VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’ message for 2016’s World Day of Peace is packed with bold pastoral and practical advice for both the Church as well as international leaders.
In it, he focused on the need to work for peace by overcoming the attitude of indifference and fostering a greater sense of solidarity, mercy and compassion.
He advocated for concrete acts of mercy on the part of families, individuals and political leaders, such as the abolition of the death penalty and amnesty for prisoners convicted of political offenses.
Also encouraged by the Pope was a review of legislation in terms of migrants, a greater attention toward women, particularly in terms of equality in the workplace, and debt forgiveness.
“God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us!” is the opening line of Francis’ message for the 2016 World Day of Peace, published Dec. 15.
Instituted by Blessed Pope Paul VI in 1968, the World Day of Peace is celebrated each year on the first day of January.
The Pope gives a special message for the occasion, which is sent to all foreign ministers around the world and which also indicates the Holy See’s diplomatic tone during the coming year.
Titled “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace,” the Pope’s message for 2016 is a reiteration of what he has frequently advocated for since the beginning of his pontificate: taking one’s eyes off oneself and focusing on the needs of others.
In a world afflicted by “a real third world war fought piecemeal,” the Pope expressed his desire to encourage people “not to lose hope in our human ability to conquer evil and to combat resignation and indifference.”
He pointed to several initiatives over the past year which have brought world leaders together in an effort to overcome self-interest and apathy, such as the recently concluded COP21 summit on climate change in Paris, the Addis Ababa Summit on funding global sustainable development and the adoption of the United Nations 2030 “Sustainable Development Agenda.”
Also highlighted by the Pope were landmark anniversaries for the Church, such as the 50th anniversary of Second Vatican Council documents Nostra Aetate on dialogue with non-Christian religions and Gaudium et Spes on the Church in the modern world.
Francis also pointed to the Jubilee of Mercy, expressing his hope that it will encourage people to “refuse to fall into a humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine which prevents us from discovering what is new.”
He spoke of the importance of fostering fraternity, saying we are responsible for those around us. Without solidarity, he said, “we would be less human.”
Calling indifference “a menace to the human family,” Francis noted that the attitude takes three forms: indifference to God, to our neighbor and to creation.
Indifference toward God, he noted, “transcends the purely private sphere and affects the public and social sphere.”
“Disregard and the denial of God, which lead man to acknowledge no norm above himself and himself alone, have produced untold cruelty and violence,” he said, while indifference toward one’s neighbor is expressed in a general disinterest and a lack of engagement.
On an institutional level, indifference to the dignity, rights and freedom of others is part of a culture formed by “the pursuit of profit and hedonism” and can foster and even justify actions and policies which threaten peace, Pope Francis said.
Rather than ensuring that the basic rights and needs of others are preserved, economic and political projects frequently pursue power instead, he observed.
When people see their basic rights, such as food, water, health care and employment denied, “they are tempted to obtain them by force.”
Francis stressed that indifference is ultimately overcome by personal conversion and pointed to the example of Jesus, who took on flesh and showed solidarity with humanity.
Jesus shows us how to be invested in others, no matter how busy we may be, he said, cautioning that the attitude of indifference often seeks to excuse itself with tasks to complete or by “hiding behind hostilities and prejudices, which keep us apart.”
“Mercy is the heart of God,” he said, explaining that how we love and care for others is “the yardstick” by which God will judge our lives.
He emphasized the importance of the Church in being a witness to God’s mercy in both her language and her gestures, so that people would be inspired to return to God.
To build solidarity, the Pope said, is the responsibility of everyone, beginning with families and teachers. He also said those involved in the field of communication have a special role to play, adding that their role must “serve the truth and not particular interests.”
Communicators, particularly the media, must also “be mindful that the way in which information is obtained and made public should always be legally and morally admissible,” he said.
The statement is a likely reference to the current trial under way for the “Vatileaks 2” scandal, in which two journalists have been accused of exerting “pressure” on former members of a Vatican commission to obtain confidential documents on Vatican finances and then publish books on the information.
Francis concluded his message by acknowledging the many individuals and organizations, journalists and photographers included, who are committed to caring for the poor, injured and sick, despite often dangerous conditions.
In particular, he offered thanks to all individuals, families, parishes, religious communities and monasteries who responded to his Sept. 6 appeal to welcome a family of refugees.
In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis called on civil society to make “courageous gestures of concern” for the most vulnerable, particularly prisoners, migrants, the sick and the unemployed.
He specifically asked that the living conditions for prisoners be improved and urged leaders to keep in mind that “penal sanctions have the aim of rehabilitation,” whereas national laws “should consider the possibility of establishing penalties other than incarceration.”
On this point, he urged government authorities to abolish the death penalty where it is still practiced and “to consider the possibility of an amnesty.”
The Pope asked that legislation for migrants “be reviewed” in order to reflect “a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration” into society.
He also said special emphasis should be given to the conditions for the legal residency of migrants, “since having to live clandestinely can lead to criminal behavior.”
Francis then asked that greater efforts be made in order to end unemployment and for special attention be given to women, “who, unfortunately, still encounter discrimination in the workplace.”
He closed his message with a threefold appeal to national leaders, beginning with a request for them “to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars,” which only lead to destruction.
The Pope then asked that leaders either forgive or find a way to sustainably manage the debt of 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 … not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.”