2016 World Day of Peace Message: “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace”

By Scott Wright, CCAO Director

On the first day of January, Pope Francis delivered the annual World Day of Peace message. It is an occasion each year to take stock of the state of the world, and to express hopes for the coming year. This year’s message echoes many of the themes that Francis has emphasized over the past year: “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace.”

He begins on a note of hope: In “our human ability to conquer evil and combat resignation and indifference,” and in “our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.”

Looking back, 2015 was “a special year,” that marked the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, and “the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment” with the people of our time, “particularly the poor and afflicted,” as well as “an openness to dialogue with non-Christian religions.” In addition, Pope Francis marked the beginning of Advent by declaring a Jubilee Year of Mercy, inviting all to open our hearts “to those living on the fringes of society,” fringes which “modern society itself creates.”

But the challenge to overcome indifference to God, to our neighbors, and to the environment are many and grave. Indifference has become “globalized” and it finds expression in “disinterest” and “a lack of engagement”:

“Indifference can even lead to justifying deplorable economic policies which breed injustice, division and violence for the sake of ensuring the well-being of individuals or nations…. Moreover, indifference to the natural environment, by countenancing deforestation, pollution and natural catastrophes which uproot entire communities from their ecosystem and create profound insecurity, ends up creating new forms of poverty and new situations of injustice, often with dire consequences for security and peace” [#4].

We need not look further than the daily news or our own families, to our neighborhoods and work places, cities, borders and countries to see how difficult it will be to overcome indifference and to win peace. We are facing a global migration crisis not seen since the Second World War. We are facing a global climate crisis that threatens to the very existence of the planet and hope for future generations. We are facing a global crisis of violence and war that is cruel and that targets the most vulnerable populations, women and children, ethnic minorities and indigenous communities, and Muslims, Jews and Christians in every region of the world.

What response can we make to these challenges? Pope Francis mentions many possibilities, but all of them rooted in the conversion of hearts, and actions of mercy and solidarity. Mercy is at the heart of our faith journey, and our faith traditions. In the Exodus story, God tells Moses “I have seen the affliction on my people … I have heard their cry … I know their sufferings … I have come down to deliver them.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor is the one who responds to the need of the man lying by the roadside.

Our response to “the globalization of indifference” must be one of compassion, mercy and solidarity.” Peace in the world is “the fruit of a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion.” We don’t have to look far to see who it is that is lying by the roadside in need of our compassion and solidarity. Since 2011, more than 4 million Syrian refugees have fled the horrific violence in Syria, and Pope Francis has asked individuals, families, parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines to welcome a refugee family. Since 2014, more than 100,000 Central American mothers and children have fled horrific violence in their countries, and crossed the U.S. – Mexico border in search of refuge. We too are called to welcome them as our neighbor.

Pope Francis concludes his message with a challenge to work for life, in all of its dimensions. He specifically mentions three ways that we can do this: First, we must avoid war at all costs. Second, we must be prepared to forgive the international debt of poorer nations. Third, we must work for the right to life of the unborn. Francis’ message of peace is an urgent appeal to make of our responses to the challenges we face this year, a seamless garment of mercy, compassion and solidarity.