By Sarah Mac Donald - 13 December, 2013
Fraternity is the foundation and pathway of peace Pope Francis has said in his first message for World Day of Prayer for Peace.
In his 5,000-word message, the Pontiff outlines a number of areas where the absence of fraternity results in a breakdown in the social, religious, economic and familial order.
Addressing the context of the 21st century, the Pope highlights that in many parts of the world, there is “no end to grave offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom.”
He comments that the “tragic phenomenon” of human trafficking, in which the “unscrupulous prey on the lives and the desperation of others”, is but one “unsettling” example of this.
Alongside overt armed conflicts are the less visible but no less cruel wars fought in the economic and financial sectors with means which are equally destructive of lives, families and businesses, according to Pope Francis.
The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity.
New ideologies, characterised by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling a ‘throw away’ mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered ‘useless’.
He notes that the ever-increasing number of interconnections and communications in today’s world “makes us powerfully aware of the unity and common destiny of the nations.”
Therein lies the potential for forming community comprising brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.
“But this vocation is still frequently denied and ignored in a world marked by a ‘globalisation of indifference’ which makes us slowly inured to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves,” the Pope warns.
Christian solidarity presumes our neighbour is loved not only as “a human being with his or her own rights and a fundamental equality with everyone else, but as the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit.”
Referring to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Francis notes that he reminded the world how the lack of fraternity between peoples and men and women is a significant cause of poverty.
“In many societies, we are experiencing a profound poverty of relationships as a result of the lack of solid family and community relationships. We are concerned by the various types of hardship, marginalisation, isolation and various forms of pathological dependencies which we see increasing,” he warns.
This kind of poverty can be overcome only through the rediscovery and valuing of fraternal relationships in the heart of families and communities, through the sharing of joys and sorrows, of the hardships and triumphs that are a part of human life.
Even where a reduction in absolute poverty is taking place, there is a serious rise in relative poverty, and instances of inequality between people and groups who live together in particular regions.
Pope Francis calls for “effective policies” to promote the principle of fraternity, securing for people – who are equal in dignity and in fundamental rights – access to capital, services, educational resources, healthcare and technology so that every person has “the opportunity to express and realise his or her life project and can develop fully as a person.”
Pope Francis also warns that the grave financial and economic crises of the present time – “which find their origin in the progressive distancing of man from God and from his neighbour, in the greedy pursuit of material goods on the one hand, and in the impoverishment of interpersonal and community relations on the other” have pushed man to seek satisfaction, happiness and security in consumption and earnings out of all proportion to the principles of a sound economy.
The succession of economic crises should lead to “a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles.”
The Pope suggests that today’s crisis, “even with its serious implications for people’s lives, can also provide us with a fruitful opportunity to rediscover the virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and strength.”
Elsewhere in his message, the Argentinean Pontiff argues that fraternity extinguishes war.
“In the past year, many of our brothers and sisters have continued to endure the destructive experience of war, which constitutes a grave and deep wound inflicted on fraternity.”
For this reason, he appeals “forcefully to all those who sow violence and death by force of arms: in the person you today see simply as an enemy to be beaten, discover rather your brother or sister, and hold back your hand!”
He continues, “Give up the way of arms and go out to meet the other in dialogue, pardon and reconciliation, in order to rebuild justice, trust, and hope around you!”
Pope Francis suggests that international agreements and national laws, while necessary and greatly to be desired, are not of themselves sufficient to protect humanity from the risk of armed conflict.
“A conversion of hearts is needed which would permit everyone to recognize in the other a brother or sister to care for, and to work together with, in building a fulfilling life for all,” he adds.
Pope Francis also hits out hard against corruption and organised crime which he warns threaten fraternity.
Fraternity generates social peace because it creates a balance between freedom and justice, between personal responsibility and solidarity, between the good of individuals and the common good.
And so a political community must act in a transparent and responsible way to favour all this. Citizens must feel themselves represented by the public authorities in respect for their freedom.
Yet frequently a wedge is driven between citizens and institutions by partisan interests which disfigure that relationship, fostering the creation of an enduring climate of conflict.
An authentic spirit of fraternity overcomes the individual selfishness which conflicts with people’s ability to live in freedom and in harmony among themselves. Such selfishness develops socially – whether it is in the many forms of corruption, so widespread today, or in the formation of criminal organisations, from small groups to those organized on a global scale, he comments.
“These groups tear down legality and justice, striking at the very heart of the dignity of the person. These organizations gravely offend God, they hurt others and they harm creation, all the more so when they have religious overtones.”
“I also think of the heartbreaking drama of drug abuse, which reaps profits in contempt of the moral and civil laws. I think of the devastation of natural resources and ongoing pollution, and the tragedy of the exploitation of labour.
“I think too of illicit money trafficking and financial speculation, which often prove both predatory and harmful for entire economic and social systems, exposing millions of men and women to poverty.”
“I think of prostitution, which every day reaps innocent victims, especially the young, robbing them of their future.”
“I think of the abomination of human trafficking, crimes and abuses against minors, the horror of slavery still present in many parts of the world; the frequently overlooked tragedy of migrants, who are often victims of disgraceful and illegal manipulation.”
The Pope concludes by warning humanity that nature is at its disposition and it is called to exercise a responsible stewardship over it.
“Yet so often we are driven by greed and by the arrogance of dominion, possession, manipulation and exploitation; we do not preserve nature; nor do we respect it or consider it a gracious gift which we must care for and set at the service of our brothers and sisters, including future generations.”