Pope Francis receives a gift from Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb during a visit to the Vatican, 15 November 2019  (AFP or licensors)

By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp

Feb 4 2021

One day before the second anniversary of the historic signing of the Document on Human Fraternity and World Peace for Living Together, Pope Francis announces during the General Audience on Wednesday morning that he will participate in the virtual celebrations.

On Wednesday morning after his general audience, Pope Francis reminded everyone that Thursday, 4 February, the First International Day of Human Fraternity will be celebrated. This celebration is intimately linked with the historic signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. 

The signers of this document, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, spent more than a year drafting it prior to signing it in Abu Dhabi, on 4 February 2019. It was the 800th anniversary of the meeting of St Francis with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamal in 1219.

It was not long until the Higher Committee for implementing the content of the Document on Human Fraternity brought a message from the Pope and the Grand Imam to United Nations Secretary-general, António Guterres. Through the Committee, these two leaders proposed an annual day dedicated to Human Fraternity. It was the end of 2019.

A year later, on 21 December 2020, the UN declared February 4 the International Day of Human Fraternity, beginning in 2021. In adopting the initiative, the UN General Assembly invited the Member States, the United Nations system and others to observe the annual day in a manner each considers appropriate to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue.

Pope and Grand Imam to confer Award

Now, two years later, and for years to come, the anniversary of that milestone in the history of humanity will be celebrated internationally. The Pope too announced his pleasure “that the nations of the entire world are joining in this celebration, aimed at promoting interreligious and intercultural dialogue”.

Pope Francis also gave the news that he and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar will participate in celebrations marking the first International Day of Human Fraternity. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s official celebration will be virtual. The meeting and the award ceremony will be streamed in several languages starting at 14:30 (Rome time) – 13.30 (GMT time) – by Vatican News, the multimedia information portal of the Holy See, and broadcast by Vatican Media.

Later on Wednesday, in a Press Conference announcing the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, it was revealed that the Pope and the Grand Imam will confer the Zayed Award on this year’s winners: UN Secretary-general António Guterres and Latifah Ibn Ziaten, Founder of Imad Association for Youth and Peace. Both Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar were the first recipients of the Award when they signed the Document on Human Fraternity.

Pope and Grand Imam provide ‘enormous leadership’

As the Pope mentioned in his words after the General Audience on Wednesday, António Guterres and other world leaders will also be present at the meeting. On receiving news that he would be receiving the Zayed Award for Human Fraternity, Mr Guterres praised the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar:

“We live in challenging times. We see the threats coming from the pandemic, from the climate, threats from war and conflict in different parts of the world. Therefore, it is fantastic to see the enormous leadership of His Holiness the Pope and His Eminence the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, pushing humankind to come together, in unity, in dialogue, to promote peace, to promote fraternity, and to promote the unity that is necessary to address all the challenges to defeat hate and ensure that human solidarity wins the battles we are facing.”

Models of human fraternity and social friendship

Both of this year’s Zayed Award recipients incarnate the ideal of human fraternity and social friendship summed up in Pope Francis’s latest Encyclical Fratelli tutti. Joining Pope Francis in calling for a global ceasefire was UN Secretary-general António Guterres. During the last year in which the entire world has been engulfed in the Coronavirus pandemic, Guterres raised his voice on several occasions appealing for a “global ceasefire in all corners of the world to focus together on the true fight – defeating Covid-19”.

Latifah Ibn Ziaten, Founder of Imad Association for Youth and Peace who, after losing her son to an act of terrorism, transformed her sorrow into reaching out to young people. Her hope is to contribute to preserving “social harmony” between the older and young generations, and among both persons native to France, and migrants.