ROME – As vaccines roll out and the world braces for a post-COVID-19 reality, Pope Francis said the core principles of the Catholic Church’s social doctrine are key to ushering in a “culture of care” where violent conflicts end and the poor and needy are prioritized.
Speaking in his message for the 54th World Day of Peace, the pope pointed to the massive health and economic crisis that have marked the year 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Day of Peace will be commemorated on Jan. 21, 2021, with the theme, “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace.”
Noting that the coronavirus knows no boundaries, he renewed his appeal to political leaders and to the private sphere to “spare no effort to ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable.”
Alongside the generosity and solidarity of those caring for the sick, over the past year there has also been “a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake,” he said.
“These and other events that marked humanity’s path this past year have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society,” he said, pointing to a “culture of care” as a way “to combat the culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.”
Francis’s message, which comes two months after the publication of his new encyclical on human fraternity, Fratelli Tutti, carries the same plea for solidarity and the pursuit of policies which pursue the common good and the needs of all, rather than private interests.
Turning to a biblical image he has used in prior messages for peace, the pope recounted the story of Cain and Abel, and Cain’s question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
Stories such as these, he said, bear witness to the fact “that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationship with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”
He highlighted God’s role in creating the planet and pointed to Jesus’s ministry and healing of the sick as examples of the primacy of caring for creation and for humanity, saying Jesus “is the Good Samaritan who stoops to help the injured man, binds his wounds and cares for him.”
Pope Francis also pointed to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy carried out by the early Christian community to illustrate the Church’s constant work in caring for the poor through practical means, whether it be through hospitals, soup kitchens, orphanages, or heavens for travelers.
Referring to the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, the pope said this is “the basis” for a culture of care, because it “is offered to all people of good will as a precious patrimony of principles, criteria and proposals that can serve as a ‘grammar’ of care.
These principles, he said, include the Church’s commitment to promoting the individual dignity of each human person, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, the pursuit of the common good and concern for creation.
Each human person, he said, “is an end in himself or herself, and never simply a means to be valued only for his or her usefulness. Persons are created to live together in families, communities, and societies, where all are equal in dignity.”
Every aspect of social, political and economic life reaches its climax “when placed at the service of the common good,” Francis said.
As a result, “our plans and projects should always take into account their effects on the entire human family and consider their consequences for the present and for coming generations,” he said, adding, “The Covid-19 pandemic has shown us the truth and timeliness of this fact.”
He also spoke of the importance of showing care through solidarity, which “concretely expresses our love for others.”
More than a vague sentiment, solidarity “helps us to regard others – whether as individuals or, more broadly, as peoples or nations – as more than mere statistics, or as a means to be used and then discarded once no longer useful, but as our neighbors, companions on our journey,” he said.
Francis also pointed to his 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si as an illustration of the fact that “all creation is interconnected.” He stressed the need to “listen to the cry of the poor and, at the same time, to the cry of creation,” saying this listening leads to a proper care for the earth and those in need.
At a time when culture is dominated by waste and growing inequalities, the pope urged government leaders and heads of international organizations in every field to embrace these principles “as a compass capable of pointing out a common direction and ensuring a more humane future in the process of globalization.”
This, he said, “will enable us to esteem the value and dignity of every person, to act together in solidarity for the common good, and to bring relief to those suffering from poverty, disease, slavery, armed conflicts, and discrimination.”
Pope Francis issued an appeal for members of the Church to “take this compass in hand” and promote a culture of care by working to overcome existing social inequalities. He highlighted the role of women, saying their involvement is needed “in the family and in every social, political and institutional sphere.”
International law must also embrace these principles, particularly when it comes to defending and promoting fundamental human rights.
He also urged greater respect be paid to international humanitarian law, “especially at this time when conflicts and wars continue uninterrupted.”
“Tragically, many regions and communities can no longer remember a time when they dwelt in security and peace,” he said. “While such conflicts have many causes, the result is always the same: destruction and humanitarian crises.”
“We need to stop and ask ourselves what has led our world to see conflict as something normal, and how our hearts can be converted and our ways of thinking changed, in order to work for true peace in solidarity and fraternity,” he said, and reiterated his plea that resources spent on weapons, and nuclear weapons in particular, be allocated elsewhere to promote individual safety, peace and proper human development.
Francis stressed the necessity of education in creating a culture of care, and said religions and religious leaders in particular have “an indispensable role” to play in passing along the values of solidarity, respect for differences, and concern for those in need.
“At a time like this, when the barque of humanity, tossed by the storm of the current crisis, struggles to advance towards a calmer and more serene horizon, the rudder of human dignity and the compass of fundamental social principles can enable us together to steer a sure course,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his message asking that Christians work together “to advance towards a new horizon of love and peace, of fraternity and solidarity, of mutual support and acceptance.”
“May we never yield to the temptation to disregard others, especially those in greatest need, and to look the other way; instead, may we strive daily, in concrete and practical ways, to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another,” he said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen