In a historic feat of solidarity, Argentina’s Jewish and Muslim communities have arranged a meeting with the head of the Catholic Church. On Monday, the brotherhood sat down with The Supreme Pontiff as representatives of Argentina’s most populous religious minorities.
Pope Francis offered his blessing to what he characterised as a “necessary initiative of dialogue and encounter” against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Ukraine and the aftermath of a global pandemic. His Holiness insisted that the instability of recent years “should have taught us and sensitised us to the understanding that we are all part of a single ship and a single humanity.”
In an audience that lasted over half an hour, the Pope received Miguel Steuermann, the director of Latin American Jewish radio station Radio Jai and Imam Marwan Gill, the President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Argentina. They were accompanied by the Orthodox Rabbi Saul Bonino of the Chafetz Chaim community and Imam Ataul Tariq, the representative of the Ahmadiyya Community in Italy.
Speaking with a tone of unity, the guests explained to His Holiness how the initiative arose from the Radio Shalom-Salam programme, a Jewish-Muslim dialogue, which they have produced every Sunday for over a year and a half, and how from there, they promoted activities that synergised groups within Argentine society more broadly.
The Argentine pontiff praised their ongoing efforts, insisting that they represent “the way forward, doing things together, not arguing,” reaffirming his commitment to cooperation with other religious leaders.
Though dwarfed by Argentina’s Christian denominations, which together comprise over 85 percent of the country’s population, Jewish and Muslim groups both constitute thriving communities – each the largest of their kind in Latin America. Buenos Aires, in particular, functions as a regional epicentre for both communities, serving as the headquarters of the Islamic Organisation of Latin America and the Latin American Jewish Congress.
“It was a beautiful example of how we can achieve unity through diversity. Simply the image of having a Rabbi and an Imam being received by the head of the Catholic Church – especially as the world recovers from the pandemic and deals with ongoing global and regional conflicts – highlights the need for gestures of unity,” Imam Marwan Gill told the Times in an intervierw. “Leaders of different faiths must work together to promote peace, justice, and harmony in the world.”
And while dialogue with such an eminent figure would constitute a major milestone for the religious communities of Buenos Aires regardless of who occupies the papacy, this particular meeting bore a special symbolic significance for porteños.
“The Pope had a big impact on interfaith dialogue during his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He left behind an important legacy on the community by constantly working to improve the relations of different faiths,” Imam Gill added.
“A few years ago, he published his great work [encyclical] Fratelli tutti, which means that all are brothers and sisters. It’s an inspiration not only for Catholics, not only for Christians, but I think for any follower of any religion. It highlights the need for accepting the diversity and theological convictions of others. It highlights the need for working hand-in-hand for the betterment of our societies and for the moral standard of humanity.”