I recently taught a Continuing Education course in Catholic social teaching at Christ the King Seminary, and during one of our discussions a participant pointed out that it is hard to pay attention to so much of what is going on in the world when we are busy working, raising a family, caring for parents, and just trying to keep things together.
Her point is well taken. Our lives are full of so many things that require our attention. Those concerns nearest to us, like our family and our job, rightfully take priority in how we devote our time.
But we always have to guard against allowing those very important things to keep us from having a wider concern for people and issues in our country and around the world. It is all too easy for us to get so wrapped up in our day-to-day demands that we are unable to take notice of larger issues like poverty, war, persecution, refugees or immigration.
And sometimes the issues seem so large, and so far away, that we can become paralyzed, overwhelmed, or even numb. We can sometimes fall prey to an immobilizing crush from world issues and social problems that we wonder if there is anything we can do - what difference can just one person make? And then we can find ourselves in a sea of indifference.
Pope Francis' message for the 2016 World Day of Peace is "Overcome Indifference and Win Peace." He recognizes that the lack of peace around the world has many causes, but one of the fundamental causes is indifference. This indifference is linked to so many other realities in our modern lives like individualism, intolerance and a lack of solidarity.
Individualism causes us to become more isolated, more concerned about our own needs and wants without regard to the common good, and a disdain for learning or hearing about anything that does not seem to benefit us directly or immediately. It erodes any interest or commitment that we might have in the broader welfare of others and creates an intolerance for viewpoints or perspectives that are not our own.
We can overcome these challenges. In fact, the pope reminds us that peace is to be worked at, that it is not something that happens without effort, or without conversion of hearts and minds, or without an engagement and encounter with others. We have it in our power to create an awareness of these problems, for ourselves as well as for those we speak with and work with, and we can address these issues in a meaningful way together.
Indifference allows evil to continue. Indifference prevents us from taking the action necessary to address the cruelty and mercilessness of what is going on around the world. But indifference can be conquered; with creativity and compassion we can become a true people of encounter and create opportunities and possibilities to fight the evils in the world.
The U.S. bishops have some suggestions for what we can do. They pass along these ideas through their "Catholics Confront Global Poverty" initiative. First, pray; especially the "Prayer to Overcome Indifference" found on their website. Second, get inspired. Gather with others to ask how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to respond. Third, reach out. Explore opportunities to encounter our neighbors locally and globally. Finally, take action. Join with others to advocate for policies that impact our brothers and sisters around the world.
We can conquer indifference. We can be people of encounter. We can be peacemakers.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.