Vatican official: Human fraternity is the Christian response to identity politics

CNA 5702a73cd557c 104555 St. Peter's Square, pictured on April 3, 2016. | Alexey Gotovsky/CNA.

The secretary of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has argued that as tribalism and identity politics increase, the Catholic Church should cooperate with other religions to promote human fraternity.

"Today we have a problem of identity, an identity crisis. One affirms one's identity… and excluding the others," Fr. Indunil Janakaratne Kodithuwakku Kankanamalage told CNA earlier this week.

The Sri Lankan priest also said that "today we see that tribalism is emerging again…" Tribalism, he explained, affirms "your own group at the expense of the others" and leads to discrimination.

"Fraternity means that you try to welcome the other as the brother and sister in spite of his or her differences… We belong to one family. We are brothers and sisters. This is also very Christian."

Kankanamalage is from the Diocese of Badulla in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest in 2000. He has served at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID) for eight years, first as under-secretary and now as secretary.

He spoke to CNA following the publication of the document "Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity," a joint project of the pontifical council and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

The WCC is a global ecumenical body founded in 1948. The Catholic Church is not a member of the organization, though it sends official observers to meetings.

Kankanamalage said the PCID has had an ongoing collaboration with the WCC and members of the two bodies meet annually. "Serving a Wounded World," published Aug. 27, is their latest joint document.

"People are wounded because of this pandemic… And then also we have other wounds," the PCID secretary said. He specifically pointed to racism, religious intolerance, discrimination, economic and ecological injustice, as well as the injustices faced by migrants and prisoners.

He said that the reason the PCID wanted to address these wounds from an ecumenical and interreligious perspective was because "here we have a situation where we are all wounded. It is not only one religion or one nation or one part of the world."

"The whole humanity is wounded and here we need to respond unitedly," he explained.

Religion has the power to "transform the person within," he noted. "The inspiration for us Christians comes from our Christian teaching. And also we can see that other religions are also responding to this crisis based on their respective teachings."

"Our response has to be a comprehensive response."

"Serving a Wounded World" argues that, for Christians, the basis for "interreligious solidarity" is found in the Holy Trinity. It lays out principles for expressing this solidarity amid a global pandemic that has claimed more than 822,000 lives.

The 24-page publication also offers a series of recommendations, urging Christians to "promote a culture of inclusivism which celebrates difference as God's gift" and create "space for dialogues."

"The office is now really concentrating on promoting this document," Kankanamalage said. 

According to the official, the basis of the document "is very Christian." He cited its use of Old and New Testament quotations and the Parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate common values.

More in Vatican

"We have universal values: love your neighbor, compassion. All of these things are universal values based on Christ," he said. "Basing [our efforts] on these things, we can tackle these issues unitedly in spite of our differences."

He pointed to Pope Francis' emphasis on similar values.

"Pope Francis often speaks of fostering a culture of compassion, a fraternal culture, a culture of encounter," Kankanamalage said.

It has been widely reported that Pope Francis will release an encyclical, the third of his pontificate, on the subject of human fraternity in early October.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.