True to tradition, on December 17th, Pope Francis made public his message for the celebration of the 54th. World Day of Peace of the 1st. January 2021. Under the title “The culture of care as a path of peace”, it offers us a very contextualized reflection at the moment of current crisis that humanity is living with the problem of the pandemic and its dire consequences in all areas. Aimed not only at Christians, but also at all men and women of goodwill, the Holy Father invites us to reflect with a Christian foundation on the culture of care, that is, of attention and service to others as a way to generate true and lasting peace at all levels and in all environments.
As the second month of 2021 progresses, it is not enough that we review, at least briefly, the meaning of the words used by the Pope in this year’s motto.
It is clear that the word care is not understood here as an expression of prevention but quite the opposite; care, in its first sense, means request and attention to do something right; it is also understood as the action of caring, assisting, storing, preserving, applying to people or things. Not in a selfish but altruistic sense is how we understand its meaning in the Pope’s text.
The word culture we know well that it is very polysemic and encompassing. Here, without as a whole of knowledge, we must understand it as a way of life and customs that permeates the life of a people, in this case of the whole society. More than synonymous with knowledge, it would be synonymous with civilization.
The word peace here cannot be reduced to the simple meaning of absence of wars or violence or conflict. St Augustine defined peace as tranquilitas ordinis (literally, “peace of order”) in his work The City of God, a magnificent text to reflect on this subject; in the realm of the individual peace is the virtue that puts tranquility and tranquility in the spirit; in the social sphere, peace means reconciliation and return to friendship and harmony. True peace, the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is the fruit of justice, and evidently also of charity (cf. Gadium et Spes, n. 78).
The culture of care as a path of peace, the Pope says, aims to eradicate the culture of indifference, rejection and confrontation so present today, even in the current context of global crisis, precisely when we should discover more the importance of taking care of each other, including creation, in order to build a more fraternal society.
In God, Creator of everything and Father of all, puts the Pope the origin of our human vocation to care and his model of action. God gives us life and takes care of each and every one of us. Likewise, we must take care of our own life and the nature that God has given us, and also of others, with justice and fidelity, because they are our brothers and sisters.
Jesus Christ, Son of God made man, embodies the ultimate expression of God the Father’s loving care for all mankind, which comes to its culmination in the offering of his life on the Cross, from where he invites us to his follow-up and imitation. The culture of care thus became present in the lives of jesus’ followers from the beginning of the Church, a culture of care particularly expressed in what Christians call spiritual and bodily works of mercy, whose spirit has inspired so many founders of charitable institutions, according to the social needs of each age.
From the desire to realize Jesus’ mandate, to love us as brothers and sisters, to feel the needs of others as his own, to try to help the poorest and neediest, emerged what we know as the Social Doctrine of the Church, whose principles, Pope Francis says, are the foundation of the culture of care, its “grammar” and that he degreases in four aspects : the promotion of the dignity and rights of every human person, concern for the common good, solidarity with the poorest and most defenceless and the protection of creation.
Therefore, first of all, we must take care of every person, because every human person is an end in itself, and never a simple instrument, created to live as a family and in society, from whose dignity their rights and duties derive. Although the Pope does not mention it, we remember that the dignity of every human person and his inviolable value lies in his condition of creature made in the image and likeness of God. Every human being is a living image of the Creator, even if he is not aware of it or works as such.
The Pope recalls, secondly, the community and social character of every human person. We live in community, in a globalized world, we are all in the same boat, so we must all care and take responsibility for everyone, seeking the common good, understood as the “set of conditions of social life that make it possible for associations and each of its members to achieve fuller and easier of perfection itself” (cf. Gadium et Spes , 26). The pandemic has made us more aware of this and we should draw the relevant conclusions to improve our common future.
It is very interesting how, thirdly, Francis defines human solidarity, not only as a mere altruistic concern for the needs of others, but as a concrete expression of fraternal love, as “a firm and persevering determination to strive for the common good […] for the sake of each and every one, that we may all be truly responsible for all” (Sollicitudo rei socialis, 38).
Finally, fourthly, the Pope recalls the full interconnection between the care of the brothers and the care and protection of all the created reality. “Peace, justice and preservation of creation are three themes absolutely linked” (Laudato si’, 92).
For Francis, these four principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church (care for the dignity of every human person, the common good, solidarity and creation) are the “compass” that we should all take to give a common, truly humane course to the process of globalization, particularly at this time dominated by the culture of discarding and inequality. We are all called to become “prophets and witnesses of the culture of care, to overcome so many social inequalities.” And this, so important at the personal and social level, is extrapolable to the field of international relations, where the protection and promotion of fundamental, inalienable, universal and indivisible human rights, including humanitarian law, must be reaffirmed.
The Pope regrets that in many regions of the world conflicts and wars have become “normalized”, that is, they have become the usual and continuous way in which, unfortunately, many live without work, without studies, without home, without culture, with hunger and disease, wrapped in turns of violence and destruction. He bravely dares to propose to constitute “a Global Fund,” with the money used in military weapons and spending, to definitively defeat hunger and help the poorest countries.
Finally, the Holy Father warns of the need for an educational process for the promotion of the culture of care. Education is necessary for care, education born in the family, with which the school, university, social communication agents and, of course, religions in general that, through their leaders, must convey the values of solidarity, respect for differences, acceptance and care to the most fragile brothers and sisters , work in which the Catholic Church must make a decisive commitment. The Pope speaks of the need for a global Educational Pact that aims at a more open and exclusive education, capable of patient listening, constructive dialogue and mutual understanding.
Such a culture of care, so understood, is a privileged way to build peace, Francis says. Citing his recent encyclical Fratelli tutti 225, he concludes: “In many parts of the world there is a need for paths of peace that lead to healing wounds, peace artisans are needed willing to generate healing and reunion processes with wit and audacity.”
Suffice it to keep this phrase to synthesize the thought of Pope Francis set out in this message; also to understand that each and every one of us, in the country where we live, in the society in which we live, from our status as Christians or mere citizens, we are called to be artisans of peace from the culture of caring for the human person, the common good, solidarity and creation. It is never easy to open new paths without generating wounds; much more complicated, but not impossible, is to build paths that lead to healing wounds of the past, personal and social, irreparable first-sight fractures. That is why they must be paths of peace and reconciliation and not of further confrontation. We certainly cannot fall into the subtle temptation of the culture of confrontation, which has nothing to do with the culture of care and reconciliation that the Pope proposes to us.
It is the great challenge that, as Christians, we must take on in the historical moment we live: to build paths of peace, initiatives that generate healing processes and reunion with ingenuity and audacity. It seems as if this phrase of the Pope is said to us, the Catholic Christians of Cuba. The free and sincere expression of all that we understand as a lack of truth in the social fabric of the country cannot do without the also sincere desire for healing and reunion. Truth, however true, cannot be imposed or cast by force, reason, ideology, or even religion; it must be sought, found and shared in open, sincere and fraternal dialogue. We can never get tired of offering ourselves to such dialogue without any prevention or fear. Whoever is afraid to dialogue, something has to hide. Undoubtedly, dialogue is one of the paths of peace, for healing and reunion, of which Pope Francis speaks, in which patient listening, constructiveness and mutual understanding cannot be lacking; boldly and ingenuity, that is, without recklessness or madness, step by step, with achievable and verifiable proposals, also courageous and intelligent.
Healing and reunion, two such urgent realities in today’s Cuba, presuppose that there is disease and fracture, confrontation and disenification. In open and sincere dialogue, without prejudice or prevention, between all partners at different levels, its causes must be addressed, because symptoms and consequences are already known and suffered. By analysing the causes together, on an equal footing, we will be able to propose, not impose, common paths of peace and reconciliation, healing and reunion; we will be able to implement ingenious and bold solutions, but achievable and that benefit everyone. Definitely a big challenge for everyone in the new year that has just begun.