In his message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis began with a crucial reminder: “God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us!” The reminder may seem obvious, but it is necessary after a year like 2015, which was difficult for many. Last year saw increasing numbers of refugees, troubling religious persecution and tragic violence at home and abroad. In the face of such sorrow, some may lose hope for peace; some may despair or, perhaps worse, become indifferent to the suffering of others.
Indeed, it is all too easy to retreat into a little, private world, focused on our own desires and struggles, especially when the difficulties faced by others in our communities, whether global or local, seem so intractable. “Some people prefer not to ask questions or seek answers,” Pope Francis wrote in his message. Yet as Christians this is exactly what we are called to do: to ask why injustices occur, what can be done to alleviate them and how we are called to respond.
Peace often seems unattainable. Still, the pope shows us the way forward, which is the way Christ has shown us again and again: mercy. Through mercy—transmitted and made real through solidarity, dialogue and good works—we can move closer to the peace that we desire and that our world needs. This peace is not a task only for governments and world leaders, but one that must begin with a conversion of heart, one that requires us to reject our own excuses in favor of action on local, national and global levels. We can begin with the following.
Express solidarity with the poor. We must, as Pope Francis urged in “Laudato Si’,” understand that everything is connected and that the least among us often are burdened most heavily by injustice. January is Poverty Awareness Month, a reminder of the need for solidarity with the more than three billion people who live in poverty around the globe. True solidarity means taking conscious and concrete steps to include others in our lives and in the rights and privileges we may already enjoy.
Concerned Catholics can sign up through many church and nonprofit organizations for action alerts, which often include prompts to contact elected officials. Ask political leaders to act on their commitment to sustainable development; ask for just and compassionate ways to accommodate refugees and migrants; ask nations to work to address the root causes of the poverty, violence and conflict that spur such an exodus. Volunteering with or donating to organizations like Catholic Charities, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Relief Services and Jesuit Refugee Service can go a long way in supporting the church’s efforts on these fronts.
Commit ourselves to compassionate, open and honest dialogue. In an increasingly secular culture, conversations about faith can be difficult or controversial, but people of faith should make an extra effort to reach out to people of other faiths and of no faith to bridge divides and promote unity. Many can agree on the obligation to serve people in need, and service projects can be a unifying event for people of all beliefs, as groups like the Interfaith Youth Core have demonstrated. Parishes should work to offer invitations for dialogue around issues like race, sexuality, power and poverty.
In his message for peace, Pope Francis pointed to the importance of families, teachers and the media in the effort to form young people into individuals who are willing to listen to others respectfully and compassionately, who are open to diverse opinions and to sharing their own experiences of faith. Parents and teachers should model and facilitate respectful dialogue. Those who work in media should recognizes their role in shaping “public opinion on difficult situations which trouble our consciences,” as the pope put it, and use that power to give voice to the voiceless and for the advancement of truth, not only to achieve some objective or policy.
Act with mercy. The Gospel call to mercy asks us to work to feed the hungry, visit the sick and imprisoned and shelter the homeless, among other works. Many parishes and nonprofits offer a variety of volunteer opportunities for individuals to serve the wider community, whether through soup kitchens or visiting homebound parishioners or participating in prison ministry. These simple actions help us to turn our gaze outward to individuals in need and to the global scope of many issues that may affect them. Mercy calls us out of indifference into action and thus is a necessary step for building peace. Mercy asks us to treat both the stranger thousands of miles away and the people closest to us with the same compassion and love, seeing them all as members of one family, who, as in any family, are not always at peace but are inextricably intertwined.