The Words of Pope Francis….
World Day of Peace, January 1, 2014
Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace
January 1 has been celebrated by the Vatican as World Day of Peace, and there is a long history of messages for this day, dating back to Pope Paul VI in 1968. Each year the focus is peace, and we are called to reflect how we can bring peace to our world.
Pope Francis chose for his theme the idea of Fraternity. This is a word that tends to be translated as brother,
or a brotherly relationship in our English speaking world, but in Latin, the word frater,
can mean just about any male relative or a dear friend, or members of the same nation. And it is on the latter two definitions that Pope Francis focuses.
Now, if you have been keeping up on your reading of Pope Francis’ writings, this is not a surprise to you. From the start, our Holy Father called for a culture of encounter
, the idea that we have to go out and actually be with other people and make connections with others. It’s not enough to sit in my living room contemplating the words of Christ if I am not willing to go out and live them! We must live in relationship and solidarity in order to truly bring about the Kingdom of God!
His message for World Day of Peace falls along the same lines and expands on the connection between this encounter and peace. Right from the start we are told that without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid lasting peace (1).
So, if we haven’t been able to connect with others and build relationship, then the work of peace isn’t going to follow easily. We all have to realize that we have a need to come together as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Caritas in Veritate
in 2009, Globalization makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers (Caritas in Veritate, 19).
make us brothers and sisters in this world? Pope Frances says it very simply: the basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood (3).
And in Christ, we are called to regard ourselves in him as brothers and sisters, inasmuch as we are children of the same Father (3).
Children of the same Father; thus, I am sister to every person that God created, whether that person be male or female, rich or poor, a homeowner or homeless. I am sister to people of every race, language and creed on this earth; every nationality, every economic level, every educational level. No matter what, every person who was created on this earth, and who will be created in the future, is related to me and I to them.
Once I make this realization, I can certainly see every point our Holy Father makes in this message! Most of us tend to focus on what is right in front of us, sometimes even hoping that what is around us that isn’t so pleasant will go away if we don’t look at it too hard. We avoid the nightly news so we don’t have to see the violence, poverty, and oppression that are happening right outside our doors. We walk by the homeless person asleep in the streets and assume something is “wrong” with them, and I can’t help them anyway.
However, that is far from what our Holy Father is asking us to do! He wants us to go out and encounter the wrongs in the world, so that we can work to make them right. He wants to encounter the poverty so we can try to help those in need. He wants us to recognize our richness in material goods and realize the excess we live in, in the hopes that we can share some goods with others. In realizing our connectedness to everyone in this world, we expand our worldview from the vision most of us have, focusing on what is front of us, to a more peripheral vision of the world around us. We can no longer hide in ignorance, but must put one foot in front of the other, and go out and DO something.
“But what can I do?” you may ask. Well, I can point out one very simple, but probably most important point: Pope Francis states that fraternity is first learned in the family…The family is the wellspring of fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it (1).
Like most things in life, fraternity is learned in the home; if a home life is conducive to fraternity, then so too shall the children who grow up there be.
Take the first step in this New Year of 2014 to reflect on ways to fulfill these words.
First, look around your home or parish and see how (dare I say, if?) a spirit of fraternity, of brother/sisterhood is being lived out in your everyday life. Children learn what is lived in their daily life. Do they see a true caring for one another and those around them? Do they see what it means to share and to give, not just from your excess, but based on the needs of others? Do they understand that we are called to love one another, and that love isn’t just a pretty word, but sometimes a difficult action? Do they see the primary adults in their lives living out a spirit of fraternity by giving freely to those who need, and forgiving those who have hurt us? Do they see adults in the world who do not judge others but instead recognize the Christ inside each person?
Second, reflect on those words, “culture of encounter.” Do you feel called to look at the world around you and truly be a part of other people’s lives, especially those you don’t know? Do you converse with neighbors with more than a rote “Hi, how are you?” or a casual wave? Are you aware of the works of those trying to end poverty or oppression in our world and find ways to support their actions? What can you do to live these words and become more involved in the world around you, rather than focus on only your own life?
Finally, Pope Francis also calls us to recognize how fraternity helps us preserve nature. The world we live in is a gift from God, and we often forget how we are to take care of this precious gift, not only for ourselves, but for future generations. Being responsible stewards means making sure that there is a healthy world left for our children, and that the world’s resources are used wisely and responsibly. How do you make sure you are taking care of your little piece of the world? Do you recycle and help keep your home and community clean? Do you respect nature and the plants and animals around you? Are you aware of the realities of the distribution of food in our world or the treatment of farm workers who supply our food?
Pope Francis ends with wonderful words, which I also will end with:
This is the good news that demands from each one a step forward, a perennial exercise of empathy, of listening to the suffering and the hopes of others, even those furthest away from me, and walking the demanding path of that love which knows how to give and spend itself freely for the good of all our brothers and sisters….Service is the soul of that fraternity that builds up peace (10).
Message of His Holiness Francis for the Celebration of World Day of Peace, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20131208_messaggio-xlvii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2014_en.html
“Caritas in Veritate”, June 29, 2009, 19. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, resources for World Day of Peace, http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/war-and-peace/world-day-of-peace.cfm
Pope Francis’ words on “Culture of Encounter”, see www.news.va
and search the words “culture of encounter”