You would expect Pope Francis to have something significant to say about world peace for the traditional papal statement on peace on New Year’s Day. He has not disappointed us. His special message for the World Day of Peace is now available. Successive Popes have made such statements over the past 47 years, and Francis draws from their statements in this document.
His eight-page message covers a broad canvas – from the individual level to the international, and covers many realms of activity.
What does it say?
His key theme is fraternity, a central Christian concept later adopted in the French revolutionary tradition as “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality”. Francis sees a renewed commitment to fraternity as the foundation and pathway, the sine qua no for peace, and he draws on the biblical story of Cain and Abel to develop the concept, with Christ and the Cross being the ultimate example of fraternity.
It is a positive document (Francis is a positive man!), but he notes the ills of modern life in what he calls the “globalisation of indifference”, that is, globalisation might make us neighbours but it does not makes us brothers or sisters. The ideologies of individualism and consumerism, the abandonment of the weak and so on, are evident in modern life and critically all reflect the absence of fraternity.
Francis writes that fraternity comprises three obligations: the duty of solidarity, where richer nations assist the less developed; the duty of social justice, where there is greater fairness between stronger and weaker peoples; and the duty of universal charity.
He affirms the aim of the common good and rejects “desire for profit” or “thirst for power”. Rather, he argues for “losing ourselves for the sake of others” rather than exploiting, and “serving them instead of oppressing”. The latter reminds me of the washing of the feet, and all of this echoes Jesus’ teaching in the gospels.
At the individual level he is concerned at the poverty of relationships due to lack of solid family and community relationships, which can only be realised through fraternity in family and community in both good times and bad.
At the economic level, he writes that while absolute poverty has decreased, relative poverty has risen. That is, the gap between rich and poor has risen. Inequities and the greedy manipulation of the economy need to be addressed. Economies need to have prudence, temperance, justice and strength at their heart. All should benefit.
He draws on Aquinas’s and the church’s concept of ownership, that people have possessions not just as their own, but for the common benefit as well.
Francis appeals to those who pursue violence and death by war and the force of arms to see not an enemy but a brother or sister, and to meet them in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation. He repeats the appeal for non-proliferation of arms and for disarmament, beginning with nuclear and chemical weapons.
He decries corruption in government and organised crime, seeing the general citizenry and especially the poor as the victims of the ills that can arise, including drug abuse, human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, and conditions in some prisons.
The new Pope also argues that fraternity lies at the heart of resource use – both in the ability to feed the world and to care for the environment. In his conclusion he comes to the nub of fraternity. While he sees fraternity as the fundamental principle, fraternity itself comes from love, and it is love – a gift from God – that enables and is the wellspring of fraternity. He quotes Jesus’ beautiful words of hope and love from the gospels.
Francis emphasises the need to serve and concludes: “Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace.”
What this says about Francis
From what we have learned since then, his thoughts in this message come as no great surprise. He is no supporter of unrestrained capitalism. The benefits of development must be shared fairly. He sides with the poor – his many years in the slums of Buenos Aires have made a deep impact on him. So have the difficult years under the junta in Argentina. It seems they tempered him and changed him to the man he is today.
The connection with the poor brings to mind his connection with his namesake. He reportedly took the name Francis, after one of the South American cardinals asked him not to forget the poor. Francis of Assisi embraced poverty and peacemaking.
The recent image of Francis spontaneously embracing the deformed man was also compelling. The man said that when he was embraced he only felt love. I seem to recall that – embracing a deformed man – is something Francis of Assisi also did. Francis seems to exude love and forgiveness. And it is great to see that smile.
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Photo:1/2- Mazur/ Catholic Church England,Wales, flickr cc 3- donsutherland1 Flickr cc