- For many years I feel that there are moments I must revisit time and again. “This is exceptional! This is unique!” – I hear myself saying, witnessing those special moments.
The Papal visit to Abu Dhabi was – is – one of these moments.
In every step of the program I experienced history in the making. Something humankind should have done many decades, if not centuries ago. A necessary meeting largely overdue.
But first the atmosphere of the reception. Pope Francis descending the plane, walking through the long red carpet, and saluting his hosts with his kind smile and the timidity of a simple man.
He is entirely himself in every moment, it’s true, including moments of pomp and circumstance … but we feel that he truly belongs to another galaxy… How could it be otherwise, for him, the former cardinal of the slums of Buenos Aires ?
I confess that the luxurious surroundings of the visit didn’t impress me. They never impressed me in the past, when, for instance, I visited high dignitaries in their palaces, during my previous career.
I always saw the symbols of excessive wealth as a kind of parody or theater, for rich people feel superior by impressing others… and the Emirates, like many other small rich oil countries, are a good example of this nouveau rich mentality.
But much more important than the stage are the actors. Princes, generals, diplomats, all wearing their colorful ceremonial cloths to welcome the successor of Peter, the Fisherman…
Military orders crossing the air, troops paying homage to the visitor, national anthems. And the decisive moment arrived when Pope Francis met the Grand Imam of Al Azar, Dr Ahmad Al-Tayeb.
- The two religious leaders will be the protagonists of the central event, the real purpose of the visit: to formalize, through a solemn declaration, the definitive and historical reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. No less, no more. With a caveat attached: the promise to each other of a common, relentless effort in promoting tolerance as the only tool of a durable and sincere peace.
A century of hatred as few in history. I close my eyes and see scenes of horror and violence, all over the world, in name of God. All along the cruel 20th century.
First of all in the Middle East, the sacred land of three religions, but a perpetual scene of violence, mistrust, competition, and ambition.
And then in other parts of the world were the different religions were obliged to live together, but often in a confrontational way.
Different gods, apparently, but at the end of all tragedies, the same and only God.
Attacks on churches and monasteries, synagogues and mosques, murder of priests and nuns or simple faithful, even victimizing people of the same creed, infamous religious edicts enshrining the most severe intolerance under the pretext of blasphemy … and so on and so forth .
The use of children and women (even pregnant women!), as human bombers, and the promise of paradise for the perpetrators of the most horrendous crimes against humanity.
The kidnapping of hundreds of girls in the same assault, forcing them to became the brides of a desperate and crazy utopia. Not to mention the education for hatred and revenge of innocent children, in many parts of the world, making them the future soldiers of a hopeless ideal.
- How was this possible? It was possible because inside all monotheistic religions God was and is confounded with the different historical circumstances of His worshippers. Instead of being the ultimate arbiter of human behavior, and the ultimate destiny of the human spirit, God was transformed into a mere tool to advance human interests and human ambitions.
A mere instrument of politics or cultural confrontation (very often combined) God was “forced” to take sides, humanized to the level of human mediocrity…
When times were ripe for another understanding of God as the true unifier of Humankind, the Abu Dhabi Declaration on Human Fraternity started to take shape in the spirit of Pope Francis and his brother the Grand Iman. Behind, in the past, buried eventually in the archives of the Vatican, were left the many attempts of the previous Popes to signal to Islam the same desire of peace and reconciliation.
- As other decisive international instruments enshrining the principle of Human Dignity (the different Declarations of Human Rights, Women’s Rights and Children’s Rights) the text agreed upon and signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Iman is disarmingly simple. And it deserves to be read carefully, in order for us to absorb all its profound implications.
In a very simplistic way, we can say that it is a recipe of tolerance and friendship to be infused in all aspects of our common life, from education to the treatment of the destitute, to the heights of culture and politics.
Life is at risk under the sun – it’s the simple truth. And being so, all aspects of life must be reinvented by the same necessity of human fraternity.
This is this the bigger challenge of the Abu Dhabi historic meeting!
God, the same God with different names, is at last the Unifier.
Invoking Him is asking inspiration for living in accordance with His will, not ours.
Our will makes History like it is. The results are obvious. A fragmented world, a widening gap between rich and poor, everybody more and more aware that our folly is leading us to an horrendous disaster … if we don’t change direction !
Reinventing civilization. This is the call from the Abu Dhabi Encounter. This is the message for more than four billion people of both creeds, and beyond.
And beyond, to the larger world, because we are all committed, faithful and non-faithful, atheists, agnostics, simple humanists or man and women of good will in building a new world order of happiness.
- And I conclude with the words of Pope Francis himself, which he pronounced after returning to Rome. Speaking at the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis said that he was mindful that his Journey — the first ever papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula — came during the 800th anniversary of St Francis of Assisi’s encounter with the Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil. “I thought about St Francis during this journey,” the Pope said. “It helped me to keep the Gospel, the love of Jesus Christ, in my heart as I experienced the various moments of the visit.”
Pope Francis noted that there is “a strong temptation” in our day “to see a clash between Christian and Islamic civilization, and to consider religions as a source of conflicts.” He explained that the signing of the document was meant to be a “clear and decisive” sign that, “despite a diversity of cultures and traditions, the Christian world and the Islamic world appreciate and defend common values.”