By Alessandro Di Bussolo – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
The Holy See Pavilion at the Universal Exposition in Dubai is a path designed to give visitors an experience of the meaning of fraternity, friendship, dialogue, encounter, and the strength of exchanges between cultures.
On 4 February, the main celebration of the second International Day of Human Fraternity will be held in the large Sustainability Pavilion, on the anniversary of the signing of the Document of the same name.
From St. Francis and the Sultan to the signing in Abu Dhabi
The starting point of the entire installation – designed by Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, vice-commissioner of the Pavilion and head of the Science and Faith Department of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and architect Giuseppe Di Nicola – is the meeting between St. Francis and Sultan Malik Al-Kāmil in 1219.
Its endpoint is that of Pope Francis with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyib, on 4 February 2019, in Abu Dhabi, at the signing of the Document.
Speaking to Vatican News about the Pavilion’s message and his Dicastery’s commitment to spreading the culture of Fraternity, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, highlights the way for the world’s great religions to return to their important heritage.
He said our heritage is common and at the same time different, and should be filled with dialogue “for a greater impact in contemporary society,” in order to curb the cultural and moral decline of the planet.
Q: Your Eminence, the Holy See Pavilion at the Expo in Dubai is a space set up precisely to give continuity to the Document on Human Fraternity three years after the signing of that important document.
In the pavilion, there is also a visual, continuous, filmed representation of that event. But I would especially like to emphasize a presence: a palimpsest of the great Library and University created in the 9th century in Baghdad, with an Arabic text, is exhibited inside the Pavilion and represents the effort of the culture of that time to make the knowledge of other peoples and cultures accessible to the Islamic world. This is truly an emblematic testimony to this cultural, as well as religious, dialogue.
Q: And it is also one of the most coveted objects present, for which many Arabs come to visit the Pavilion.
This is true; it is certainly one of the fundamental symbols, as is also the Latin translation of an Arabic treatise on mathematics, through which the text of Fibonacci is transmitted to the East, his famous series, where the West learned the so-called Arabic numbers.
Q: It is a way to also make people visually appreciate the richness of cultural exchanges. And in the document signed in Abu Dhabi, Pope Francis and the Grand Iman Al-Tayyib launch an appeal against the cultural and moral decline of the world. How can world’s faiths act concretely together on this?
They can do so through two paths. The almost centripetal path: return again to their great heritage.
We know, for example, that the philosophical, medical, even scientific, but also the general literary heritage of the East arrived in the West over the past centuries, each with its own vision. To such an extent that Thomas Aquinas, for example, had the possibility of knowing Aristotle better through the contribution of Averroes, a Muslim philosopher. In this light, the first great movement is to return to the great common heritage or even to the different heritages that we have, which are very fruitful.
And the second movement is almost centrifugal, that is to arrive at the present, to identify the fundamental paths such as those that are indicated in the Document on Human Fraternity, for a greater dialogue and impact within contemporary society. Let’s just think about what we mean by interreligious dialogue, peace, fraternity, but also an authentic tolerance that is not only external, but is also an encounter.
Q: Pope Francis has repeatedly called for the Document on Human Fraternity to be disseminated and studied as widely as possible. What is the Dicastery for Culture doing and planning to do so that those historic words really become culture?
We think we can do it precisely on the side of culture… the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is more concerned with strictly religious connections. We think we can create, for example, a sort of “Courtyard of the Gentiles” that will be dedicated to the theme of silence, which is characteristic not only of the world of Arab meditation, but also of the ancient Buddhist tradition, so it will be a very broad dialogue.
We also intend to enhance, above all, the scientific dimension by taking into account – also through meetings we are having with representatives of Muslim culture in general – the culture of Arab countries on the theme of anthropology.
This is one of the most delicate themes, continuously being raised in these days by artificial intelligence. A theme that in some way shatters certain categories that are codified, that must therefore be rewritten taking into account this great evolution that science presents.
And this scientific dialogue, as it has been in the past, can still be one of the privileged paths for the encounter between diversities, in the common aspiration towards a vision that is deeply humanistic and human.