by Bill McCarthy 

As the social justice arm of the Catholic Church, Catholic Charities is distinctly Catholic. And we are also an Agency comprised of staff, volunteers and partners from many different religious traditions. We are rich in our diversity! It is the same in the larger community and in our world. This great diversity strengthens us – and, sometimes, it also divides us.

If we are to be compassionate people and to sincerely live and model our values to love, to serve, to teach and to work for justice, we are sometimes called to bridge interreligious divisions by reaching out, finding common ground and standing courageously in that place. Recently, Pope Francis, a leader who has demonstrated that he is willing to act in some surprising and unconventional ways, took such a stand. Many of you might have read about it, but, in case you didn’t, I wanted to describe it to you.

During a recent visit to Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, where the Israelis and Palestinians continue their decades-old conflict over the land in which they live, Pope Francis unexpectedly invited the Israeli President Shimon Peres and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Pope’s home for an evening of prayer for peace. Together, they participated in a service of Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayers, prayers spoken in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Italian, with musical selections from the three faith traditions. This was not a political meeting. Rather, it was a meeting that Pope Francis hoped would inflame anew the desire for peace. In many different languages and through the prayers and songs of different religious traditions, the leaders thanked God for creation, asked for forgiveness and prayed for peace. Despite their differences in form, the prayers were, in some very important ways, similar in their content.

At the prayer meeting, Pope Francis said that “peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict.” How can we encounter each other and truly know and love each other when we are so different? In a world full of divisions, what is our common ground? What unites us all? Pope Francis has spoken about this, too:

We’re all brothers and sisters. Believers, non-believers or whether belonging to this or that religious confession, Jews, Muslims… we’re all brothers and sisters! Human beings are at the center of history and this for me is really important; humans are at the center (of society). In this moment of history, humans have been pushed away from the center, they have slid towards the margins and at the center – at least right now – there’s power, money and we must work on behalf of human beings, for men and women who are the image of God.

We – all of us – are called to look upon each other as our sisters and brothers who have an inherent dignity that is worthy of being nurtured and cherished. That is our common ground as human beings, despite our differences. And that is also the foundation of everything we do at Catholic Charities.