Prophetic Meaning of the Document on Human Fraternity

H. E. Mons. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, MCCJ

Seminar on “Interreligious Dialogue: Perspectives from Asia”

Pontificia Università Urbaniana, Roma
18 June 2019

Your Excellencies,
Distinguished Guests,


First of all, let me apologize for my absence to this convocation due to another unavoidable previous commitment that I am unable to change and that prevent me from being present among you at this important gathering.

I am happy to be represented by Reverend Father Markus Solo SVD, an Official of our Dicastery for Interreligious Dialogue, who will read my address with the thoughts I wanted to share with you about the topic of our Meeting.

I thank His Excellency the Ambassador of Indonesia to the Holy See, Mr. Agus Sriyono, the Coordinator of the Asian Ambassadors to the Holy See, who kindly invited me, on behalf of the Asian Ambassadors to reflect together with you on the Declaration of Abu Dhabi, so as to assist you in redoubling your efforts in the promotion of mutual understanding and co-existance among people of different religious traditions in Asia.


There is no doubt that I was privileged to have personally witnessed an event that many have called “historic” about the signing of the Document “Human Fraternity for world peace and living together, signed by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand-Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayyeb,in Abu Dhabi last February 4, 2019.

I believe we can say, without any rhetoric, that the signing of the document on Human Fraternity was a milestone on the path of interreligious dialogue. I am sure the importance of what has happened will not escape any of you either.

Let me publicly thank Pope Francis for the impetus he has given to interreligious dialogue. The dialogue between people of different religions is truly at the center of his reflections and actions. It is well-known that since the beginning of his pontificate, the Holy Father has emphasized relationships between members of the various religions, highlighting the importance of friendship and respect.

As I mentioned, the Document on Human Fraternity represents a milestone on the path of interreligious dialogue. The milestone is just that: a point along the way, neither the beginning nor the end. The Holy Father echoes this very point when he said during the press conference on the return flight from Abu Dhabi: “from the Catholic point of view the document did not go an inch beyond the Second Vatican Council. Nothing. The document emerged from the spirit of Vatican II “. Allow me briefly to mention some significant elements.

Roots in the Council

The document can be understood only if it is included as part of the long-standing journey of interreligious relations of the Catholic Church, which found official expression in the Second Vatican Council, actually since the opening address of 11 October 1962, when John XXIII (Pope Roncalli) invited all to promote unity in the Christian and human family: unity among Catholics, unity with Christians not yet in full communion and finally, something that is perhaps of greater interest in this context, “..the unity, finally of esteem and respect for the Catholic Church shown by those who still profess the different non-Christian forms of religion.”(Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, § 19).

St. Pope Paul VI in the encyclical Ecclesiam suam (August 6, 1964), which outlined the program of his pontificate, wrote that the mission of the Church today is named dialogue. Opening up to others, discovering the values in which they live, walking together and cooperating for justice and peace: these are the ways of witnessing to the fullness of truth and life which, as Christians, we contemplate and receive from Jesus Christ.

With the 2nd Vatican Council the dyke walls separating religions began to crack little by little, finally breaking up so that the river of dialogue could flow. The Conciliar Declarations Nostra Aetate on the relationship between the Church and believers of other religions and Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, present similar themes and as documents are closely linked to each other. These paved the way for Saint John Paul II to initiate meetings such as the World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi on 27 October 1986 and for Benedict XVI, twenty-five years later, to continue in the city of St. Francis the reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice, begun by John Paul, on the Day of Prayer for the world, “Pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace.”

Thus, the commitment of the Catholic Church to interreligious dialogue that continues in  our day to open paths to peace, is really part of its original mission and is rooted in the Council itself, to which these two recent pontificates refer in their teaching on interreligious dialogue.

We can indeed say that through the “dialogue with the world” of Paul VI, the “dialogue of peace” of John Paul II, and the “dialogue of charity in truth” of Benedict XVI, we have come, in fifty years, to the challenge of the “dialogue of friendship”, as announced by Francis.

Living one’s identity in the “courage of otherness” is the threshold which the Church of Pope Francis asks us today to cross. Only in this way can faith in God, through Jesus, create a new history, building a civilization of the covenant that embraces the richness of differences in peace and in the exchange of gifts.

On the path of interreligious dialogue

Let’s reflect together, in the light of what occurred in Abu Dhabi, on how to strengthen the bonds of human fraternity in order to build a peaceful world in a common coexistence. Let us try to find new pathways so that the document may be applied and relevant in the Asian context. In fact, I hope that through this Seminar we may become recommitted to make the Abu Dhabi Document an instrument we can utilize for the good of our respective societies.

In fact, Interreligious collaboration can and must support the rights of every human being, in every part of the world and at all times. We are all members of one human family and as such we have equal rights as well as duties as citizens of this world. Let us not forget that at the base of any collaboration or dialogue there is the common root of our humanity. This means that we do not start at zero in dialogue: there is always our shared humanity, with all its existential and practical aspects, which provide the needed meeting ground.

Since the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church has been convinced that “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.” (Nostra aetate, 5). “But” says Pope Francis ” fraternity also embraces variety and differences between brothers and sisters, even though they are linked by birth and are of the same nature and dignity. ” (Message of the Holy Father Francis for the celebration of the 38th World Day of Peace: No longer slaves but brothers, 1 January 2015).

Pluralism, not only religious, but also as found in society in general, is a reality that invites us to reflect each on our own identity, which we must claim so as to participate in authentic interreligious dialogue. We are not saying that all religions are equal, but rather that all believers, those who seek God as well as all people of good will without a religious affiliation, have an equal dignity. Thus, we must act in a manner so that God, who created us, is not a cause for division, but the basis for our unity.

I urge you, through the various centers of learning in your respective Asian countries, to embrace a new impulse to study and deepen the reflection on plurality and the underlying differences, beginning from the various points of view indicated, as a means of benefiting the formation of those who are involved, in the various and sundry roles needed in the field of interreligious dialogue.

Let us therefore adopt the culture of dialogue as a way of collaboration, as a method of mutual knowledge and as way of establishing a common criterion. I remember how the Holy Father spoke recently in Cairo about three fundamental orientations for pursuing dialogue and knowledge among people of different religions: “the duty to respect one’s own identity and that of others, the courage to accept differences, and sincerity of intentions” (Speech to the participants in the International Conference for Peace, Al-Azhar Conference Center, Cairo 28 April 2017).

In today’s world, tragically marked by neglecting God or by the abuse that is made of His name, people belonging to different religions are called to defend and promote peace and justice, human dignity and to protect the environment with a united commitment. We must offer our collaboration to the societies in which we believers are citizens, calling on our common values and our deepest convictions concerning the sacred and inviolable character of life and of the human person. The coherent and credible believer is a witness and bearer of values, which can greatly contribute to building a more just society, these include  rectitude, fidelity, love for the common good, attention to others, especially for those who are in need of benevolence and mercy.

Interreligious dialogue has as an essential function to build civil coexistence, a society that includes and is not built on the culture of waste and is a necessary condition for peace in the world. In a dehumanized world, in which the culture of indifference and greed characterize the relationships among human beings, there is need for a new and universal solidarity and a new dialogue to shape our future as one human dignity.

Pope Francis in his speech at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity said: “There is no alternative: either we will build the future together or there will be no future. Religions in particular cannot renounce the urgent task of building bridges between peoples and cultures. 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.” (Address of Pope Francis at the Global Conference of Human Fraternity, Founder’s Memorial Abu Dhabi, 4.2.2019).

The Holy Father reminds us that no matter where, when or with whom, we are called to realize, today and everywhere, what is absolutely necessary outreach for our world, namely interreligious dialogue. At the center of the Apostolic Journey to Abu Dhabi, conceived as a mission of an interreligious and pastoral nature, there is a concrete call to “Universal Fraternity”, in the name of justice and peace.

The prophetic dimension of the Document on Human Fraternity

To talk in detail about the Document and its value, I believe it is appropriate to include its context, like a painting, in the right frame. I think we cannot help reading and reflecting on the Document in the light of what the Holy Father wrote in the Encyclical Letter Evangelii Gaudium: “Giving priority to time means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. (…) What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical events. Without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.”(Evangelii Gaudium 223).

We know well that the path of interreligious dialogue has often been uphill and filled with obstacles; it is a long history also made of confrontations, prejudices and conflicts. But the importance of this document also lies in the fact that we wanted to go beyond these blocks. There is an urgency dictated by the current world situation that demands that we put aside prejudices, delays and difficulties. Throughout the Document, the conviction emerges that all together we can and must still work with courage and faith to recover hope in a new future for humanity. It is undoubtedly a challenging document, I would say even a point of no return that requires reflection, study and that engages us in its diffusion. Therefore, the intent of the Document is to adopt: the culture of dialogue as a way of life; the common collaboration as conduct; and the mutual knowledge as a method and criterion.

From tolerance to coexistence

The text of the Abu Dhabi Declaration emphasizes the need to move from mere tolerance to fraternal coexistence. For Christians living in the Middle East or in Muslim-majority countries in Asia it means they no longer need feel that they are a excluded minority struggling to survive or else to flee, but active citizens who have the right and the duty to contribute to the development of society. For Muslims living in the West this means seeking true integration while respecting the laws of the countries that host them and with the spirit of faith that comes from being guests of brothers. My predecessor, the late Cardinal-President, His Eminence Jean-Louis Tauran, while visiting several Asian countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, always emphasized the importance of human fraternity by saying: As believers, it is not enough if we stay only on the level of tolerance. As brothers and sisters, we cannot only tolerate each other, but rather love each other. Therefore, we have to pass from tolerance to love, as the love will enable us to coexist peacefully. As the Declaration embodies a universal message, it is in fact, a call to all believers and people of good will, regardless of which religion they belong to, to get to know each other starting from what unites them, that is the One God they believe in.

“Know yourself” but also “Know your brother”

As Pope Francis explained at the Founder’s Memorial: “Alongside the famous ancient maxim ‘know yourself’, we must uphold ‘know your brother or sister’: their history, their culture and their faith, because there is no genuine self-knowledge without the other. As human beings, and even more so as brothers and sisters, let us remind each other that nothing of what is of the dignity of the human person can remain foreign to us. It is important for the future to maintain an open mindedness as central to our identity capable of overcoming the temptation to close in oneself, thus becoming rigid.”

The prospect of educating to a culture of encounter, of fraternity, and of peace entails, as an inevitable consequence, the will to review, in this light, also the educational and academic paths in schools, training institutes, universities. A first concrete step will be to study, reflect and spread the Document on Human Fraternity as the Holy Father asked us to do.

With regard to education for intercultural dialogue, which also is of a great importance in the Asian context, with its huge cultural diversity, let me bring to mind what was written in the document of the Congregation for Catholic Education,  n. 19: “This knowledge is not sufficient in itself, but opens up to dialogue. The more abundant the knowledge, the more it can sustain dialogue and co-existence with people who profess other religions. In the context of an open dialogue among cultures, different religions can and must make a decisive contribution to forming an awareness of common values.”(Congregation for Catholic Education, Educating for Intercultural Dialogue in the Catholic School. Living Together for a Civilization of love, October 28, 2013)

Faced with a humanity wounded by so many divisions and ideological extremism, the Pope and the Great Imam have shown that the promotion of a culture of encounter and mutual knowledge is not some utopian idea, but the necessary condition for living in peace, and leaving a better world to future generations than the one we now live in.

The Declaration should be seen as a “symbol of the embrace between East and West, between North and South”. This presupposes, on the one hand, that the two partners stand before God in an attitude of sincere readiness to obey His will. And, on the other hand, a careful discernment of the crucial moment that today humanity is traversing, in the light of its respective faith in God’s plan for human history.

Our societies today are marked by a lack of respect for the human dignity of each person, the dissolution of the family, a noticeable difficulty to accept and integrate those in need as well as a lack of hope in so many of the younger generation. Thus, it is up to us to help form consciences so that our communities we both listen to and learn from each other with interest, sensitivity and respect to the rich human and spiritual heritage unique to each believer. The importance of the formation and education of the younger generations is critical. The rupture between generations must be reconstructed in order to find new ways to resurrect the religious dialogue which has been seemingly lost with youth today.

In his Address at the Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi, the Pope explained what he means by fraternity: “Religions should be the voice of the least, who are not statistics but brothers and sisters, and should stand on the side of the poor. They should keep watch as sentinels of fraternity in the night of conflict. They should be vigilant warnings to humanity not to close our eyes in the face of injustice and never to resign ourselves to the many tragedies in the world”. Clearly Pope Francis does not speak of a theoretical fraternity.

In the light of what has been already said, the duty to care for one’s brother becomes clear. When God asks, “Where is your brother”, it is not possible to answer: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (see Gen 4: 9). Given this reality, various questions arise: how can we care for each other as part of one human family? How can we nurture a non-theoretical, practical brotherhood that translates into authentic fraternity? How can the inclusion of the other prevail over exclusion, based on one’s own affiliations? How can religions be channels of fraternity rather than barriers of division?

Fraternity is a complex human reality, one which deserves serious attention, and at the same time one which needs to be handled with delicacy. If fraternity presupposes solidarity among people, it obviously suggests an interior caring attitude, what Pope Francis would call “tenderness”, to express the love of one’s neighbor.

With the signing of the Abu Dhabi Declaration, a space of openness, sincerity and collaboration has been created, in which the many remaining blocks can be removed and overcome with prudence and discernment. God gives light, and God is present where there is love.

In the sign of peace a bridge was built and a wall broken down

Thanks to a true collaboration between believers, such as that between the Holy Father and the Great Imam of al-Azhar, we have been given a work which can contribute to the good of all, helping to identify the many injustices that still afflict this world and at the same time condemn the use of any violence. In fact, as Pope Francis has always encouraged us to do, a bridge has been built with the Human Fraternity Document as an exhortation to look with mercy at the lives of others, to have compassion for the poor, to work together for the good of our common home which is Creation.

Opening to others, getting to know them and recognize them as brothers and sisters is the first step towards bringing down the walls raised because of fear and ignorance and trying instead to together build bridges of friendship that are fundamental for the good of all humanity. Therefore, we should cultivate in our families and in our political, civil and religious institutions a new lifestyle where violence is rejected, and the human person is respected. As the Holy Father has said on many occasions, dialogue must be based on friendship and mutual respect, which has its roots in the recognition of dignity of each human person.

I believe, therefore, that by practicing, in freedom and in respect for the law, what the majority of religions have in common – prayer, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage – we can show that believers are a factor for peace in human societies and we can respond to all those who unjustly accuse religions of fomenting hatred and of being the cause of violence. In today’s precarious world, dialogue between religions is not a sign of weakness. Dialogue among believers, rather, is as an expression of God’s dialogue with humanity.

Prayer, dialogue, respect and solidarity are the only weapons able to combat terrorism, fundamentalism and any kind of war and violence. And they are weapons that are part of the spiritual arsenals of every religion.  Peace is a precious asset, an aspiration that lives in the heart of every man and woman, believer or non-believer, something that should inspire every human action. In reading the Abu Dhabi Document in a pluralistic world, in a globalized society, what emerges is that a reconciliation between East and West, between North and South, cannot be built unless we start from a common point: the condemnation and rejection of any kind of violence or war. As the Holy Father has said many times, we are in midst of a Third World War, even though fought in pieces around the globe. Contemporary societies are societies in which we live together among different peoples, thus, it is necessary to truly unite all the forces: So, either we work for integration and harmony, or this condition of piecemeal war will continue to dominate our interactions. Religions and cultures are challenged in their very essence to call forth all that is peaceful in them and to spread these gifts throughout the world.


I hope that the great gesture made by the Holy Father and Imam Al-Tayyeb, in front of and with the representatives of the different religious convictions, can find an echo in all those who are responsible in the various areas of social and civil life. I hope that this Message of Fraternity will be welcomed by the international community for the good of the whole human family which must pass from simple tolerance to true collaboration and peaceful coexistence.

We must therefore support the exemplary and determined efforts aimed at promoting peace among the peoples of the world, much like Pope Francis and the Great Imam have done.

Thank you for your attention.