Each January 1 marks a celebration of the "World Day of Peace" and along with that comes a message from the pope regarding our own participation in bringing about a "peaceable kingdom" here on earth. This year Pope Francis, in his first Peace Day message, has chosen to emphasize the idea of "fraternity" as "the foundation and pathway to peace."
In his emphasis on "fraternity," Pope Francis has continued a long tradition of Catholic social teaching that emphasizes how connected we all are throughout the world. Even before the modern means of communication and travel that have made the world seem so much smaller, the Church has asked us to see each and every other person on earth as a brother or sister.
In 1891, Pope Leo XIII in "Rerum Novarum" talked about the "friendship" that allows us to see that all people have been redeemed by God: not only divine grace but also the goods of nature belong to everyone. Pope Pius XI in "Quadragesimo Anno" spoke of "social charity" in 1931, meaning the actions of Christians to take care of each other - not out of some desire to "do good," but rather as a matter of justice.
Blessed Pope John XXIII in "Mater et Magistra" wrote in 1961 about the "solidarity which binds humanity together as members of a common family." Blessed Pope John Paul II in "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" emphasized this idea of "solidarity" as well, noting that it concerns not just individuals, but the solidarity that must exist between nations - especially those who have more with those who have less.
Pope Francis emphasizes this same theme, noting that only the efforts that come from fraternity can overcome the poverty, conflict, inequality, crime, fundamentalism and other ills that face the world today. His point is that we can only approach these social problems from a perspective of being joined with the poor and oppressed as brothers and sisters - who should not be seen as "others" but really seen as equals and family.
Too often, the pope states, we don't see others as "being like us," and then we begin to see them as competitors for the goods of the world - or even worse, as enemies. This causes us to treat them as "objects" rather than human beings who are our brothers and sisters - all children of one God.
Perhaps even worse, we frequently see the poor and the needy as a "burden," as just recipients of aid or our compassion - or our pity. Pope Francis urges us to have an attitude that sees everyone as a brother or sister who is "called to share the gifts of creation, the goods of progress and culture." That makes fraternity both a gift and a responsibility. We have been gifted with a world full of brothers and sisters, and that gift calls us to "love him or her as oneself with the very heart of Jesus Christ."
One concrete way that we can practice fraternity is by participating in the program called "One Human Family, Food for All" that is sponsored by Caritas International, the umbrella organization for both Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities USA. In December, Pope Francis launched this campaign through Caritas, calling hunger a "scandal" that should "push each and every one of us to act: singles, families, communities, institutions, governments, to eliminate this injustice."
You can visit caritas.org or crs.org to help eliminate hunger by the year 2025 - a critical goal of "fraternity" and a foundation for peace.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Western New York and an instructor at Christ the King Seminary. He may be reached via email.