An exhibit at the Dubai Expo recalls the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity in 2019 by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar An exhibit at the Dubai Expo recalls the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity in 2019 by Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar 

World leaders highlight 'Human Fraternity' promoted by Pope Francis

In the run-up to the award ceremony of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2022, two Nobel Peace Laureates and an anti-extremism activist comment on the profound relevance of the values of the historic Document on Human Fraternity signed in 2019 by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar.

By Felipe Herrera-Espaliat - Abu Dhabi

The struggle for peace and harmonious development of peoples forges on, despite a new war raging in the world for the past three days.

While tensions between Russia and Ukraine are escalating to a war-like phase, in Abu Dhabi preparations are underway to award the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2022 to the Haitian Foundation for Liberty and Knowledge (FOKAL) and to the King and Queen of Jordan, in recognition of their efforts to promote human fraternity.

This award was instituted as one of the first fruits of the Document of Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed on 4 February 2019, by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Professor Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the top Sunni Islamic religious authority.

Empathy toward understanding

Amid these circumstances, the values promoted by the Document regain their relevance, according to those figures who have dedicated their lives to reunite nations facing serious armed conflicts and deep division of their societies.

The former President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, said it is urgent to promote "empathy to understand and accept those we consider different, compassion to show solidarity with the weakest and achieve more justice, and to accept that we are all one race - the human race - and we all live in the same home: planet Earth."

Despite being harshly criticized by certain sectors, the politician and economist negotiated the end of the guerrilla groups that plagued his country for more than half a century and achieved an agreement, that was not only acclaimed with his receiving the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, but was also celebrated by Pope Francis in his Apostolic Visit to Colombia the following year.

(from L) Leah Pisar, Juan Manuel Santos, Leymah Gbowee
(from L) Leah Pisar, Juan Manuel Santos, Leymah Gbowee

Respect for life of all

From her commitment as a peace activist who contributed to the end of bloody civil war in Liberia in 2003, the 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, added that the dimension of respect is essential to living out human fraternity.

“I believe that if you have respect for life, respect for people’s culture, respect for their religion, respect for their way of life, respect for their political ideology - we are on a good journey,” she said.

This is how she lived during the 13 years of war in Liberia. When negotiations between the political parties in Liberia stalled, she encouraged Christian and Muslim women to carry out nonviolent protests, prayer meetings and, above all, to sit down and talk with each other. She understood the fruitfulness of dialogue – another value she considers fundamental.

“Where you do not have an understanding of why they do what they do, you seek to have a dialogue for clarification.”

Fraternity a 'universal principle'

Another person who has broken the circle of hatred and resentment is Dr. Leah Pisar, an American, who as president of the Aladdin Project fights anti-Semitism and all forms of extremism by teaching the lessons of the Holocaust.

The daughter of an Auschwitz survivor who lost his entire family in the concentration camps, she learned from her father's testimony and resilience that enemies are not hereditary.

For her, human fraternity “is an absolutely universal principal that transcends religion and transcends any kind of differences. It is the core of who we are as human beings and is just so important and so vital, especially today as the world is blowing up in very upsetting places - I think is all the more central.”

“Sometimes when we are going through difficulties, we have to focus our eyes on the basics, so that we don’t lose sight of what matters most - I would say that is human fraternity. It should be so obvious that we should not need to talk about it - but today we do and that’s why we are here", said Leah, a member of the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity 2022 judging committee, who gathered in Abu Dhabi for the ceremony of the prize.

Participation of the people

The Document signed by the Pope and the Grand Imam begins by affirming that "faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need."

This is an affirmation that points to the dignity shared by all men and women on earth and therefore, to their necessary participation in the destiny of their peoples. This is something that Juan Manuel Santos and Leymah Gbowee discussed when seeking viable and concrete solutions for peace.

"The victims of the armed conflict in my country, Colombia - after half a century of suffering all kinds of atrocities - were the most enthusiastic and generous when the time came to accept special justice to end the war, which gave them benefits and, in many cases, forgave the perpetrators in exchange for the truth. They did it 'so that others would not suffer what we suffered,' they told me in what for me and for many was a beautiful life lesson," said former President Santos.

Gbowee recalled that, as an expression of human fraternity, Christian and Muslim women in Liberia "used our differences, our collective diverse forces to bring peace to a nation that was ripped part by war.” They found the key in inclusion and dialogue - something Ms. Gbowee says is also practiced today by women amid tensions and armed conflicts in places like Congo, Yemen and Syria.

Encouraging leaders

But, just as citizens have much to say and essential roles to play, leaders of nations are responsible for realizing the Document on Human Fraternity is also addressed to them. It is a difficult task, when particular interests and the hecticness of political life do not leave room for reflection on a culture of encounter and dialogue. That is why, for Leah Pisar, a former communications advisor to US President Bill Clinton, it is necessary to maintain a permanent conversation on these topics.

“The more people talk about it throughout the world - locally, in their communities, nationally, and internationally - the more they will remember how important it is, and the more they will expect of their leaders - that they too, factor this into their thinking and their leadership.”

For Juan Manuel Santos, giving an example of what he has experienced is also an appropriate strategy to encourage and convince world leaders: "Signing peace with the oldest and most powerful guerrilla group in the Western hemisphere after 50 years of war - which many considered impossible - showed that every conflict has a solution if we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of our adversaries and recognize that we are all human beings. Living in an environment of peace, however imperfect, is always, always better than living in war or permanent conflict," he said.

Even more practical is Leymah Gbowee, who declares herself an admirer of Pope Francis' encyclical Fratelli tutti. In her view, everyone should know the letter, from world leaders to children.

"I keep telling everyone everywhere I go, you need to read this. And the essence for me is that that letter is a roadmap for world peace, it’s a roadmap for justice, a roadmap for our collective humanity, just as the Document on Human Fraternity," concluded the Liberian Nobel Prize winner, with enthusiasm.

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27 February 2022, 11:25