Religion is often viewed as a force that sows divisions between people. But the world’s most prominent religious leaders have come together to present a different vision of how faith can work in the world.
In a rare move, major religious leaders ― from Pope Francis to the Dalai Lama ― issued a joint appeal Wednesday asking people to follow a simple bit of advice: Make friends with people of other faiths.
“Our advice is to make friends to followers of all religions,” Ayatollah Sayyid Fadhel Al-Milani, one of the U.K.’s most senior Shia Muslim clerics, said in a video recording.
“Personal contact, personal friendship, then we can exchange a deeper level of experience,” the Dalai Lama said.
Pope Francis chose to speak about his long friendship with the Argentinian Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who also appeared in the video.
“My religious life became richer with his explanations, so much richer,” Francis said of Skorka. “And I guess the same happened for him.”
“Make Friends” is an initiative of the Elijah Interfaith Institute, an interfaith organization with offices in Israel and the United States. In a press release, organizers said the project’s mission is to counter the idea that people view each others’ religions with distrust or disdain ― and to potentially even reduce violence conducted in the name of religion.
Rabbi Dr. Alon Goshen-Gottstein, the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s director, said that this project introduces a new theological perspective, one that affirms the need for friendship between faiths.
“We cannot deny that in the books of many religions you can find texts that are not very open, even hostile, to people of other faiths,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, when the world’s most important leaders call for friendship, they are in fact affirming a particular way of practicing religion and rejecting another.”
The 22 leaders involved in the appeal represent a wide spectrum of religious beliefs ― Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Each leader contributed a personal statement specifically for the purposes of this project.
Many more videos from the leaders, with subtitles in different languages, are available on Make Friends’ YouTube account.
“One of the wonderful things about spending time with people completely unlike you is you discover how much you have in common. The same fears, the same hopes, the same concerns,” Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the U.K.’s former chief rabbi.