Religion can unite us

In the last chapter of the encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, the Holy Father Pope Francis extols the virtues of the different religions as contributors to building fraternity and defending justice in society. He believes that as believers, we are convinced that, without an openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that “only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another.” He says that our faith experience and from the wisdom accumulated over centuries, as well as from lessons learned from our many weaknesses and failures, we, the believers of the different religions, know that our witness to God benefits our societies. The effort to seek God with a sincere heart, provided it is never sullied by ideological or self-serving aims, helps us recognize one another as travelling companions, truly brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis points out that “among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and the prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles.” On the role of religions in societies, the Holy Father says that the Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere. On the contrary, “she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines” in the building of a better world, or fail to “reawaken the spiritual energy” that can contribute to the betterment of society. The Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities.” She works for “the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity.”

The Pope is cognizant of the ways in which God works in other religions, and “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.” Yet we Christians are very much aware that “if the music of the Gospel ceases to resonate in our very being, we will lose the joy born of compassion, the tender love born of trust, the capacity for reconciliation that has its source in our knowledge that we have been forgiven and sent forth. If the music of the Gospel ceases to sound in our homes, our public squares, our workplaces, our political and financial life, then we will no longer hear the strains that challenge us to defend the dignity of every man and woman.

Amidst the reality of the existence of many religions and beliefs, the Pope believes that peace is possible between them. According to the Holy Father, its point of departure must be God’s way of seeing things. “God does not see with his eyes, God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same. When the last day comes, and there is sufficient light to see things as they really are, we are going to find ourselves quite surprised.” It follows that “we believers need to find occasions to speak with one another and to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor. The truth is that violence has no basis in our fundamental religious convictions, but only in their distortion, the encyclical letter explains. Sincere and humble worship of God “bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others, and loving commitment to the welfare of all.

The Pope then makes reference to his fraternal meeting with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, where the two religious leaders “resolutely [declared] that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women.

For his final reflection of universal fraternity, the Pope reveals his inspirations in writing the encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti, particularly Saint Francis of Assisi, and others who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more. He gives special mention also to Blessed Charles de Foucauld who, drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation towards feeling a brother to all.

Religion can divide us, even justify killing each other. But if people were faithful to the roots of our faiths, Pope Francis argues that religion can heal and unite us.


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