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Dr. Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al Azhar Al Sharif and Pope Francis visit Sheikh Zayed Mosque on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Francois Nel/Getty Images

ROME, December 9, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — In the latest sign of the importance Pope Francis attributes to his contentious Abu Dhabi interreligious initiative, he has now united with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Mosque in Egypt, Ahmed el-Tayeb, in petitioning the United Nations to declare February 4 the annual World Day of Human Fraternity, the Vatican has announced. 

February 4 is the anniversary of Pope Francis’s controversial joint declaration with the Sunni Grand Imam, seen by its critics as promoting religious indifferentism.

In a message delivered last week to United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, at the UN headquarters in New York, the Pope also invited the United Nations to organize, together with the Holy See and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, a World Summit on Fraternity, to be held in the near future.

The message was presented on December 4 to the UN Secretary-General by Christian, Muslim and Jewish members of the “Higher Committee on Human Fraternity,” established in August to achieve the objectives contained in the “Document on Human Fraternity and Living Together,” signed by Pope Francis and Ahmed el-Tayeb in Abu Dhabi, on February 4, 2019. 

Higher Committee on Human Fraternity members meet UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York, Dec.4, 2019. Photo courtesy of Vatican media.

While the document laudably condemns “all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia,” it has also incited considerable controversy for its assertion that “the diversity of religions” is “willed by God” apparently in the same way as race, sex, and language.

Critics of this statement, such as Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary of St. Mary in Astana, Kazakstan, have said it is tantamount to “promoting the neglect of the first Commandment” and is a “betrayal of the Gospel.”

“However noble such aims as ‘human fraternity’ and ‘world peace’ may be, they cannot be promoted at the cost of relativizing the truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and of His Church and of undermining the first Commandment of the Decalogue,” he said in an interview with LifeSite following news of the establishment of the multi-faith “Higher Committee.” 

Committee chairman, Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, together with its secretary, Muslim Judge Muhammad Abd al-Salam, led the delegation at the December 4 meeting at the UN headquarters in New York.

Higher Committee on Human Fraternity President, Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, and Secretary, Judge Muhammad Abd al-Salam, present proposal to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York, Dec.4, 2019. Photo courtesy of Vatican media.

Vatican News reported that Guterres “expressed his appreciation and willingness to take part in the initiative, stressing the importance of working for the whole of humanity.”

He also appointed Adama Dieng, UN special adviser for hate speech and the prevention of genocide, as UN representative to follow up on the proposed activities and work with the Committee.

In a September 27, 2019 interview, Dieng said that while there is no official definition for hate speech, the United Nations understands it to mean “any kind of communication in speech, writing or behavior, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factor.” 

The World Day of Human Fraternity was initially proposed on September 11, 2019, at the first meeting of the “Higher Committee on Human Fraternity” at the Vatican. In a similar initiative the following day, September 12, 2019, Pope Francis invited representatives of the main religions and international organizations such as the United Nations to gather at the Vatican on May 14, 2020 for the signing of a “Global Pact for Education” for a “new humanism.”