The successful first-ever visit of a pope to the Arabian Peninsula last February occurred a few days after deadly bomb blasts rocked a cathedral and a mosque in the beleaguered southern region of Mindanao in the Philippines.
The attacks on the two temples are atrocious acts of terrorism perpetrated by fanatics who commit acts of violence in the name of God.
In a show of unity and peace, Christians and Muslims joined forces to condemn the fatal explosions and to show fraternity between believers of both faiths.
A further gesture of solidarity was the initiative by young Muslims and Christians who gathered around the Cathedral of Santa Isabel, in the southern Philippines, joining their hands to form a human barrier to protect people attending a mass inside the cathedral.
As a counterpoint to the bloodshed that befell Mindanao, the historic three-day trip of Pope Francis to the United Arab Emirates sent a stark lesson to the whole world that there is no such “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam and that it is possible to have a peaceful coexistence between peoples of different creeds.
The enthusiastic welcome accorded to the pope in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE, represents without doubt a landmark event ushering in a “new page” in the history of Christian-Muslim relationship.
A highly noteworthy moment happened when the Roman Pontiff and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar University signed a joint declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, a statement condemning violence committed in the name of religion.
The document urges believers of both religions “to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved.” Both the Grand Imam and the Pope are convinced that “religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism.”
Can this message of peace and fraternity be an example to emulate in regions of the planet plagued by religious extremism and held back from progress by decades of conflicts and divisions?
We share the plea that the insights contained in the Document on Human Fraternity be disseminated in schools, universities and institutions of formation and be used as a tool of education of the new generations “to bring goodness and peace to others.”
May this new page in interreligious dialogue be a sign of hope for Mindanao and other hot spots beset by ongoing intolerance and hostilities.