The steps taken by Pope Francis have challenged the international community with significant repercussions both in the media and in terms of reflection. With him we have witnessed a real paradigm shift with regard to Islam: no longer just knowing it, but rather, by referring to our common humanity, working together for the good of all.
It seems to me that the Catholic Church has taken very significant steps on the road to inter-religious dialogue, strengthening cooperation with non-Christian actors with whom it has developed friendly relations of mutual knowledge unimaginable until a few years ago. What is striking is that this attitude is not confined to the gilded halls of the Vatican or Al Azhar, but it is being put into practice in various countries.
Behind all this fervour there is a vast and perhaps unknown world of people, situations, thoughts and prayers that has never given up in the face of hatred, intolerance and separation. But with patience, courage and faith, it has stubbornly pursued the path of dialogue with those who profess a faith different from my own. The prerequisite for genuine dialogue is the desire to seek the Truth together, and that certainly requires mutual trust, willpower and faith.
If we look at what we Comboni Missionaries live and propose in some countries where Islam is in the majority, it seems to me that referring to Chad allows us to understand that interreligious dialogue is a path fraught with obstacles but also with beautiful and simple situations, At the Tent of Abraham, in N’djamena, and at the Foyer des Jeunes in the parish of Abeche, these ideals are taken up and lived out in a daily practice of exchange, seeking to go beyond and overcome those mutual prejudices that block fraternal communication for the common good. An attempt is made to respond to the invitation to dialogue by starting with young people.
With regard to inter-religious dialogue, it is by its very nature an openness with sympathy towards the other, with a welcoming look at the person who brings ideas, values and faiths different from my own. The two revealed religions play a fundamental role in the formation of a renewed humanity, and dialogue becomes the key to making the principles discussed become a reality. The prerequisite for starting an authentic dialogue is the desire to seek the Truth together and this certainly requires mutual trust, willpower and faith. Bishop Henry Coudray, Apostolic Vicar of Mongo, to the question “how can Christians and Muslims live together?” offers five points for the practice of dialogue in the difficult context of contemporary Chad and, more generally, in reference to that tension towards a shared fraternity between believers that we find in the teaching of Pope Francis: to know each other; to have a positive outlook towards the other; to stimulate and collaborate with each other in doing good; to visit each other in the various occasions of daily life, first of all in the great feasts of the two communities of believers.
It should be noted that, thanks to the teaching of Pope Francis, there has been an epochal paradigm shift in the understanding of inter-religious dialogue as a path towards human brotherhood, because it is no longer a question of simply recognising Islam as an interlocutor, but of taking up a committed, sincere common path for the good of us all.
The reference point is human fraternity, which is not just a document signed by religious personalities of high moral value; it is a watershed that calls us to live this humanity here and now: the desire for unity and fraternity, the desire to live together are the foundations for creating a new humanity, overcoming divisions, wars and suffering.
With his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis calls all humanity together, because we are a gift of God on this Earth, and although we decline the Creator’s name differently, the bonds of fraternity are truer and stronger than the destructive dynamics at work.
A place where we try to live all that is in N’djamena, in the spaces, in the courtyard of Abraham’s Tent, thanks to the day-to-day interaction between young Chadians – Christians and Muslims – with days dedicated to sharing and training.
It is a courtyard, a space where, thanks to the day-to-day interaction between young Chadians – Christians and Muslims – it seems possible to contribute to the construction of a fairer world, a beautiful one insofar as the values of peace, truth, justice, dignity are put into practice even though the circumstances are very harsh. This common feeling is the hope, the strength, the joy of witnessing to the necessity and the beauty of encounter, of dialogue, of fraternity. It is this positive and critical vision of the other that challenges the multi-religious reality of Chad, where prejudice, withdrawal into oneself, and remaining closed to positive solicitations for attention often prevent or hinder that path of fraternity mentioned earlier.
Other important moments are the ‘Cultural Week’, where annual activities such as training courses and conferences for young people are presented, and the ‘Day of Cohabitation’, an important moment at national level that is given a strongly multicultural imprint. Being together, getting to know each other and actively participating in training helps to create cohesion and fraternity.
In addition to the specific activities carried out at the Tent of Abraham, an effort is made to sensitise the local Christian communities in the various parts of the country through training courses on inter-faith dialogue and Islam. It is an educational and training commitment to be carried out patiently, although – we are very aware of this – the weight of history, of past and unfortunately also more recent negative experiences, generate a painful psychological/cognitive block towards Islam, despite the proclaimed claims to the contrary.
But we do not lose heart, confident as we are that the Spirit blows and renews people and relationships, which thus become truly more fraternal.