This year’s bitterly divisive presidential race has caused us to lose focus on the bigger picture: the need to foster human thriving not only in the U.S., but around the world. Without that focus, misery will continue unabated. In civil war-ravaged Aleppo, Syria, for example, an ophthalmologist sees 85 patients a day and has to make his own eye drops. In Iraq, a Catholic Relief Services official predicts that the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State may be the humanitarian crisis of 2016.
What happens if an additional 1.5 million refugees are added to an overwhelming population of 60 million-plus refugees worldwide? Many of these women, children and men languish in makeshift camps — exposed to the elements — with little more than the clothes they wore when they fled. Our angst over this year’s presidential race seems trivial when compared to the suffering of refugees who have lost everything: loved ones, homes, jobs, schools and even their homeland.
Haiti, a third-world country still struggling after a crushing earthquake in 2010, is now dealing with the aftermath of a monster hurricane that has left an estimated 1,000 people dead and many more homeless. Hurricane Matthew also pummeled the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and the coastal southeastern United States. But Haitians are the poorest of the poor. Who will help them rebuild? And what about the undocumented mothers and young children cooped up in for-profit detention facilities in the U.S. for periods of time that violate federal law? How will that experience impact their lives?
The Lord hears the cry of the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted and the suffering, and calls us to respond as his hands, feet, heart and soul on earth. The U.S. bishops remind us of our civic duty to be faithful citizens advocating for the common good. But in this election year, the definition of common good seems to be narrowing: no one except us.
A re-reading of Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Evangelii Gaudium” would be helpful in correcting our myopia. “We constantly have to broaden our horizons and see the greater good which will benefit us all,” the Holy Father says. “We can work on a small scale, in our own neighborhood, but with a larger perspective.” (No. 235)
So, how do we begin? Visit a neighbor who is living alone or dealing with a health challenge. Smile at everyone you meet. Set aside time daily to read news and analyses about current events and issues in the U.S. and abroad. Listen to a wide range of news programs that offer an exchange of opinions. Be willing to sit through the airing of a TV or radio news program on a network that you would otherwise avoid. Collectively, these media outlets enrich our understanding of the global village we call home and the people who populate it.
Some busy St. Ambrose University students recently took time to broaden their perspective. They met 90 minutes prior to the Pacem in Terris award ceremony Sept. 28 to read and discuss an article by Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, the award’s recipient. In the article, “Renewing the Option for the Poor,” the priest best known for his work in liberation theology, “talks about solidarity with the poor. It’s not sympathy; it’s empathy,” St. Ambrose senior Cole Epping told The Catholic Messenger.
In their introductory note to the document, “Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. bishops state “the struggles that we face as a nation and as a global community cannot be addressed solely by choosing the ‘best candidate’ for political office. No, in addition to forming our consciences, we must fast and pray, asking our loving and gracious God to give us the ability to effectively proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our daily witness to our faith and its teachings.”
By focusing attention away from ourselves and toward the common good, we broaden our perspective. That’s what America needs; that’s what the world needs.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor