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Brotherhood - Address to the Inaugural Meeting of the Christian and Muslim Friendship Society
By + Cardinal George Pell
This week the Pope has spoken of the on-going need to unearth the full facts about the medieval Inquisition. Many have asked, why has he revived that question again; have we not already apologised for this in the year 2000?
One reason for reopening the discussion is that Catholics believe that when we sin, more than a simple apology is needed to wipe away our guilt. Forgiveness requires true penitence, on-going conversion, and a return to the Lord in faith and love. As the Pope writes this week: "It is appropriate that ... the Church should become more fully conscious of the sinfulness of her children, recalling all those times in history when they departed from the spirit of Christ and his Gospel.”
The Church exists to pray for sinners, to reconcile them to God and to one another, and to pray for the inclusion of every human person in the heavenly banquet. This aspiration extends to every person, of whatever faith or of no faith. All have sinned in the eyes of God—Christian and non-Christian alike—and all are called to goodness, and new life.
This is not just a Christian view. It should serve as the basis of brotherhood between Christians, Muslims and non-believers. A country like Australia offers many blessings to those who believe in God, including respect for truth, for human family and dignity, for religious freedom, and a commitment to just, non-violent political structures. We have to work together to protect these good things, and to ensure that we continue to enjoy them despite hostile pressures that can arise both from within our society, and from outside.
No century witnessed greater bloodshed than the last, and it is surely the great hope of all people, and particularly of all religious believers, that this new century will be a time of peace, healing, and common prosperity. We must not let the beginnings of this new century be characterised as “an age of terror”. Instead, we must work to ensure that it becomes instead the beginning of a new age of brotherhood between peoples.
The new century has not started well. The end of the Cold War ushered in a brief decade of peace, and has been followed by some years of political violence, instability, and terrorism. Good Christians and good Muslims abhor this. Mainline Christians and mainline Muslims today embrace the ideal of the brotherhood of all men and women and respect for all believers.
We who profess a religious faith have a solemn duty to uphold key moral values and to propose them to wider society. We do this most effectively when we first own up to our own failings, and make a renewed effort to serve and not to be served, to witness to goodness, and to reject evil and egotism. Our common brotherhood rests on this foundation: commitment to universal human dignity, and eagerness to place love above hatred. It also depends on our ability to acknowledge where and when we have gone wrong, to admit this to ourselves and perhaps even publicly, and to try and set a new course.
My theme tonight is brotherhood, and I want to suggest that there are five main marks of brotherhood, understood also as including women and children.
The first of these is a common origin. Now, in Australia we all come from many places. Some have been here since before the beginnings of recorded history. Others have been here for hundreds of years. Others again have only been here for a few years, or for a generation. Despite these differences, and differences in religion, values and culture, we have a common origin in understanding ourselves first and foremost as Australians.
This is not to say that we must leave everything we are behind. That is not the Australian way. But there is an important difference between people who come to Australia and never really see it as home, and those who decide that having arrived here they are now Australians, or at least allow their children to become Australian first of all. The first group of people think like colonials; they want to make their new country part of the one they have left, a reflection of a distant empire. The second group of people have made a decision to leave the world they have come from and to make a new life here. They can work to change and improve our society, and they bring the richness of their cultural heritage to this task. But they do not seek to make Australia an extension of their homeland.
For Christians and Muslims in Australia, there is another, deeper dimension to our common origin—and that is the origin we share in God's revelation to Abraham. We are all children of God, and Christians and Muslims are also children of Abraham. Like all children, we can have our disagreements and our differences. But loyalty to our common origin requires us always to keep in view that we are of the same monotheist family, and to treat each other accordingly. No family can allow hatred and violence to take root amongst its children. This is our responsibility too.
All children of Abraham are also called to oppose the excesses of individualism, such as pornography, drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual promiscuity and abortion. Outsiders see these vices as typical of Western life, but they are not typical of Christianity, nor of the best of Western civilization.
The second mark of brotherhood is a shared destiny. Every generation that is born or comes here is asked to accept the task of working together to make Australia a good country; a place where people's rights are respected, where they can work and raise their families in peace, and enjoy the rewards of their honest labours. Our shared destiny is one of unity, freedom, peace and prosperity. But it is not a destiny that we can take for granted. It depends on the choices we make, especially those that build up trust and understanding between us. Choices that erode this trust or cause misunderstanding and tension, if not checked and corrected, can lead Australia to the social disharmony and suspicion that plague life in some other countries.
For those in Australia who believe in the One True God, our shared destiny is also a spiritual destiny. We seek to be with God for eternity, to come to heaven after the trials and temptations and troubles of this life on earth. And we seek to do this through our faith in God's goodness, in regular prayer and acts of charity, and through activities such as almsgiving and pilgrimage. We seek to live according to God's law, to bring the truth and usefulness of what God wants for us to other people, and to share it with them.
A third mark of brotherhood is love for each other. What does it mean to say that we should love each other? It means respect, active sympathy, and allowing for differences. It is sometimes easy to love those who are our own, especially our own family and friends. It is easier to love our own community. But it can be harder to love those who at first seem different or strange to us. Brothers and sisters can be very different from each other, and loving each other is not always easy, especially when selfishness or misunderstanding or fear intrude into the relationships between them. Muslim minorities must be respected in countries like Australia with Christian majorities, and Christian minorities must be respected in countries with Muslim majorities, like Indonesia.
God loves us and requires us to love others. In our own personal lives we have to strive constantly to do his will. In our communities we have to bring this love to reality in practical ways. And we have to take this beyond our communities to the wider society. Australian society has great need of the practical love that believers in God have to offer. Muslims and Christians must always have a deep loyalty to their own faith and traditions, and respect this in each other. But we should also be working together in practical ways to build up our country—for Australia is our country, a country we share with others.
To take one example; in recent years there have been many instances of Christians and Muslims visiting each others schools and communities to learn more about each other and each other's beliefs. I would like to see regular sporting contests between our schools and with state schools. I know that school boy rivalries can often make for adult friendships and understanding. I also hope that in the near future we can further expand the regular contact between students in Christian and Muslim schools, take our dialogue to the next step, and begin to co-operate together in works of charity and welfare for each other's communities and for those outside our communities. The need for relief of poverty, sickness, loneliness and homelessness—to name just a few things—are acute in our city. I would like to see the cultivation of brotherhood between us soon begin to flower in joint work and initiatives in these sorts of areas.
A fourth crucial part of brotherhood is respect for family. You are aware of the ways in which marriage and family life are under pressure in our society. The suffering and hardship that the erosion of family life brings, both for individuals and for the community, is enormous. It is a major cause of poverty, homelessness, and all sorts of problems such as drug abuse and crime among young people. None of us want this—for ourselves, or for our children. Australia needs strong families and a renewed family life. In this situation, the brotherhood between believers can be a great gift to our country.
Christians and Muslims are family people. We believe in family and defend it as something of great value and goodness. Our reverence for family is next in importance to our reverence for the truth. We should work together to support each other in our commitment to family life, and we should work together to make the case for family to Australian society. Families are the places where people first learn faith and love, where they are taught the habits of a moral life and care for others. We always need more people like this, and we need people who will take this good things beyond their own families and communities to people outside who are also in need of them. Many non-believers are brought to faith through the goodness that is shown to them by people who have grown up in strong familles united in love of God.
The fifth and final mark of brotherhood I want to speak of tonight is the willingness to adopt others as brothers and sisters. In many ways this is perhaps the most importance aspect of brotherhood that Christians and Muslims need to grapple with today. Can we adopt each other as brothers and sisters? Do we want to do this? It is not something that will always be easy to do. There are differences between Christians and Muslims, and between believers and non-believers. Some of this differences will never be overcome. We must accept this and respect this, just as we must respect and accept differences between ourselves and our own brothers and sisters in our own families.
Most importantly, we must not be deterred by the differences between us from seeing each other as brothers and sisters. We must focus instead on what we have in common, and use what we have in common to fight suspicion and mistrust and to deepen friendship and affection. We must not let others put enmity between us. We know that there are those who insist that Christians and Muslims, believers and unbelievers, can never be brothers. We must not accept this. Some will say “why should we be friends?” There are many reasons why this should be so, and I have tried to identify some of these tonight. Another question, related to this, is “why should we be enemies?” Whatever the differences between us, we must never allow them to serve or to be used as reasons for being enemies. We must agree that we will allow nothing to make us enemies. We will let nothing destroy our brotherhood in Abraham.
One way of ensuring that this does not happen is to talk about our differences. Muslims should ask Christians why they believe the things they do, and Christians should ask Muslims the reasons for their beliefs too. As brothers and sisters we should be able to speak frankly and honestly with each other, and discuss things between ourselves in a robust and respectful way. This is an important way of creating friendships between individuals, and between communities. It has always been a part of how different groups have come to be adopted by Australia as Australian brothers and sisters. We need more of this at the moment, and should not forget the important part it plays in ensuring peace and harmony.
We should build on these beginnings and continue to talk together. Our young people should meet one another in friendship, discussion and sport. We must give each other room to move, room to be different, with the basic civil rights of all respected, with no harassment of minorities. We must strengthen the climate of trust so that there will be no oxygen for the merchants of hate and violence.
We should build now while we can, lest we be overtaken by events.
Copyright © 1999-2006 Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.