Interreligious dialogue and fraternity are non-negotiables

by Pedro Gabriel ‘Where Peter Is’. Praise God for Pope Francis!

Pope Francis met yesterday with 17 other religious leaders at Portugal’s Apostolic Nunciature.

“We know this is a goal of Pope Francis’ pontificate, this interreligious dialogue,” said Timóteo Cabral, President of the Evangelical Alliance of Portugal, “We all came out of that meeting with the feeling that we had an encounter, not an audience or a reception. It was an encounter. An encounter among friends, a fraternal encounter, grounded on common values.”

Victor Forghani from the Bahá’í community, explained:

“It was an honor to be here, with our brothers of other religious confessions. It was a very moving and simple moment… The Holy Father transmitted a very brief but deep message, thanking us for all the work the religious confessions in Portugal are doing for interreligious dialogue.”

Sheik Munir spoke favorably of the pope:

“His Holiness is a spiritual man… When we speak with him, we can see he is a man of God, who wants peace in the world… He is a man who exudes peace. He doesn’t merely speak of peace but he exudes peace, he exudes love.”

Suryakala Chhanganlal, representing the Hindu Community, agreed with the sheik’s assessment, saying, “It was very moving. It was my first time meeting these important representatives. I was nervous, but in the end everything turned out alright. He exudes peace.”

On August 2, there had already been a ceremony at the Tropical Botanical Garden of the University of Lisbon, where six trees were planted, representing the six major families: Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

### Fraternity, a common refrain

When asked about the meeting, both outside the nunciature and at the press conference that followed, all religious leaders seemed to agree on the most important element during Pope Francis’s intervention: fraternity.

“He speaks of fraternity, that we are all brothers, that we are all equal,” said Sheik Munir. “We must help each other, no matter what belief we hold… The most important thing is to respect the human person, be fraternal, and relay the love we all have.”

Joaquim Moreira, of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, added, “He spoke of brotherhood among peoples, and that we should help the youth rip open the veil for the knowledge of transcendence… I felt that when I was with him, the ripping open of the veil towards transcendence. He said we must all do this work, in fraternity and love between each other.”

Fr. Peter Stilwell, Director of the Department of Ecumenical Relations and Interreligious Dialogue for World Youth Day (WYD) reported how the pope made a gesture of putting the hand in the pocket and said: “It is preferable to have an extended hand — to greet — than a hand in the pocket, which signifies not only a matter of money, but how things are always negotiable. There are things that are non-negotiable, such as the openness to God, the dignity of the human person, the appeal to fraternity.”

Suryakala Chhanganlal also saw fraternity as this meeting’s key message, saying that Pope Francis “had a message of fraternity… He emphasized the need for fraternity, and the importance of each religious confession for that end. That’s what he emphasized the most.”

This fraternity, however, is not restricted to the ecumenical or interreligious setting, but must overflow towards the rest of society. “The Pope is here to encounter all the youth from all worlds, relaying a message of hope, a message that God is open to all, but he doesn’t forget all units that need to make an effort to change the world and to change ourselves, so that we can create a peaceful society,” said Chhanganlal.

Jorge Pina Cabral, bishop of the Lusitanian Church (of the Anglican communion), agreed. “This was the appeal of the pope,” he said. “To have fraternity as a path, as a work, that religions must have not only among themselves, but also for the society in which they are inserted.”

“Now this work of fraternity assumes that we can see each other as essential, that we respect the differences with others and that we can, together, build and help build what we perceive as fundamental in our context, particularly in Portugal, through the inclusivity of minorities, the openness to the problems that those minorities experience,” Bishop Cabral added.

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