Connecting Souls: Tolerance and inclusivity

By Antonio Spadaro SJ, 21 November 2021
His Eminence, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, the Grand Mufti of Australia (centre left) is greeted by Fr Patrick McInerney from the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations at an iftar dinner (to break the fast) during Ramadan, 26 April 2021. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


We live in a fractured and fragmented world. Conflicts are exacerbated to the point of assuming the forms of what the Pope calls a “third world war in pieces.” Nationalism resurfaces, social sense seems lost, and the common good seems to be the least common of goods. Even globalization and openness to the world conceal economic and financial interests and not a desire for fraternity. In this overcrowded world we are alone, and the individual prevails over the community dimension of existence. Inclusion is bartered in exchange for the willingness to immerse oneself in the flow and dynamics of consumption.

The context of the Expo can be of help to us in understanding how we must confront the mercantilist myth of capitalist fraternity. The Pope writes “The market alone does not solve everything, although at times they want us to believe this dogma of neo-liberal faith. This is a poor, repetitive way of thinking, which always proposes the same recipes in the face of whatever challenge presents itself.” Capitalist ‘fraternity” – let’s call it that – doesn’t solve problems any more than proletarian internationalism does.

Another way out is needed, another road. The believing heart feels that peace is not about making the subalternity of the poor irredeemable. The believing heart feels that peace is not to make the contradictions of capitalism burst because the fierce and bloody face arms the revolution. “The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has made it clear that not everything can be solved by market freedom and that, in addition to rehabilitating a healthy politics not subservient to the dictate of finance, we must put back human dignity,” (ibid.).

The believing heart feels that peace is a response to the cry of the poor. The desire for fraternity and “social friendship” as presented to us by Pope Francis in his encyclical letter Fratelli tutti appears to be a privileged way out of this condition. The realism that runs through the pages dilutes any empty romanticism, always lurking when speaking of fraternity.

Fraternity, for Francis, is not just an emotion or a feeling or an idea – however noble – but a fact. It can be the fruit of being born of the same parents or of the recognition of a common divine sonship or of the same humanity: this depends on each person and his or her vision of the world and of life. But fraternity is always something to be recognized and not an abstract idea to be applied to reality. It expresses the recognition of this structurally and originally relational character of the human condition.

At the same time, fraternity is not exclusively a fact and a blood fact that leads to the question: “Who is my brother?” Fraternity also implies going out, action and freedom: “Of whom do I make myself brother?” Between these two questions lies the message of Francis.

It is necessary to rediscover the powerful word “fraternity,” which even the post-revolutionary order of the French Revolution abandoned until it was erased from the political-economic lexicon. The appeal to fraternité – we know – did not find a place in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 nor in the French Constitution of 1791, nor in that of 1793. We have to wait for the Constitution of 1848 and, after a long oblivion, in the text of the French Constitution of 1946 and 1958, which is in force today. We have replaced it with the weaker one of “solidarity.”

But, as Francis wrote in one of his messages, “while solidarity is the principle of social planning that allows unequals to become equals, fraternity is what allows equals to be different people. Fraternity allows people who are equal in their essence, dignity, freedom, and in their fundamental rights, to participate differently in the common good according to their capacity, their life plan, their vocation, their work or their charism of service.”

Fraternity then is a message with a strong political value because it overturns the logic of the apocalypse. This is the integralist logic which fights against the world because it believes that it is the opposite of God, that is, an idol, and therefore to be destroyed as soon as possible in order to accelerate the end of time. The abyss of the apocalypse, precisely, in front of which there are no more brothers: only apostates or martyrs running “against” time.

Fraternity, on the other hand, occupies time, requires time. That of quarrel and that of reconciliation. Fraternity wastes time. The apocalypse burns it. Fraternity requires the time of boredom. Hatred is pure excitement. Fraternity is what allows equals to be different people. Hate eliminates the different. Fraternity saves the time of politics, of mediation, of compromise, of meeting, of building civil society, of caring. Fundamentalism cancels it in a video game.

“There is no alternative,” the Pope had said during his apostolic journey to Egypt in 2017, on the occasion of the International Peace Conference: there is either the “civilization of encounter” or the “incivility of confrontation.” Future generations must develop like trees well rooted in the soil of history that, “growing upwards and alongside others,” transform “the polluted air of hatred into the oxygen of fraternity.” To “safeguard peace,” he continued, “we need to enter together, as one family, into an ark that can sail the stormy seas of the world: the ark of fraternity.”

I want to recall here, in this regard, Pope Francis’ appeal made in Hiroshima during his apostolic journey to Japan. On November 24, 2019, at the Peace Memorial, a Meeting for Peace was held in the presence of about 1,300 people. In the darkness, in an atmosphere immersed in silence, with the Genbaku Dome in the background, the Pope greeted 20 religious leaders.

Here are his words: “With conviction I wish to reiterate that the use of atomic energy for the purpose of war is, today more than ever, a crime, not only against man and his dignity, but against every possibility of a future in our common home. The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is immoral, just as the possession of atomic weapons is immoral.” He continued, in fact: “How can we speak of peace while we are building new and formidable weapons of war?” If we had a declaration of the religions on this issue, it would be a breakthrough of hope.

It was precisely in Hiroshima that the Pope recalled an important meeting and document, signed on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi. There, Francis and Aḥmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, signed a historic document on fraternity. The two leaders recognized each other as brothers and tried to take a look at today’s world together. And what did they realize? That the only real alternative that challenges and curbs the apocalyptic solution is fraternity. And so – faced with a world situation “dominated by uncertainty, disappointment and fear of the future and controlled by short-sighted economic interests” – they began to speak not only in the name of God, but also in the name of the poor, orphans, widows, that is, of those whose subjectivity appears mutilated or lost. The Pope and the Imam have begun to speak of all as brothers and to snatch Christians and Muslims from the edge of the abyss.

The recognition of fraternity changes the perspective, turns it upside down and becomes a strong message with political value: we are all brothers, and therefore we are all citizens with equal rights and duties, under whose shadow all enjoy justice. And of the time we are given to live. Citizenship, in fact, is one of the fundamental themes of this Encyclical. If we think about it, in the fraternity all persons live in an equal relationship: no one is a guest of the other, and no one can claim exclusive rights or usufructuary monopolies over the parental home, but all share equally in it.

Let’s take our cue from Cain. The book of Genesis (Gen 4:17) tells us that “Cain met his wife, who conceived and gave birth to Enoch; then he became the builder of a city, which he called Enoch, after the name of his son.” In the fifteenth book of the work De civitate Dei Augustine of Hippo precisely established a comparison between the copy of the brothers Cain and Abel and that of Romulus and Remus. Cain and Romulus both fratricidal were the founders of two cities: Enoch and Rome. The man who refuses fratricity becomes “founder of cities,” which are places of fraternity. The foundation of the city, by one condemned to be a wanderer and a fugitive, is really anomalous and makes us think.

And it is no coincidence that the sura Al-Mâ’ida, which tells of Cain, ends by quoting the Talmud. Let us read it: “His passion drove him to kill his brother. He killed him and became one of those who are lost. Then Allah sent a raven to him and it dug up the earth to show him how to hide his brother’s corpse. He said, ‘Woe is me! Am I incapable of being like this raven, so as to hide my brother’s body?’ And so he was one of those afflicted with remorse. Therefore We prescribed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a man who hath not killed in turn, or hath not spread corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind. And whosoever has saved one, it shall be as if he had saved all mankind.” We can discern, then, a splendid vision of human fraternity, binding it to the polis.

Concretely, in the sphere of the polis, one can experience the condition of citizenship where no one is a guest and, vice versa, no one is master of the house, but all are brought back to the same responsibilities and the same rights. Being fellow citizens means being able to exercise a reciprocal coexistence without recriminations and without monopolistic claims. Being fellow citizens allows us to engage in “exercises of fraternity:” these are carried out with regard to the common house in which we live, and, therefore, place us in the dimension of responsible coexistence.

Above all, as Francis said on his apostolic journey to Morocco, “the consolidation of true peace passes through the search for social justice, which is indispensable for correcting the economic imbalances and political disorders that have always been main factors of tension and threat to the whole of humanity.” Several times the Pontiff then lamented the fact that politics is subject to the economy, and the latter to the efficiencyist paradigm of technocracy. On the contrary, it is politics that must have a broad vision so that the economy is integrated into a political, social, cultural and popular project that tends towards the common good. Francis moves within the framework of a certainty of the common destination of the earth’s goods, It is in injustice that the seeds of conflict are found.

I recall briefly the historic apostolic journey of Francis to Iraq, permeated by Fratelli tutti. In his address to civil society composed of a mosaic of potentially conflicting identities and affiliations, he clearly indicated a way to build a healthy Iraqi civil society: citizenship. “Space should be given – Francis said on that occasion – to all citizens who want to build this country together, in dialogue, in frank and sincere, constructive confrontation. To those who are committed to reconciliation and, for the common good, are willing to put aside their own interests. In these years Iraq has sought to lay the foundations for a democratic society. It is indispensable in this sense to ensure the participation of all political, social and religious groups and to guarantee the fundamental rights of all citizens. Let no one be considered a second-class citizen.”

In Iraq, the Pope went to Hosh al-Bieaa, the square of the 4 churches (Syrian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Chaldean), destroyed between 2014 and 2017 by terrorist attacks. Here a prayer of suffrage for the victims of the war took place, accompanied by testimonies. In his greeting before the prayer, Francis emphasized the words of a testimony heard, which stated that “the true identity of this city is that of harmonious coexistence between people of different origins and cultures.” Hence the conviction that “fraternity is stronger than fratricide.” These words remind us once again of the experience of Cain.

And I also remember that – during his visit to Iraqi soil, the Pope went to the Residence of Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani which is located inside the Mosque of Imām ʿAlī in Najaf, walking through the narrow streets to access it. Al-Sistani was a disciple of Ayatollah Al-Khoei. In a recent interview Sayyed Jawad Mohammed Taqi Al- Khoei – secretary general of the Al-Khoei Institute in Najaf and a member of the family of Al-Sistani’s teacher – recalled a famous saying of the Imām ʿAlī: “People are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in faith or your fellows in humanity.”

The visit of Pope Francis to Iraq has turned the spotlight on Najaf, the Shiite holy city, and has opened a whole new perspective, epochal also in favor of intra- Islamic dialogue. He has, in fact, revived the non-theocratic Shiite theology and proposed the relevance of Abraham, the patriarch common to the three monotheisms, in reconciliation. The meeting between Francis and Al-Sistani lasted about forty-five minutes and the two leaders – as reported in their respective communiqués – spoke of the importance of collaboration between religious communities and the consolidation of the values of harmony, peaceful coexistence and human solidarity, based on the promotion of rights and mutual respect among the followers of different religions and intellectual tendencies. And this so that we can contribute to the good of the country and of all humanity. Mohammad Ali Abtahi, vice president during Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, in a tweet called the meeting “one of the historic turning points of divine religions.”

I remember that in 2017 Francis, receiving in audience the Iraqi Superintendents for Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis, Sabeans/Mandeans said, “we have a common father on earth: Abraham, and from that first ‘exit’ of Abraham, we come, until today, all together. We are brothers and, as brothers, all different and all the same, like the fingers of a hand: five are the fingers, all fingers, but all different.”

In fact, in Ur, the city of Abraham, an inter-religious meeting was held with readings from the Bible and the Koran and testimonies. The sunny desert plain with the ziggurat in the background and the ancient excavations were the setting for an event of great spiritual intensity. The Pope gave a speech and recited with others the Prayer of the Children of Abraham. “Here, where Abraham our father lived,” he said, “it seems to us that we are returning home. […] God asked Abraham to raise his eyes to heaven and to count the stars there (cf. Gen 15:5). In those stars he saw the promise of his descendants, he saw us. And today we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, together with our brothers and sisters of other religions, honor our father Abraham by doing as he did: we look to the heavens and we walk on earth.”

This “looking at the sky” where “the stars shine together” means perceiving a “message of unity”: “the Most High above us invites us never to separate ourselves from our brother next to us. The Beyond of God sends us back to the Other of our brother.” But there is also an invitation to “walk on earth,” after having looked at heaven. Abraham becomes a model of a society, of a way of doing politics, of commitment to rebuild a country. It is an invitation to “leave behind those ties and attachments» that close us in “our groups” and prevent us “from seeing in others our brothers and sisters.” It is necessary to “renounce having enemies,” said the Pope. In short, Ur is no longer just a symbol of the past, but the building site of the future. This is connecting souls.

This vision – and such it is, in fact – requires a radical change of perspective not only at the interpersonal or state level, but also in international relations. The Pope is very clear in his appeal to the importance of multilateralism in dealing with hot topics and crisis situations. It is not enough, therefore, to have more forms of bilateralism whereby powerful countries prefer to deal with other smaller or poorer countries in order to gain more profit. Francis hopes that “regional agreements” will be reached, for example, that will allow countries “to deal en bloc and avoid becoming marginal segments and dependent on the great powers.”

The President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, commented on the Document on Universal Fraternity: “We must seek to build a new world, based on collaboration, humility and dignity. We must not let new opportunities lead us to erect another tower of Babel. We must not allow ourselves to inflict on humanity another universal flood.”

Truly this is how the true quality of a country is measured: by assessing the ability to think not only as a country, but also as a human family. Francis expresses, in reality, the call for a profound revision of the world political program. This can only be the result of a broad connecting souls. Fraternity, understood in its deepest sense “is a way of making history.” And to this all of us here present are called.

Antonio Spadaro SJ, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica delivered this speech at a seminar ‘Connecting Souls: Tolerance and inclusivity’ at Expo 2020 in Dubai, 16 November 2021.

Reproduced with permission from La Civiltà Cattolica and Antonio Spadaro SJ.


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