A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace

img1 Jacob Peenikaparambil
28 Dec 2020

Pope Francis has chosen a relevant theme, “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace”, that is very appropriate to the present day world scenario for his message on the occasion of the celebration of 54th World Day of Peace on January 1, 2021. 

What the world needs today more than anything else is CARE because of the havoc caused by Covid 19 that has infected more than 77.7 million people and killed more than 17 lakhs. Millions of people all over the world have lost jobs due to the lockdown and the consequent economic slump. There is no country that has not come under the grip of pandemic Covid 19.

 Against this backdrop, Pope Francis through his message wants to impress upon the people of the whole world that there cannot be genuine peace without caring for each other at different levels: community, nation and the world. 

Pope Francis has proved to be a person who feels the pulse of humanity and empathizes with victims of pandemic like Covid 19, climate change, the economic system that widens the gap between the rich and the poor, and the political ideologies and systems that produce hatred, division, exclusion and violent conflicts. 

As the leader of 1.3 billion Catholics, he is convinced that the mission of the Church is to be a facilitator and instrument of the Reign of God in the world. That is why he addressed two of his encyclicals, Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, to the whole world and all men and women of good will. This year’s message for the World Day of Peace is also addressed to “Heads of State and Government, leaders of international organizations, spiritual leaders, and followers of different religions, and to men and women of good will”. 

Pope Francis begins his message expressing his empathies with the millions of people infected and affected by the pandemic and expressing his profound appreciation for the health care workers like physicians, nurses, pharmacists, researchers, volunteers and chaplains. While paying tribute to the health care workers who sacrificed their lives in the service of the infected patients, he appealed to the leaders of all countries to ensure access to Covid 19 vaccines to all, especially the poor. Pope also expressed his serious concern about the surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia, and wars and conflicts even when all were under the grip of the pandemic. 

The peace message of Pope Francis can be divided into three parts. The first part, consisting of numbers 2 to 5, forms the Biblical, theological, spiritual and historical dimensions of ‘a culture of care’. In the second part, consisting of numbers 6 and 7, Pope Francis refers to four core social principles, very essential for the growth of a culture of care. The third part, number 8 deals with means for creating a culture of care i.e. peace education. 

Biblical, Theological and Historical Basis of a Culture of Care

Being a spiritual person deeply rooted in the Bible, Pope Francis draws the fundamentals of a culture of care from the creation story in the book of Genesis, ministry of Jesus, and the life of the early Christians, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. According to the Biblical account of creation, God entrusts the care of Eden to Adam. This implies that human beings have the responsibility of “making the earth productive, while at the same time protecting it and preserving its capacity to support life”. Another Biblical insight Pope Francis draws from the story of Cain and Abel is that “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our lives and our relationship with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others”.

According to Pope Francis, the Sacred Scriptures present God not only as Creator, but also as one who cares for his creatures. The purpose of Sabbath and the celebration of jubilee every seventh sabbatical year is to care for the creation. The celebration of the Jubilee year provided a respite for the land, for slaves and those in debt. The prophets of the Old Testament, especially prophet Amos (Amos 2:6-8) and Isaiah (Isaiah 8), “insistently demanded justice for the poor, who, in their vulnerability and powerlessness, cry out and are heard by God who watches over them.” 

The Gospels present Jesus as the supreme expression of care and compassion by healing the sick, feeding the hungry and restoring sight to the blind. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep. He is the Good Samaritan who stoops to help the injured man, binds his wounds and cares for him. Jesus’ death on the cross is the ultimate proof of his care for human beings. 

The followers of Jesus, especially the early Christians, presented themselves as role models of caring communities by pooling their resources and sharing among them according to each one’s need so that no one among them was in need. Pope Francis points out that works of charity and mercy have been an essential dimension of the Church throughout its existence. In modern times, under the care of the Church “there arose many institutions for the relief of every human need: hospitals, poor houses, orphanages, foundling homes and shelters for the travellers”. 

Four Social Principles, Essential for a Culture of Care

In the second part of his message (Numbers 6 and 7) Pope Francis emphasizes four core social principles that are essential for creating a culture of care. They are 1) Care as promotion of the dignity and rights of each person, 2) Care for the common good, 3) Care through solidarity, and 4) Care and protection of creation. The Pope has drawn these four principles from the Church’s social doctrine, and he says that these principles can serve as a “grammar” of care. After briefly explaining these principles he makes an appeal to the leaders of the world to apply them as a ‘compass’ in their policies and decisions. 

“At a time dominated by a culture of waste, faced with growing inequalities both within and between nations, I urge government leaders and those of international organizations, business leaders, scientists, communicators and educators, to take up these principles as a “compass” capable of pointing out a common direction and ensuring “a more humane future” in the process of globalization” (No.7). 

The first principle that the Pope highlights is the dignity and rights of individuals. According to the social doctrine of the Church, each human person is an end in himself or herself, and never simply valued only for his or her usefulness. At the same time, persons are created to live together in families, communities and societies, where all are equal in dignity. Hence human rights as well as human duties derive from human dignity. 

Pope Francis has defined the second principle, care for COMMON GOOD, as the “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily”. The pandemic Covid 19 has taught us that all of us are in the same boat, although we belong to different countries. Hence no individual alone can save himself/herself; no state can ensure the common good of its population, if it remains isolated from other countries. 

According to Pope Francis, SOLIDARITY means “a firm and preserving determination to commit oneself to the common good”. It means considering other human beings as “our neighbours, companions on our journey, called like ourselves to partake of the banquet of life to which all are equally invited”. 

The fourth principle, Care and protection of creation, is described elaborately in Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si. Pope Francis reiterates in his peace message, the interrelatedness among the three requirements: peace, justice and care for creation. They “cannot be separated in such a way as to be treated individually, lest we fall back into reductionism”, writes Pope Francis. 

Pope Francis draws the attention of the world to the increasing conflicts in different parts of the world and the failure to resolve these conflicts. These conflicts have resulted in untold miseries to the people and many are forced to flee out of their countries.  In this context Pope specially mentions the use of huge resources for making weapons, particularly nuclear weapons. Pope Francis suggests the creation of a “Global Fund” with the money spent on weapons and military expenditures in order to eliminate hunger and contribute to the development of the poorest countries. 

Educating for a Culture of Care

In the last part of the message, Pope Francis proposes focus on peace education as an effective means for creating a culture of care. Education for peace is to begin in the FAMILIES, and “families need to be empowered to carry out this vital and indispensable task”. It is to be continued in the SCHOOLS and UNIVERSITIES. Communication media also can play a crucial role in peace education. Peace education has to emphasize, according to Pope Francis, the dignity of each person, each linguistic, ethnic and religious community as well as the fundamental rights. 

Pope Francis calls upon the religions and religious leaders in particular, to promote peace education by emphasizing “the values of solidarity, respect for differences, and concern for our brothers and sisters in need”.  In this context Pope Francis recalls the assurance given by Pope Paul VI while addressing the Ugandan Parliament in 1969 that “the Church seeks to promote healthy liberty, social justice, and peace”. Finally, Pope Francis makes an appeal to all those who are involved in education and in public services to work towards “the goal of a more open, and inclusive education, involving patient listening, constructive dialogue and better mutual understanding”. 

In the concluding part of the message, Pope Francis highlights “the need for peace makers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate the process of healing and renewed encounter”.  The peace message is concluded with an appeal “to strive to form a community composed of brothers and sisters who accept and care for one another”.

The pandemic Covid 19 period brought to light how different countries handled the dangerous and invisible virus. According to a study report published by the Centre for Economic Policy research and World Economic Forum, countries with women leaders at the helm seem to have handled the pandemic significantly better than their male counterparts. Some of them are Germany's Angela Merkel, New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, Denmark's Mette Frederiksen and Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina. Women as caregivers are in general better disposed to create a culture of care. Encouraging more and more women to take up leadership of nations can contribute to the enhancement of world peace. That could be the reason for Pope Francis advocating “a widespread and meaningful involvement on the part of women, in the family and in every social, political and institutional sphere” in his message for 2021 World Day of Peace.

On several occasions, Pope Francis has boldly expressed his views on the issues that affect humanity like human rights, equality, the environment and sustainability, world economy and peace etc. As a true follower of Jesus, establishing peace in the world has been a special concern and focus of Pope Francis. He has shown several times by his own example that caring for other human beings enhances peace. Therefore, in his message for 2021 World Peace Day, he speaks about the relationship between peace and a ‘culture of care’ with authority emanating from his deep convictions.
 

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