That we are many in one has its basis in the very fact that the whole of creation is made of the same fundamental particles. The differences started to emerge when these particles interacted with each other to form complex systems that are as different as a pebble and a child. As varied and separate as they turned out to be, they are still so intimately connected that the mode of existence or the action of one imperceptibly and invariably affects the others. Science has proved that they are indeed ‘entangled’ – no one is truly independent. This in turn was the inspiration behind the scientific phrase Butterfly Effect, which suggests that ‘a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in another location.’
Thanks to the great leaps science has made over the past couple of centuries, we have now become aware how our interdependence at the particle level is manifesting itself in real life. Ocean currents are the most influential natural phenomenon that has had a global reach from time immemorial. Warm water flowing to colder regions affect climate, winds and rainfall across the globe. And today, the flow of money from one part of the world to another affects world economy beyond prediction; the flow of people from one part of the globe to another carries deadly diseases from a village in a remote part of the world to the entire globe, killing millions and bringing life to a standstill; and the flow of information through World Wide Web demonstrates its Butterfly Effect through mass communication by spreading knowledge and useful information on the one hand and generating social upheavals, cyber warfares, cyber brainwashing etc on the other.
Globalisation is a very recent concept, but it actually started with conquerors like Alexander the Great who wanted to bring the then known world under their rule. Later, evangelical conquest of religions went hand in hand with territorial conquest: The Chola conquerors of South India took Hinduism to South East Asian countries, Muslim conquerors took Islam to Asian and African countries, and Christian conquerors took Christianity to all their conquered colonies. That was followed by verbal and military campaigns aimed at ideological conquests by torchbearers of Nazism, Fascism, Communism and Democracy. It was in the predominantly Muslim Afghanistan that Communism and democracy fought their longest war, which sadly hasn’t ceased.
The new century started off with the history shaping 9/11 (2001) attack of America by Islamic terrorists. Ironically, America had itself paved the way for it by arming the fundamentalist Taliban against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The two decades that followed turned Afghanistan and the Middle East into war zones where Islamic terrorists and the Christian West aided by threatened Muslim rulers fought bitterly. Matters came to a head when ISIS sounded the bugle for its global campaign to turn the world into a Muslim Caliphate. It took four years for a combination of America-led coalition forces and Iranian militia to smother the ISIS threat.
It was in a war-ravaged Iraq that the plane carrying Pope Francis landed on 5 March. The sole purpose of the three-day papal visit was to convey the Gospel message BROTHERS ALL to Muslims in particular and to all men in general. In Iraq, Pope Francis met Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf. Earlier in 2019, the Pope had met with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi. Both these visits have been compared with the visit of Francis of Assisi to Sultan al-Kamili of Egypt in 1219.
For all their apparent similarities, there is a huge difference between the visits Francis of Assisi and Pope Francis paid to Muslim leaders. The intention of Francis of Assisi during the Fifth Crusade was to convert Egypt’s Sultan to Christianity by offering to challenge the Sultan’s “priests” to trial by fire in order to prove the veracity of the Christian Gospel. The purpose of Pope Francis’ visits, on the other hand, was to heal the Christian-Muslim divide by telling the Islamic leaders, “We are brothers all.” It was a way of saying that we are all essentially the same and intrinsically dependent on each other and that all campaigns for conquest – ideological, religious or territorial – are for humanity self-destructive.
In going to meet the Sultan of Egypt, Francis of Assisi took a great risk – he went prepared to embrace martyrdom. There was a similar risk involved in Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq – the pandemic and the Iraq’s precarious security situation would have dissuaded any other pontiff. Probably 99 percent of Vatican officials would have advised him against undertaking it. But it was precisely because of the pandemic and Iraq’s security situation that the Pope remained adamant about making the visit. He wanted to make a statement to the people of a devastated nation – we are brothers all. He was acting true to himself, a man who is determined to proclaim by action the all-embracing humanistic teachings of the crucified Lord.
The Pope’s visits to Muslim countries and his meetings with Muslim clerics were his way of translating the encyclical Fratelli Tutti into action, his way of setting an example for those who wish to build a just and fraternal world in their ordinary relationships, social life, politics, institutions etc. As he said in the encyclical, the pandemic that “unexpectedly erupted” demonstrates that “no one can face life in isolation” and the time has truly come to “dream, then, as a single human family” in which “we are brothers and sisters all.” While the world is being pulled apart by resurgent nationalism and supremacism, the Pope is trying his best to hold it together with the glue of global brotherhood.