In his first World Day of Peace Message, released Dec. 12 by the Vatican to mark the Jan. 1 event, Pope Francis touches on themes that have become very much a part of his pontificate — the dangers of globalization, the need to overcome the many forms of poverty, nurturing an encounter with others as our brothers and sisters, and remembering that the heart of peace, of authentic fraternity, is Jesus Christ.
The 5,000-word message, titled “Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace,” offers not only a diagnosis of the challenges facing the embrace of fraternity but a set of practical prescriptions for the modern world. Fraternity, Francis declared, “draws us to fellowship with others and enables us to see them not as enemies or rivals, but as brothers and sisters to be accepted and embraced.”
At the same time, in the Cross we find “the definitive foundational locus of that fraternity which human beings are not capable of generating themselves.”
Importance of family
Francis teaches that the family is the wellspring of fraternity, “and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it.” To appreciate fully the family image for fraternity, the pope focuses on Scripture, asking the question from Genesis, “Where is your brother?” (4:9) and examining the story of Cain and Abel. He notes that according to the biblical account of creation, all people are descended from the common parentage of Adam and Eve, parents of Cain and Abel, the first family in whom we see the origins of society. Abel becomes a shepherd, and Cain becomes a farmer, but despite the diversity of activity, “their profound identity and their vocation is to be brothers.” Thus, the murder of Abel by Cain “thwarts his primordial calling to be a child of God and to live in fraternity.”
The fatherhood of God can be seen as the basis of fraternity, then, but it is not “a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman.” And Jesus Christ, “loving the Father unto death on the Cross (cf. Phil 2:8), has through his resurrection made of us a new humanity, in full communion with the will of God, with his plan, which includes the full realization of our vocation to fraternity.”
A work of solidarity
Seen in this light, fraternity is the foundation and pathway to peace as Christian solidarity presumes that our neighbor is someone who is the living image of God the Father and is a brother or sister. Francis cites the social encyclicals of his predecessors, including Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, to stress that “the integral development of peoples is the new name of peace” and that peace is an opus solidaritatis, a work of solidarity: “the duty of solidarity, which requires the richer nations to assist the less developed; the duty of social justice, which requires the realignment of relationships between stronger and weaker peoples in terms of greater fairness; and the duty of universal charity, which entails the promotion of a more humane world for all.”
"Fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to. But only love, bestowed as a gift from God, enables us to accept and fully experience fraternity."
According to Pope Francis, that fraternity is essential to building a just society and a solid and lasting peace, which means there is a vocation “to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another.” But this vocation is threatened by what the pope calls a “globalization of indifference” that makes us blind “to the suffering of others and closed in on ourselves.” This indifference brings with it “offences against fundamental human rights, especially the right to life and the right to religious freedom,” including human trafficking, armed conflicts and economic and financial struggles that devastate lives, families and businesses.
Quoting Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis observes that “globalization makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers,” and society today is troubled by new ideologies. Characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, these weaken social bonds, fuelling a “throw away” mentality that leads “to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered ‘useless.’”
Poverty of relationships
Fraternity, the pope writes, is the antidote to a “globalization of indifference.” It is first a prerequisite for fighting poverty in all its forms. Today, he warns, we are seeing a profound poverty of relationships owing to a lack of solid family and community relationships. Moreover, even as there has been a reduction in absolute poverty, there is still a serious rise in relative poverty, “instances of inequality between people and groups who live together in particular regions or in a determined historical-cultural context.”
Poverty is also defeated in the lives of ordinary women and men, in a form of detachment by choosing “to live a sober and essential lifestyle, of those who, by sharing their own wealth . . . manage to experience fraternal communion with others.”
There is what Pope Francis terms the rediscovery of fraternity in the economy. He roots the financial and economic crises of today in “the progressive distancing of man from God and from his neighbor, with the result that people “seek satisfaction, happiness and security in consumption and earnings out of all proportion to the principles of a sound economy.”
Against this, as he did in the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis proposes “a timely rethinking of our models of economic development and to a change in lifestyles.” He urges a fruitful rediscovery of the virtues of prudence, temperance, justice and strength that can help us to “recover the fraternal bonds which join us one to another, with deep confidence that human beings need and are capable of something greater than maximizing their individual interest. Above all, these virtues are necessary for building and preserving a society in accord with human dignity.”
Fraternity also extinguishes war through a conversion of heart. This is especially true at a time when we face the threat posed by corruption and organized crime, drug abuse, the devastation of natural resources, pollution, exploitation of labor, money trafficking and financial speculation. There are also prostitution, human trafficking, crimes and abuses against minors, slavery and “the frequently overlooked tragedy of migrants.” Finally, fraternity helps to preserve and cultivate nature through recognition that the “human family has received from the Creator a common gift: nature.”
The pope concludes with a final admonition about love: “Fraternity needs to be discovered, loved, experienced, proclaimed and witnessed to. But only love, bestowed as a gift from God, enables us to accept and fully experience fraternity.”
Matthew Bunson is OSV senior correspondent.