reverence toward people of various religions and all people of good will. We expect people to treat our own religious stance with respect and, indeed, reverence, because we expect a recognition that our religious formation has drawn us toward a commitment to the things which are most important.
So, now that we know about the International Day of Human Fraternity, we will be ready for it when it comes around the second time: Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. We will be ready if, in the meantime, we shall have taken steps in the spirit of the ideals held out to us.
We have only to look at our own social ties, some of which may have become frayed. Is there someone whom we are merely tolerating? Why? What sort of initiative can we take in communicating reverently toward that person? Do we let differences in religion get in the way? If so, it is obvious that we must retrace our steps, dropping the notion that our aim is to make the other conform to our way of thinking. As the document proclaims: “God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.” We recognize the promise that, meeting one another and accepting diversity as a given, we will together discover many gifts to be given to one another — gifts which will not fail to surprise us.