solidarity

On December 21, 2020, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution – co-sponsored by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – proclaiming February 4 as the International Day of Human Fraternity, inviting all Member States and international organizations to observe the International Day of Human Fraternity annually. The International Day of Human Fraternity commemorates the historic signing of the Document on Human Fraternity by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates on February 4, 2019; the day highlights the principles and values of the Document on Human Fraternity, while exploring good practices towards its implementation as a pathway to building a more peaceful world.

So, 4 February this year will mark the third observance of this day. In a message for the day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says, “The International Day of Human Fraternity celebrates the values of compassion, religious understanding, and mutual respect. These values underwrite peace and are the glue that hold our human family together.

Yet all over the world, they are being eroded. By deepening divides, widening inequalities, and growing despair. By surging hate speech, sectarianism, and strife. The fact is, we see examples of religious extremism and intolerance in all societies and among all faiths.

It is the duty of religious leaders everywhere to prevent instrumentalization of hatred and defuse extremism amidst their followers. The declaration “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” – co-authored by His Holiness Pope Francis and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb – is a model for interfaith harmony and human solidarity. Let us all take inspiration and renew our commitment to stand together as one human family. Together, let us build an alliance of peace. Rich in diversity, equal in dignity and rights, united in solidarity”.

Guterres is in fact reiterating what Pope Francis and the Grand Imam say in their introduction, “from our fraternal and open discussions, and from the meeting that expressed profound hope in a bright future for all human beings, the idea of this Document on Human Fraternity was conceived. It is a text that has been given honest and serious thought so as to be a joint declaration of good and heartfelt aspirations. It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters.” The document above all is a ‘Magna Carta’, a way of proceeding for all of humanity, provided there is the necessary political will to ensure that. The document analyses the realities which grip mankind today and provides a blueprint for all in order to address and ultimately overcome the hate, divisiveness and violence of today!

‘Fraternity’ however, is not a new concept. Though male- sounding, it embraces every single human in totality. It means brotherhood and sisterhood or a belief in co-existence. Thus, all the member states of the UN are directed by the United Nations to observe the ‘International Day of Human Fraternity’ in the best and appropriate manner to promote interreligious harmony, friendship, cooperation, and acceptance. ‘Fraternity’ is also a non-negotiable dimension of the Indian Constitution appearing in the Preamble. A pillar of our democracy. It refers to a feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood and a sense of belonging with the country among its people. The Preamble declares that fraternity has to assure two things—the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation.

On 4 October 2020, Pope Francis gave to the world his latest Encyclical on Fraternity and Social Friendship ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (Brothers and Sisters All). ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is path-breaking- it is radical in nature; it highlights and also challenges the core teaching of every major religion in the world. Pope Francis makes an urgent and passionate call for meaningful discipleship, of authentic witness in our world of today! It is blueprint for concerted action which is addressed to “brothers and sisters all” (#8) and in his opening remarks he states “although I have written it from the Christian convictions which inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will” (#6). In sum and substance, it provides a clear direction to all women and men, irrespective of their religious/ideological beliefs, that if we are sincere about addressing the realities of today- ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is the path we must walk together.

‘Fratelli Tutti’ provides a road map for all to become more fraternal in deed! Jesus tells his disciples “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The Encyclical emphasises key dimensions of this witnessing. These include the fundamental, that the dignity of every person is paramount.  “Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive, or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity” (#107).

On 3 February 2023, the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus under the leadership of its Secretary Fr Xavier Jeyaraj, organised a global webinar ‘Fraternity @ Frontiers’ which launched an interactive global map of Jesuit Social Centres. In an insightful address on the occasion Fr Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus said, We celebrate the happy coincidence of the launch of the interactive map on the eve of the Third International Day of Human Fraternity, a day in which the UN recognizes the gesture of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in signing the important joint document on Human Fraternity, on February 4, 2019. The document invites us to make all this “the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of education and training, so that it may help to create new generations that bring good and peace, and defend everywhere the rights of the oppressed and the least.” In keeping with the vision of the ‘Day of Fraternity’ Fr Arturo was clear that every Jesuit, every ministry (and every single person of course), must move beyond our exclusiveness, transcend narrowness, network and collaborate much more if one truly intends creating an impact! It was a radical call for fraternity with those at the frontiers and with those who live on the peripheries of our dehumanized world!

Very significantly, at the beginning of the Webinar a beautiful and meaningful which prayer was first presented by Cardinal Dearden in 1979 and quoted by Pope Francis in 2015, was read out; an extract reads,

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.
We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

So apt! So relevant – to help us understand why we must have the courage to play a more determining role in our world of today in which hate and violence, divisiveness and discrimination, xenophobia and exclusiveness seem to gain greater traction and legitimacy.

Pope Francis recently said that “Fraternity, means reaching out to others, respecting them, and listening to them with an open heart.” He expressed hope that Christians will take concrete steps, together with the believers of other religions and people of goodwill “to affirm that today is a time of fraternity, avoiding fuelling clashes, divisions, and closures…. Let us pray and commit ourselves every day, so that we may all live in peace as brothers and sisters.” This ‘International Day of Human Fraternity’ is therefore a wake-up call to all – to be courageous in defending and promoting justice and the rights of all, so that in sustainable peace, we can truly live as sisters and brothers in dignity, equity and love in this our common home!

*(Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is a human rights, reconciliation and peace activist/writer. Contact: cedricprakash@gmail.com )


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