Saturday, 13 July 2013

Adam, where are you? ... Where is your brother?

It is somewhat late to comment on Pope Francis' visit to Lampedusa. It is of interest, though, to reflect on the significance of this journey for the Church and the world at large. I have been inclined, precisely because of the significance of this journey as an appeal to the consciences of peoples and of nations, to place it alongside the visit that Pope Paul VI made to the United Nations in 1965. As L'Osservatore Romano expressed it, the intention of Pope Francis' journey was
... to reach out from that centre which must be exemplary in presiding “in charity over all the Churches”, as the Pope recalled, presenting himself to the world, to one of the geographical and existential peripheries of our time.
Just as Pope Francis in his homily issued a resounding appeal to the consciences of the peoples and nations of the world, an appeal all the more forceful for being made in the very place that epitomises the failure of those consciences, so did Pope Paul VI suggest at the end of his address to the UN that the work undertaken by the United Nations is built upon human consciences.

First the words of Pope Francis in his homily on the island of Lampedusa:
This morning, in the light of God’s word which has just been proclaimed, I wish to offer some thoughts meant to challenge people’s consciences and lead them to reflection and a concrete change of heart....  
How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.  
"Where is your brother?" His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.  
Today too, the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: "Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?" Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: "poor soul…!", and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!
Then the words with which Pope Paul VI ended his address to the United Nations:
.... Messieurs, un dernier mot: cet édifice que vous construisez ne repose pas sur des bases purement matérielles et terrestres, car ce serait alors un édifice construit sur le sable; il repose avant tout sur nos consciences. Oui, le moment est venu de la « conversion », de la transformation personnelle, du renouvellement intérieur. Nous devons nous habituer à penser d'une manière nouvelle l'homme; d'une manière nouvelle aussi la vie en commun des hommes, d'une manière nouvelle enfin les chemins de l'histoire et les destins du monde, selon la parole de saint Paul: « revêtir l'homme nouveau créé selon Dieu dans la justice et la sainteté de la vérité » (Eph. 4, 23). Voici arrivée l'heure où s'impose une halte, un moment de recueillement, de réflexion, quasi de prière: repenser à notre commune origine, à notre histoire, à notre destin commun. Jamais comme aujourd'hui, dans une époque marquée par un tel progrès humain, n'a été aussi nécessaire l'appel à la conscience morale de l'homme. Car le péril ne vient, ni du progrès, ni de la science, qui, bien utilisés, pourront au contraire résoudre un grand nombre des graves problèmes qui assaillent l'humanité. Le vrai péril se tient dans l'homme, qui dispose d'instruments toujours plus puissants, aptes aussi bien à la ruine qu'aux plus hautes conquêtes.
[...Gentlemen, a last word: this edifice that you are building does not rest on purely material or earthly foundations, since that would be an edifice built on sand; it rests before all on our consciences.   Yes, the moment has come of "conversion", of personal transformation, of interior renewal. We must become accustomed to thinking  of man in a new way; in a new way, too, of the shared life of men, in a new way in the end of the roads of history and of the fate of the world, according to the word fo St Paul: "put on the new man created according to God in justice and holiness and truth" (Eph. 4:23). Here is the hour which imposes a stop, a moment of recollection, of reflection, almost of prayer: think again of our common origin, of our history, of our common destiny. Never like today, in a time marked by so much human progress, has it also been necessary to appeal to the moral conscience of man. Because the danger does not come from progress or from science, which, used well, are able on the contrary to solve a great number of the serious problems which assail humanity. The true danger is found in man, who has instrument ever more powerful, which can be used both for ruin or for ever higher conquests.]
Here in the UK the question of immigration has a high political profile. But do we ever hear in that debate considerations of our duty to be neighbours to those who arrive here from overseas? Pope Francis' appeal to consciences should surely be recognised for its significance to our own country.

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