Pope Francis focuses on the term “indifference” in this year’s World Day of Peace message. “Indifference,” he says, “leads to self-absorption and a lack of commitment. It thus contributes to the absence of peace with God, with our neighbor and with the environment.”
The consequences of our indifference play out in the civil war in Syria, in youths lining up to join the ISIS terrorists, in migrants drowning at sea, in the starving people in drought-stricken countries of Africa. We see the consequences of indifference in the 300-plus mass shootings in the U.S. in 2015, in the selling of aborted babies’ body parts for research, in the rate of suicide (the 10th leading cause of death for Americans).
Still, Pope Francis sees some positive outcomes from 2015 that “demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.”
Recall for example, images of volunteers along Europe’s borders aiding migrants flooding in from the Middle East and Africa. Watch the ABC 20/20 interview (Oct. 9, 2015) of a 10-year-old Iraqi Christian girl, whose family fled their homeland because of ISIS threats. Now living in a refugee camp, she told interviewer Elizabeth Vargas that she forgave the people who caused her family to run for their lives. Young Myriam believes that “God’s blessings will be greater for those who forgive. … Jesus said ‘forgive each other, love each other the way I love you,’ that is what we need (in order) to learn forgiveness.” Asked what she dreams for, she responded, “for there to be no war” because “with no wars there will be love.”
Consider this brave antidote to indifference: Days before Christmas, a group of Kenyan Muslims protected fellow passengers on a bus that had been ambushed by Islamist gunmen. The fellow passengers were Christians that the gunmen wanted to separate from Muslims, the BBC reported Dec. 21. The Kenyan Muslims risked their lives by refusing to be separated into groups of Muslims and Christians. The gunmen left after that show of unity, the BBC said.
Overcoming indifference requires us to look inward and outward: how does my selfishness, a preoccupation with my needs impact others and their needs? “When we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does),” Pope Francis says in the Jan. 1 World Day of Peace message.
Once we figure out where we fall short, we’re obligated to work in accordance with our abilities and our role in society to promote the common good, which ultimately leads to peace. People who are denied their basic human needs for food, water, shelter, clothing and employment may be tempted to obtain them by force, the Holy Father said.
He reminds us that Jesus “touched people’s lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need.” We can do no less. We are required to alleviate the pain and sufferings of our brothers and sisters on this earth — first by giving of our own time, “however busy we may be.”
We are to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. So, help out at a meal site, visit someone in the nursing home or hospital or who is homebound. Send an email or letter to Congress for the reform of our immigration and prison systems and other institutions that prevent human flourishing. Support legislative initiatives that expand education and training so every adult has an opportunity for meaningful employment. Remind Governor Branstad of Iowa’s hospitality. We have no fear in welcoming Syrian immigrants here. Fund programs that encourage pregnant women to choose life.
Patrick Carolan of the Franciscan Action Network observes that our New Year’s resolutions tend to focus on “me.” He urges people to think much broader, “to work together to transform the world and be the Body of Christ connected to all creation…”
That’s a lofty goal. But we can begin by choosing not to be indifferent.