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Today’s News Dispatch: Dec. 15, 2015

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Pope Gives Christmas Prayer at Morning Mass

At Casa Santa Marta, Tells Faithful 3 Keys to a Humble Church

The Church, Pope Francis says, must be three things: humble, poor and trusting in the Lord. 

The Pontiff stressed this during his daily morning Mass at his residence Casa Santa Marta, reported Vatican Radio, noting that the Church’s mission is in following the Beatitudes, and that its riches are in the poor.

Reflecting on the first reading from the Book of Zephaniah in which Jesus rebukes the chief priests and warns them that even prostitutes will precede them into the Kingdom of Heaven, Pope Francis observed that still today temptations can corrupt the witness of the Church.

“A Church that is truly faithful to the Lord,»  Francis said, «must be humble, poor and trusting in God”.


To be a humble Church or a humble person, the Jesuit explained, one must be prepared to say: “I am a sinner.”  Humility, Francis underscored, is not «a pretense» or «theatrical attitude.»

While true humility demands that the Church and  that each and every one of us take a first step and recognizes one’s sinfulness, and «not being judgmental, pointing to the defects of others and gossiping about them.»


Poverty, which «is the first of the Beatitudes,» Francis noted, is the second step. To be poor in spirit, he explained, means that one is «attached only to the riches of God.»

Given this, he added, we must say “no to a Church that is attached to money, that thinks of money, that thinks of how to earn money.»

The Pope recalled the martyrdom of the Deacon Lawrence, an heroic witness in the first millennium who assembled the poor before the emperor saying they represented the real gold and silver of the Church, and he warned against some ancient customs which demanded monetary offers from pilgrims in order to pass through the Holy Door.

«As is known,» the Holy Father mentioned, «in a temple of the diocese, to pass through the Holy Door, naively they said to people that you had to make an offer: this is not the Church of Jesus, this is the Church of these chiefs priests, attached to money.»

Trusting in God

The third step for this humble Church, Pope Francis said, is to always trust in the Lord that never disappoints.

«Where is my faith? In power, in friends, in money? It is in the Lord! The legacy that God promised to leave us is of a humble and poor people who trust in the name of the Lord. Humble because it knows it sins; poor because it is attached to the riches of God; trusting in the Lord because it knows that only He has its good at heart,” he said.

Pope Francis concluded with the prayer, that «as we prepare for Christmas,» we have «a humble heart, a poor heart, a heart that trusts in the Lord who never disappoints.»


Pope Francis Creates Healthcare Commission

Will Have Authority to Prepare Long-Range Operational Sustainability Strategies in Keeping With Social Doctrine of Church

Pope Francis has issued a legal decree, creating a new special healthcare commission, which will help health care organizations belonging to the Church and to Church organizations to manage their finances and stay true to their founding mission and spirit. 

On Friday, the Vatican released this news that the Holy Father, with his ‘rescript,’ the decree, is establishing the Pontifical Commission for the Activities of Public Juridical Persons of the Church in the Healthcare Sector. The commission will be composed of a president and six experts in the fields of healthcare, real estate, management, business administration, and finance.

The commission shall have the authority to carry out general studies to ascertain the sustainability of the healthcare systems of the juridical persons of the Church, and to prepare long-range operational sustainability strategies in keeping with the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

Below is the full text of the document in which Pope Francis provides for the new healthcare commission.
“The Holy Father Francis, in the audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of State on 7 December 2015, having obtained the necessary information relating to the particular difficulties of public legal persons of the Church working in the healthcare sector, for the purpose of contributing to the more efficient management of these activities and the conservation of assets maintaining and promoting the charism of the Founders, and until other provisions are made, has mandated the Secretary of State to appoint a Special Commission for the purpose, entitled ‘Pontifical Commission for the Activities of Public Juridical Persons of the Church in the Healthcare Sector’.
Therefore, the Cardinal Secretary of State shall provide for the erection of the ‘Pontifical Commission for the Activities of Public Juridical Persons of the Church in the Healthcare Sector’, which will be governed by the following rules.
1. The principles and rules established in the Apostolic Constitution ‘Pastor bonus’ and in the General Regulations of the Roman Curia shall be applied to the Commission, insofar as they are applicable and not incompatible. The Commission shall adopt its own regulations.
2. The Commission shall be composed of a President and six experts in the fields of healthcare, real estate, management, economic and administrative issues, and finance. The Commission shall be able to delegate part of its functions to one or more Members and shall be assisted by a Secretariat.
3. With regard to the appointment and term of office of the members and experts of the Commission, the regulations governing the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia shall be applied:
a. the general study of the sustainability of the healthcare system by public legal persons of the Church (prerequisites, characteristics, constraints, working/management methods, current objectives of the healthcare system of individual legal persons in keeping with their nature, mission and charism) so as to define a possible long-term operative strategy also in relation to the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church;
b. the proposal for the resolution of crisis situations in accordance with the results of the more general study, activating all the resources possible in collaboration with the Heads of the public legal entities concerned;
c. the study and proposal of new operative models for public legal persons working in the healthcare sector, capable of implementing the founding charism in the current context.
The provisions herein are to be considered stable and valid from the moment of their publication in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’. Vatican City, 12 December 2015.”

20th Century American Moves Closer to Sainthood

Pope Authorizes Promulgation of Decrees Concerning 17 Causes, Including Servant of God William Gagnon

Yesterday afternoon, Pope Francis received Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, Cardinal Angelo Amato. During the audience, he authorized the promulgation of decrees concerning the following causes, including that of William Gagnon, American professed religious of the Hospitallers of St. John of God.
– Blessed Maria Elisabeth Hesselblad, Swedish foundress of the Bridgettine Sisters (1870-1957)
– Servant of God Ladislaw Bukowinski, Ukrainian diocesan priest (1904-1
– Venerable Servant of God Maria Celeste of the Holy Redeemer (nee Giulia Crostarosa), Italian foundress of the Redemptoristine Nuns (1696-1755)
– Venerable Servant of God Mary of Jesus (nee Carolina Santocanale), Italian foundress of the Capuchin Sisters of the Immaculate of Lourdes (1852-1923)
– Venerable Servant of God Itala Mela, Italian Oblate of St. Benedict (1904-1957)
– Servant of God Angelo Ramazzotti, Patriarch of Venice, Founder of the Institute for Foreign Missions (1800-1861)
– Servant of God Joseph Vithayathil, Indian diocesan priest and co-founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family (1865-1964)
– Servant of God Jose Maria Arizmendiarrieta, Spanish diocesan priest (1915-1976)
– Servant of God Giuseppe Schiavo, Italian professed priest of the Congregation of St. Joseph (1903-1967);
– Servant of God Venanzio Maria Quadri, Italian professed religious of the Order of Servants of Mary (1916-1937)
– Servant of God William Gagnon, American professed religious of the Hospitallers of St. John of God (1905-1972)
– Servant of God Teresa Rosa Fernanda de Saldanha Oliveira Sousa, Portuguese foundress of the Dominican Sisters of the Portuguese Congregation of St. Catherine of Siena (1837-1916)
– Servant of God Maria Emilia Riquelme Zayas, Spanish foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Mary Immaculate (1847-1940)
– Servant of God Maria Esperanza de la Cruz (nee Salustiana Antonia Ayerbe Castillo), Spanish co-foundress of the Augustinian Recollect Missionary Sisters (1890-1967)
– Servant of God Emanuela Maria Magdalena (Chaje) Kalb, Polish professed religious of the Canonesses of the Holy Spirit (1899-1986)
– Servant of God Niklaus Wolf, Swiss layman and father (1756-1832)
– Servant of God Teresio Olivelli, Italian layman (1916-1945)

When to Remove the Christmas Crib


Legitimate Varieties in Customs Exist

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy and dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: My question is simple but causes confusion among us sometimes: When should the crib/Nativity scene come down in the church? Should it happen before the Baptism of the Lord or afterward? — M.M., Cape Town, South Africa

A: This and similar questions arise almost every year around this time, so some of what we say now has already been published in earlier pieces. There is not a great deal of what could be deemed «magisterium» on the Christmas crib and other Christmas traditions. Most such traditions are customary and hence are not determined in official norms. Since legitimate varieties in customs do exist, there is not necessarily a right or a wrong answer to this question.

Paintings, mosaics and reliefs have depicted the Nativity from ancient times. It is possible that one of the earliest representations of a crib was a chapel built by Pope Sixtus III (432-440) as a representation of the cave of Bethlehem. This tiny chapel, now completely lost, was adjunct to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, whose construction was initiated by the same Pope. The relics believed to be of the original manger were first placed in this chapel in the seventh century and are now found below the basilica’s main altar.

There are, however, some official guidelines that manifest Church thinking on the subject of the Crib. On the universal level the Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy has some pertinent indications which emphasize the importance of placing a crib at home and in church during this season. Thus, No. 104 states:

«The Crib: As is well known, in addition to the representations of the crib found in churches since antiquity, the custom of building cribs in the home was widely promoted from the thirteenth century, influenced undoubtedly by St. Francis of Assisi’s crib in Greccio. Their preparation, in which children play a significant role, is an occasion for the members of the family to come into contact with the mystery of Christmas, as they gather for a moment of prayer or to read the biblical accounts of the Lord’s birth.» 

This is corroborated by No. 111:

«At Midnight Mass, an event of major liturgical significance and of strong resonance in popular piety, the following could be given prominence: […]

«– at the end of Mass, the faithful could be invited to kiss the image of the Child Jesus, which is then placed in a crib erected in the church or somewhere nearby.»

The English-language translation of the Book of Blessings (No. 1544) has a blessing for a Nativity scene in church but forbids its placement in the sanctuary. This rule would not prohibit its placement in the general area of the sanctuary (such as on a side altar no longer used) but would not permit the crèche to be placed around or in front of the altar, chair, ambo or tabernacle. Nor do I believe that this norm would exclude the custom of placing an image of the infant Jesus in the sanctuary area. This custom is quite common in many places, including St. Peter’s Basilica where an image of the Infant is customarily placed on a stand located at ground level in front of the high altar. Besides this image, there is also a fully populated Nativity scene in another part of the basilica and the huge display in the square outside. 

On the national level some bishops’ conferences have issued guidelines. For example, the U.S. bishops’ conference guidelines on church buildings, «Built of Living Stones,» makes some sensible suggestions regarding Advent and Christmas decorations that can be applied everywhere. To wit: 

«124. Plans for seasonal decorations should include other areas besides the sanctuary. Decorations are intended to draw people to the true nature of the mystery being celebrated rather than being ends in themselves. Natural flowers, plants, wreaths and fabric hangings, and other seasonal objects can be arranged to enhance the primary liturgical points of focus. The altar should remain clear and free-standing, not walled in by massive floral displays or the Christmas crib, and pathways in the narthex, nave, and sanctuary should remain clear.

«128. Objects such as the Advent wreath, the Christmas crib, and other traditional seasonal appointments proportioned to the size of the space and to the other furnishings can enhance the prayer and understanding of the parish community.»

Diocesan bishops may also issue local guidelines which should always be taken into account.

With respect to the question as to when to remove the crib, once more customs vary from place to place, and there is no absolute rule. In some places it may be customary to remove the crib after the Epiphany. In others, and perhaps more commonly, after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which marks the end of the official Christmas season in the current calendar. 

This feast is usually the Sunday after the Epiphany. However, in those countries that transfer the Epiphany to the Sunday between Jan. 2 and 8, the feast is celebrated on a Monday, Jan. 9, whenever Christmas Day falls on a Sunday and Epiphany falls on Jan. 8. In this case the Christmas season ends on Monday instead of Sunday.

In some countries it is not unusual to retain some Christmas decorations until the feast of the Presentation of the Lord on Feb. 2. St. John Paul II would make his last visit to the crib in St. Peter’s Square after celebrating the evening Mass on Feb. 2. After this visit the Nativity scene was dismantled.

This corresponds to a longstanding custom in which the eve of Candlemas was
the day for removal of Christmas decorations, especially those made of greenery. This tradition is witnessed by poet Robert Herrick (1591-1654) in two of his poems, one of them “Ceremony upon Candelmas Eve”:

«Down with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, Wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas Hall.»

He takes up a similar theme in the first verses of his longer verse, «Ceremonies for Candlemas Eve»: 

«Down with the rosemary and bays, Down with the mistletoe; Instead of holly, now up-raise, The greener box (for show). The holly hitherto did sway; Let box now domineer, Until the dancing Easter day, Or Easter’s eve appear.» 

Therefore, at the risk of furthering a state of confusion, I can only say that the best option is to maintain what is already customary in each place.

* * *

Readers may send questions to zenit.liturgy@gmail.com. Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.


Cardinal Shares on Events Marking Closure of Year of Consecrated Life

Cardinal Aviz Presents to Press ‘Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church,’ Announces International Gathering of Consecrated in Rome at End of January

Cardinal Aviz Presents to Press ‘Identity and Mission of the Religious Brother in the Church,’ Announces International Gathering of Consecrated in Rome at End of January
Among the activities marking the closure of the Year of Consecrated Life, including a Jan. 28- Feb 2, 2016, international meeting of all types of consecrated life in Rome, entitled “Consecrated life and communion.” More than 6,000 consecrated men and women from all over the world are expected to attend the gathering which will conclude with Holy Mass celebrated by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica.

Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, announced this, this morning in the Holy See Press Office during a briefing where he presented the document “Identity and mission of the religious brother in the Church” and the concluding activities of the Year of Consecrated Life.  Speaking along with the prefect, was Archbishop Jose Rodriguez Carballo, O.F.M., secretary of the same congregation.

Archbishop Carballo expressed his gratitude to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, who in 2008 was the first to encourage the preparation of the document presented today, and to Pope Francis who read the draft while he was the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires and who as Pope has supported its revision, completion and publication.
«The document,» Cardinal Braz de Aviz highlighted, «emphasizes the great wealth and relevance of the vocation of brothers and its content is very valid and innovative in the light of Vatican Council II.”

“The vocation of the religious brother is, first of all, a Christian vocation … and the feature of the person of Christ that the religious brother specially underlines in his way of life is that of fraternity. The religious brother reflects the face of Christ the Brother: simple, good, near to the people, welcoming, generous, and serving”.
The identity and mission of the religious brother, as the document’s text asserts, is summarized in the concept of fraternity understood as the gift that the religious brother receives from the Triune God, a communion of persons; a gift that he shares with his brethren in fraternal life in the community and a gift he offers the world for the construction of a world of children of God and brothers.
The cardinal also illustrated the theme of fraternity as a gift that the religious brother receives from the Triune God.
“The religious brother becomes thus because the Spirit lets him know God, Who in Jesus shows Himself to be a Father full of love, tenderness and mercy,» he said, noting, «Together with Jesus, he feels like a beloved son and with Him he offers himself so as to be in his life entirely for the Father and entirely for all His sons and daughters in this world. A characteristic of the identity of the religious brother is the need for fraternity as a confession of the Trinity: a fraternity open to all, especially the least, the humble, the oppressed, the unloved” – those who “are less likely to experience the good news of God’s love in their lives.”
This fraternity, the cardinal pointed out, is the gift that the religious brother shares with his brethren in community life. “Fraternal life in the community means harmonious relations between brethren, mutual knowledge, acceptance and love, dialogue, mutual respect, mutual support, the sharing of talents, the abnegation of the self, ecclesial mission, and openness to the needs of the Church and the world, especially those most in need. All this is beautiful, but it is not obtained spontaneously.»
The community, he explained, is «sustained by the gift of fraternity that religious brothers receive. The brother needs to support these fraternal relations by developing the spiritual, mystical and theological dimension.”
Lastly, fraternity is a gift that the religious brother offers to the world and which is transformed into mission.
As a result, “brothers carry out their mission of contributing to the construction of the Kingdom of fraternity through ceaseless prayer, the witness of fraternal life and community dedication to the service of the Church and the world.

Pope’s Message for 49th World Day of Peace

‘Overcome indifference and win peace’

The title of Pope Francis’ message to celebrate the 49th World Day of Peace, to be held on Jan. 1, 2016, is “Overcome indifference and win peace.” On Dec. 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and the day of the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the message was signed. It is divided into eight chapters: God is not indifferent, God cares about mankind, God does not abandon us; Maintaining our reasons for hope; Kinds of indifference; Peace threatened by global indifference; From indifference to mercy: the conversion of hearts; Building a culture of solidarity and mercy to overcome indifference; Peace: the fruit of a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion; and Peace in the sign of the Jubilee of Mercy. 
The message was presented in the Holy See Press Office this morning by a panel composed of Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; Flaminia Giovanelli and Vittorio V. Alberti, respectively under-secretary and official of the same dicastery. The conference was also attended by various refugees from Syria, Somalia, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, assisted by the Centro Astalli in Rome. Archbishop Michele Pennisi of Monreale, Italy and Fr. Luigi Ciotti, founder of the Abel Group and the Association “Libera”, also contributed to the presented with a written account.
In a period in which there is a widespread attitude of indifference, Cardinal Turkson began by explaining, the Pope considers in depth this “globalization of indifference” which, starting with indifference to God, is extended to human beings and all creation. «Human beings consider themselves self-sufficient and believe they owe nothing to an
yone other than themselves, granting themselves rights without assuming duties.»
“After showing that peace is threatened by indifference at all levels, the message,» he noted, «offers a biblical and theological reflection, which enables us to understand the need to overcome indifference to open up to compassion, mercy, commitment and, therefore, to solidarity. This latter is defined as a moral virtue and an attitude that those with responsibility in education and formation, such as families, educators and trainers, and those who work in relation to means of social communication, are required to cultivate.»
The document, Cardinal Turkson pointed out, reaffirms the confidence in the capacity of human beings to conquer evil with good, and indicates the many praiseworthy forms of solidarity present in society in favor of victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the poor and migrants.
It concludes, he said, with an appeal from the Holy Father to every person, in the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, to assume a concrete commitment to help improve the situation in which he or she lives: in the family, the neighbourhood, or the workplace. «Therefore, it is not only indifference at the centre of the 2016 Message, but also man’s capacity, with the grace of God, to overcome evil and to combat resignation and indifference.»

The following is the full text of the message:


“1. God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us! At the beginning of the New Year, I would like to share not only this profound conviction but also my cordial good wishes for prosperity, peace and the fulfilment of the hopes of every man and every woman, every family, people and nation throughout the world, including all Heads of State and Government and all religious leaders. We continue to trust that 2016 will see us all firmly and confidently engaged, on different levels, in the pursuit of justice and peace. Peace is both God’s gift and a human achievement. As a gift of God, it is entrusted to all men and women, who are called to attain it.
Maintaining our reasons for hope
2. Sadly, war and terrorism, accompanied by kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power, marked the past year from start to finish. In many parts of the world, these have became so common as to constitute a real “third world war fought piecemeal”. Yet some events of the year now ending inspire me, in looking ahead to the new year, to encourage everyone not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference. They demonstrate our capacity to show solidarity and to rise above self-interest, apathy and indifference in the face of critical situations.
Here I would mention the efforts to bring world leaders together at COP21 in the search for new ways to confront climate change and to protect the earth, our common home. We can also think of two earlier global events: the Addis Ababa Summit for funding sustainable development worldwide and the adoption of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at ensuring a more dignified standard of living for all the world’s peoples, especially the poor, by that year.
For the Church, 2015 was a special year, since it marked the fiftieth anniversary of two documents of the Second Vatican Council which eloquently expressed her sense of solidarity with the world. Pope John XXIII, at the beginning of the Council, wanted to open wide the windows of the Church and to improve her communication with the world. The two documents, Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes, are emblematic of the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment which the Church sought to awaken within the human family. In the Declaration Nostra Aetate, the Church expressed her openness to dialogue with non-Christian religions. In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, based on a recognition that “the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well”, the Church proposed to enter into dialogue with the entire human family about the problems of our world, as a sign of solidarity, respect and affection.
Along these same lines, with the present Jubilee of Mercy I want to invite the Church to pray and work so that every Christian will have a humble and compassionate heart, one capable of proclaiming and witnessing to mercy. It is my hope that all of us will learn to “forgive and give”, to become more open “to those living on the outermost fringes of society – fringes which modern society itself creates”, and to refuse to fall into “a humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine which prevents us from discovering what is new! Let us ward off destructive cynicism!”
There are many good reasons to believe in mankind’s capacity to act together in solidarity and, on the basis of our interconnection and interdependence, to demonstrate concern for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and for the protection of the common good. This attitude of mutual responsibility is rooted in our fundamental vocation to fraternity and a life in common. Personal dignity and interpersonal relationships are what constitute us as human beings whom God willed to create in his own image and likeness. As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human. We see, then, how indifference represents a menace to the human family. As we approach a new year, I would ask everyone to take stock of this reality, in order to overcome indifference and to win peace.
Kinds of indifference
3. Clearly, indifference is not something new; every period of history has known people who close their hearts to the needs of others, who close their eyes to what is happening around them, who turn aside to avoid encountering other people’s problems. But in our day, indifference has ceased to be a purely personal matter and has taken on broader dimensions, producing a certain “globalisation of indifference”.
The first kind of indifference in human society is indifference to God, which then leads to indifference to one’s neighbour and to the environment. This is one of the grave consequences of a false humanism and practical materialism allied to relativism and nihilism. We have come to to think that we are the source and creator of ourselves, our lives and society. We feel self-sufficient, prepared not only to find a substitute for God but to do completely without him. As a consequence, we feel that we owe nothing to anyone but ourselves, and we claim only rights. Against this erroneous understanding of the person, Pope Benedict XVI observed that neither man himself nor human development can, on their own, answer the question of our ultimate meaning. Paul VI likewise stated that “there is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its authentic significance”.
Indifference to our neighbour shows itself in different ways. Some people are well-informed; they listen to the radio, read the newspapers or watch television, but they do so mechanically and without engagement. They are vaguely aware of the tragedies afflicting humanity, but they have no sense of involvement or compassion. Theirs is the attitude of those who know, but keep their gaze, their thoughts and their actions focused on themselves. Sadly, it must be said that today’s information explosion
does not of itself lead to an increased concern for other people’s problems, which demands openness and a sense of solidarity. Indeed, the information glut can numb people’s sensibilities and to some degree downplay the gravity of the problems. There are those who “simply content themselves with blaming the poor and the poor countries themselves for their troubles; indulging in unwarranted generalisations, they claim that the solution is an ‘education’ that would tranquillise them, making them tame and harmless. All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalised in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders.”
In other cases, indifference shows itself in lack of concern for what is happening around us, especially if it does not touch us directly. Some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers; they lead lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer. Almost imperceptibly, we grow incapable of feeling compassion for others and for their problems; we have no interest in caring for them, as if their troubles were their own responsibility, and none of our business. “When we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off.”
Because we dwell in a common home, we cannot help but ask ourselves about the state of its health, as I sought to do in Laudato Si’. Water and air pollution, the indiscriminate exploitation of forests and the destruction of the natural environment are often the result of man’s indifference to man, since everything is interrelated. Then too, there is the way we treat animals, which has an effect on the way we treat other people, and the cases where people freely do elsewhere what they would never dare do at home.
In these and in other situations, indifference leads to self-absorption and a lack of commitment. It thus contributes to the absence of peace with God, with our neighbour and with the environment.
Peace threatened by globalised indifference
4. Indifference towards God transcends the purely private sphere of the individual and affects the public and social sphere. As Benedict XVI pointed out, “the glorification of God and human peace on earth are closely linked”. Indeed, “without openness to the transcendent, human beings easily become prey to relativism and find it difficult to act justly and to work for peace. Disregard and the denial of God, which lead man to acknowledge no norm above himself and himself alone, have produced untold cruelty and violence.
On both the individual and communitarian levels, indifference to one’s neighbour, born of indifference to God, finds expression in disinterest and a lack of engagement, which only help to prolong situations of injustice and grave social imbalance. These in turn can lead to conflicts or, in any event, generate a climate of dissatisfaction which risks exploding sooner or later into acts of violence and insecurity.
Indifference and lack of commitment constitute a grave dereliction of the duty whereby each of us must work in accordance with our abilities and our role in society for the promotion of the common good, and in particular for peace, which is one of mankind’s most precious goods.
On the institutional level, indifference to others and to their dignity, their fundamental rights and their freedom, when it is part of a culture shaped by the pursuit of profit and hedonism, can foster and even justify actions and policies which ultimately represent threats to peace. Indifference can even lead to justifying deplorable economic policies which breed injustice, division and violence for the sake of ensuring the well-being of individuals or nations. Not infrequently, economic and political projects aim at securing or maintaining power and wealth, even at the cost of trampling on the basic rights and needs of others. When people witness the denial of their elementary rights, such as the right to food, water, health care or employment, they are tempted to obtain them by force.
Moreover, indifference to the natural environment, by countenancing deforestation, pollution and natural catastrophes which uproot entire communities from their ecosystem and create profound insecurity, ends up creating new forms of poverty and new situations of injustice, often with dire consequences for security and peace. How many wars have been fought, and how many will continue to be fought, over a shortage of goods or out of an insatiable thirst for natural resources?
From indifference to mercy: the conversion of hearts
5. One year ago, in my Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, with the motto “No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters”, I evoked the first biblical icon of human brotherhood, that of Cain and Abel. I meant to draw attract attention to how from the very beginning this original brotherhood was betrayed. Cain and Abel were brothers. Both came forth from the same womb, they were equal in dignity and created in the image and likeness of God; but their relationship as brothers was destroyed. “It was not only that Cain could not stand Abel; he killed him out of envy.” Fratricide was the form of betrayal, and Cain’s refusal to acknowledge Abel as his brother became the first rupture in the family relations of fraternity, solidarity and mutual respect.
God then intervened to remind man of his responsibility towards his fellows, as He had also done when Adam and Eve, our first parents, ruptured their relationship with him, their Creator. “Then the Lord said to Cain: “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” But the Lord replied: “What you have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground”.
Cain said he did not know what had happened to his brother, that he was not his brother’s keeper. He did not feel responsible for his life, for his fate. He did not feel involved. He was indifferent to his brother, despite their common origin. How sad! What a sorry tale of brothers, of families, of human beings! This was the first display of indifference between brothers. God, however, is not indifferent. Abel’s blood had immense value in His eyes, and He asked Cain to give an account of it. At the origin of the human race, God shows Himself to be involved in man’s destiny. Later, when the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, God once more intervened to tell Moses: “I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey”. We should note the verbs which describe God’s intervention: He sees, hears, knows, comes down and delivers. God does not remain indifferent. He is attentive and He acts.
In the same way, in Jesus His Son, God has come down among us. He took flesh and showed His solidarity with humanity in all things but sin. Jesus identified with us: He became “the first-born among many brethren”. He was not content merely to teach the crowds, but He was concerned for their welfare, especially when He saw them hungry or without work. He was concerned not only for men and women, but also for the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, plants and trees, all things great and small. He saw and embraced all of creation.
But He did more than just see; He touched people’s lives, He spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need. Not only this, but He felt strong emotions and He wept. And He worked to put an end to suffering, sorrow, misery and death.
Jesus taught us to be merciful like our heavenly Father. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, He condemned those who fail to help others in need, those who “pass by on the other side”. By this example, He taught His listeners, and His disciples in particular, to stop and to help alleviate the sufferings of this world and the pain of our brothers and sisters, using whatever means are at hand, beginning with our own time, however busy we may be. Indifference often seeks excuses: observing ritual prescriptions, looking to all the things needing to be done, hiding behind hostilities and prejudices which keep us apart.
Mercy is the heart of God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats all the more strongly wherever human dignity – as a reflection of the face of God in his creatures – is in play. Jesus tells us that love for others – foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies – is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions. Our eternal destiny depends on this. It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul tells the Christians of Rome to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep, or that he encourages the Corinthians to take up collections as a sign of solidarity with the suffering members of the Church. And St. John writes: “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother or sister in need, yet refuses help, how does God’s love abide in him?.
This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”
We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another. This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, open to others in authentic solidarity. For solidarity is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”. Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”, because compassion flows from fraternity.
Understood in this way, solidarity represents the moral and social attitude which best corresponds to an awareness of the scourges of our own day, and to the growing interdependence, especially in a globalised world, between the lives of given individuals and communities and those of other men and women in the rest of the world.
Building a culture of solidarity and mercy to overcome indifference
6. Solidarity, as a moral virtue and social attitude born of personal conversion, calls for commitment on the part of those responsible for education and formation.
I think first of families, which are called to a primary and vital mission of education. Families are the first place where the values of love and fraternity, togetherness and sharing, concern and care for others are lived out and handed on. They are also the privileged milieu for transmitting the faith, beginning with those first simple gestures of devotion which mothers teach their children.
Teachers, who have the challenging task of training children and youth in schools or other settings, should be conscious that their responsibility extends also to the moral, spiritual and social aspects of life. The values of freedom, mutual respect and solidarity can be handed on from a tender age. Speaking to educators, Pope Benedict XVI noted that: “Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society”.
Communicators also have a responsibility for education and formation, especially nowadays, when the means of information and communication are so widespread. Their duty is first and foremost to serve the truth, and not particular interests. For the media “not only inform but also form the minds of their audiences, and so they can make a significant contribution to the education of young people. It is important never to forget that the connection between education and communication is extremely close: education takes place through communication, which influences, for better or worse, the formation of the person.”
Communicators should also be mindful that the way in which information is obtained and made public should always be legally and morally admissible.
Peace: the fruit of a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion
7. While conscious of the threat posed by a globalisation of indifference, we should also recognise that, in the scenario I have just described, there are also many positive initiatives which testify to the compassion, mercy and solidarity of which we are capable.
Here I would offer some examples of praiseworthy commitment, which demonstrate how all of us can overcome indifference in choosing not to close our eyes to our neighbour. These represent good practices on the way to a more humane society.
There are many non-governmental and charitable organisations, both within and outside the Church, whose members, amidst epidemics, disasters and armed conflicts, brave difficulties and dangers in caring for the injured and sick, and in burying the dead. I would also mention those individuals and associations which assist migrants who cross deserts and seas in search of a better life. These efforts are spiritual and corporal works of mercy on which we will be judged at the end of our lives.
I think also of the journalists and photographers who shape public opinion on difficult situations which trouble our consciences, and all those devoted to the defence of human rights, especially the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous peoples, women and children, and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Among them are also many priests and missionaries who, as good pastors, remain at the side of their flock and support them, heedless of danger and hardship, especially during armed conflicts.
How many families, amid occupational and social difficulties, make great sacrifices to provide their children with a “counter-cultural” education in the values of solidarity, compassion and fraternity! How many families open their hearts and homes to those in need, such as refugees and migrants! I wish to thank in a particular way all those individuals, families, parishes, religiou
s communities, monasteries and shrines who readily responded to my appeal to welcome a refugee family.
Finally, I would mention those young people who join in undertaking works of solidarity, and all those who generously help their neighbours in need in their cities and countries and elsewhere in the world. I thank and encourage everyone engaged in such efforts, which often pass unobserved. Their hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied, their mercy will lead them to find mercy and, as peacemakers, they will be called children of God.
Peace in the sign of the Jubilee of Mercy
8. In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, all of us are called to realise how indifference can manifest itself in our lives and to work concretely to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbours and places of employment.
Civil society is likewise called to make specific and courageous gestures of concern for their most vulnerable members, such as prisoners, migrants, the unemployed and the infirm.
With regard to prisoners, it would appear that in many cases practical measures are urgently needed to improve their living conditions, with particular concern for those detained while awaiting trial. It must be kept in mind that penal sanctions have the aim of rehabilitation, while national laws should consider the possibility of other establishing penalties than incarceration. In this context, I would like once more to appeal to governmental authorities to abolish the death penalty where it is still in force, and to consider the possibility of an amnesty.
With regard to migrants, I would ask that legislation on migration be reviewed, so, while respecting reciprocal rights and responsibilities, it can reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration. Special concern should be paid to the conditions for legal residency, since having to live clandestinely can lead to criminal behaviour.
In this Jubilee Year, I would also appeal to national leaders for concrete gestures in favour of our brothers and sisters who suffer from the lack of labour, land and lodging. I am thinking of the creation of dignified jobs to combat the social plague of unemployment, which affects many families and young people, with grave effects for society as a whole. Unemployment takes a heavy toll on people’s sense of dignity and hope, and can only be partially compensated for by welfare benefits, however necessary these may be, provided to the unemployed and their families. Special attention needs to be given to women – who unfortunately still encounter discrimination in the workplace – and to some categories of workers whose conditions are precarious or dangerous, and whose pay is not commensurate to the importance of their social mission.
Finally, I express my hope that effective steps will be taken to improve the living conditions of the sick by ensuring that all have access to medical treatment and pharmaceuticals essential for life, as well as the possibility of home care.
Looking beyond their own borders, national leaders are also called to renew their relations with other peoples and to enable their real participation and inclusion in the life of the international community, in order to ensure fraternity within the family of nations as well.
With this in mind, I would like to make a threefold appeal to the leaders of nations: to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars which destroy not only their material, cultural and social legacy, but also – and in the long term – their moral and spiritual integrity; to forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations; and to adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of local populations and, in any case, not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.
I entrust these reflections, together with my best wishes for the New Year, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, who cares for the needs of our human family, that she may obtain from her Son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the granting of our prayers and the blessing of our daily efforts for a fraternal and united world”.

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