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Pope Francis identified “three flaws in the human spirit” that destroy human fraternity: “a lack of understanding of others, a failure to listen, and a lack of intellectual flexibility.”
He warned of these three issues in a message published on February 4, 2024, and addressed to the participants of the 4th International Congress of PLURIEL, the University Platform for Research on Islam, taking place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
“At a time when fraternity and living together are being called into question by injustices and wars […] The roots of these evils are threefold: a lack of understanding of others, a failure to listen, and a lack of intellectual flexibility,” the Pope said. “Three flaws in the human spirit that destroy fraternity and that need to be properly identified if we are to rediscover wisdom and peace.”
The five-day PLURIEL Congress concludes February 6, after bringing together around 190 researchers from 25 different countries, who all specialize in different areas of study regarding Islam. This year’s meeting focused on the impact of the Document of Human Fraternity, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, in 2019.
This historic document is a centerpiece of the Pontiff’s dialogue with Islam and his promotion of human fraternity. In a world affected increasingly by war and conflict, the Pope wants us to be aware of what moves people away from one another.
The lack of understanding of others
Pope Francis encouraged his readers to build solid relationships based on education, dialogue, and understanding. “The problems of today and tomorrow will remain unsolvable if we do not get to know and value each other, and if we remain isolated,” he underlined.
“If we do not want to build a civilization of the anti-brother, where ‘the other who is different’ is vaguely perceived as an enemy, if on the contrary we want to build that longed-for world where dialogue is assumed as the path, joint collaboration as ordinary conduct, mutual knowledge as method and criterion, then the path to follow today is that of education for dialogue and encounter.”
“Peace without an education based on respect and knowledge of the other has neither value nor future,” the Pope warned.
He added that “human intelligence, for its part, is fundamentally relational” and can only flourish if it remains curious to other realities and can communicate its thoughts.
The lack of listening
“The lack of listening is the second trap that undermines fraternity,” the Pope continued, emphasizing that if one doesn’t take time to listen to the person who is different, then it is hard to understand them.
“Creating spaces where different opinions can be heard is not a waste of time, but a gain in humanity,” the Pontiff wrote. “To debate, we need to learn to listen, that is to say, to be silent and slow down, in contrast to the current direction of our post-modern world, which is always hectic, full of images and noise.”
“Debating while knowing how to listen and without giving in to emotion, without fearing ‘misunderstandings,’ which will always be present and are part of the game of encountering others, is what will enable us to reach a peaceful common vision in order to build fraternity,” he continued.
“How many evils would be avoided if there were more listening, silence and real words all at once, in families, political or religious communities,” the Pope wrote, citing St. James (1:19-20) who says to be “quick to hear, slow to speak.”
Not having intellectual flexibility
In order to be able to debate in a peaceful manner one also needs “intellectual flexibility,” the Pope wrote as the third and final issue to be aware of. “Education and research must aim to make the men and women of our peoples not rigid but flexible, alive, open to otherness, and fraternal,” he added.
He also explained that dialogue should not be “limited to discussions around a table” but should promote understanding and finding a common ground. “Dear brothers and sisters, let us ensure that our dream of fraternity in peace is not confined to words!”
“Do not be afraid to step outside your disciplines, remain curious, cultivate flexibility, listen to the world; do not be afraid of this world, listen to your brother whom you have not chosen but whom God has put beside you to teach you to love,” he wrote.