by Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell

On the Feast of the Epiphany, Pope Francis personally took to social media to share an important message. He released a remarkable YouTube video clip asking for us to join him in his prayer request for January for ‘’sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths.” The video features a Buddhist, an Imam, a Christian priest and a Jewish Rabbi each saying first what they believe in, e.g. ”I believe in Buddha;”; ‘’I believe in Jesus Christ; “I believe in God. Allah.”… And then we see them each again say ‘’I believe in love.” Pope Francis speaks directly to us in the video. He says: “Many think differently, feel differently, seeking or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd and in this range of religions there is only one certainty we have for all: we are all children of God.” The video has had a strongly mixed reaction within the Catholic Church. Some people have been angered by it, feeling the importance of Christianity is being reduced to one faith among many, and others are being profoundly inspired by its message.

This month Pope Francis is highlighting the need for unity among the Christian churches and for dialogue with people from other faith traditions. Last week he visited Rome’s Great Synagogue for the first time in his pontificate. He spoke about “an unbreakable bond” between Jews and Christians and strongly condemned all forms of anti-Semitism. In December, leading Catholic theologians said that Jews can have eternal salvation without converting to Christianity: “Although Jews cannot believe in Jesus Christ as universal redeemer, they have a part in salvation because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” On 25th January, as is done each year, Pope Francis will close the Ecumenical Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On 27th January it looks likely that Pope Francis will become the first Pope to visit the Great Mosque of Rome. Iman Elzir said a papal visit to the Mosque would be ‘’an important gesture which shows that religions dialogue, talk to each other and visit one another’s places of worship.”

Francis has said that Judaism and Islam both see mercy “as one of God’s most important attributes” and that his hope is that the Year of Mercy will “foster an encounter” between the three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

John Allen, a Vatican analyst, raises the question of why Christian unity and interfaith dialogue are so high on the Pope’s agenda right now. One of the key reasons is surely that now, more than ever, given the terror attacks around the world and the rise of “religious” militant groups, the world urgently needs a strong counter-witness to religious violence and extremism. In an atmosphere of growing suspicion and animosity, an emphasis on our common humanity and on the call to love is surely the antidote to hatred and division. As always, Pope Francis models for us what he wants us to do. As the Week of Christian Unity comes to an end today, let’s hear and respond to Francis’s call: to pray and work for Christian unity and sincere dialogue among different faith traditions.