Despite being a Muslim Imam and a member of a minority religion in a predominantly Christian nation, I pay close attention when Pope Francis, Christianity's most influential leader, speaks. I find him inspiring.
I've heard it stated that the greatest honor anyone can pay to a foreign group is to invest the time and energy necessary to learn their language. Such a gesture says they truly count. Pope Francis seems deeply committed to language learning.
I would argue that the greatest honor anyone can pay to the faith traditions of others is to seek understanding, to show respect, to engage in dialogue and to pursue friendship. Pope Francis excels in that realm.
He recently told the assembly of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue: "The Catholic Church is conscious of the value of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions."
The Pope's call for respect and the granting of dignity to all is a lesson every faith tradition and every individual should heed. Too often those of a region's majority faith (my own faith provides examples) have engaged in actions that range from ignoring to overt hostility to persecution to genocide.
At times past and present, and at places around the globe, those of nearly every faith tradition have at some point lost sight of their righteous values. Whether the atrocities are/were perpetrated by a handful of extremists or the leaders of a nation, such actions are contrary to that faith's own holy writings and our universal understandings of morality.
As people of faith, we must overcome such attitudes and animosities.
As Pope Francis said, "Dialogue does not mean renouncing one's own identity in approaching others, nor does it mean accepting compromises on faith and Christian morality; On the contrary, 'true openness involves remaining steadfast in one's deepest convictions, clear and joyful in one's own identity...'"
All of us as humans want to feel that we matter. We want to be understood. We want to be treated with dignity and respect. Pope Francis seems to have grasped these facts as few contemporary religious leaders have.
His approach is impressive. Even to those of us who are not Christians. In fact, this is one year when I think TIME magazine was spot-on in their choice for Man of the Year.