ROME -- Pope Francis and a top Sunni Muslim came together virtually Thursday to reinforce a message of fraternity, pressing forward with a broad-based Christian-Muslim peace initiative ahead of Francis’ planned trip to Iraq next month.
Thursday marked the first-ever International Day of Human Fraternity, a U.N.-designated celebration of interfaith and multicultural understanding inspired by a landmark document signed on Feb. 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi by Francis and Sheikh Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar center for Sunni learning in Cairo.
The document called for greater mutual understanding and solidarity to confront the problems facing the world. With the backing of the United Arab Emirates, the initiative has gone on to create a high-level commission to spread the message and plans are under way to build in Abu Dhabi a center with a synagogue, mosque and church in a tangible display of interfaith coexistence and sharing.
Francis addressed the virtual anniversary celebration by warning that forging greater human solidarity was the “challenge of our century, the challenge of our times.”
Francis praised al-Tayyeb’s courage in signing the document and pursuing the initiative. Al-Tayyeb praised his “brother” Francis and urged Muslims and all people of good will to support the project and its aims.
They were both on hand virtually to award a fraternity award to the U.N. secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, and Latifah Ibn Ziaten, a Moroccan-born mother who began campaigning for an end to religious extremism and greater social harmony after her son was murdered in France.
The anniversary of the initiative comes a month before Francis is due to visit Iraq in the first-ever papal visit. The Chaldean patriarch has said that Francis is due to meet there with the country’s top Shiite cleric, Ali al-Sistani.