This Tuesday, Pope Francis announced the theme that his message for the 49th World Day of Peace will have: “Overcome Indifference and Win Peace.” In a communiqué, the Holy See noted that “Indifference in regard to the scourges of our time is one of the fundamental causes of the lack of peace. Today, indifference is often linked to various forms of individualism which cause isolation, ignorance, selfishness and, therefore, lack of interest and commitment. Increase of information does not mean per se an increase of attention to the problems, if it is not accompanied by solidarity-based openness of conscience. To this end, it is essential the contribution that can [be] provide[d] — besides [by] the family — [by] educators, teachers, people of culture, media practitioners, intellectuals and artists. Indifference can be won only responding together to this challenge.”

As noted above, people can be very aware of injustices and tragedies happening near and far and still be indifferent to them. The extreme case, oft cited, is of those Germans who said after World War II, “Trains? What trains?” Unfortunately (both for the bodily lives of the victims of violence and for the souls of the indifferent), this type of indifference continues to be rampant today in our country and throughout the world.

Bishop Edward Burns of Juneau, Alaska wrote this past March 8 in the Juneau Eagle, “Indifference to our neighbor is a real temptation in our society and is possibly at the root of many hearts. We need to be challenged by others so we do not grow indifferent. Within the Christian tradition, we look to those ‘others’ as the prophets, the Apostles, the faithful disciples and saints who have gone before us, and we listen to them crying out with the message of love that challenges our consciences.”

In May, 150 Christian students were killed at a university in Kenya. Bishop Anthhoy Muheria of Kitui, Kenya, complained about the world’s indifference to this attack: “They only address something if they are directly affected. If the victims had been exchange students from the United States, I think the international reaction would have been a lot different.” 

We also have the indifference in our own country to the millions of abortions and now the well-known market in fetal body parts. Genevieve Kineke on page nine and Father Tad on page 13 address very well how we got to this point of depravity and the ethical issues which remain. Are we to be like the 1940s Germans in reaction to this?

Pope Francis wants to link the theme of indifference to the World Day of Peace because peace does not come from nowhere. It comes from people ceasing to be indifferent about the suffering of others. The Holy See’s notice continued, “Peace is to be worked at: it is not something that one gains without efforts, without conversion of mind and heart, without a sense of creativity and positive engagement in discussion. Such an action must urgently have recourse to build a sense of responsibility and awareness about the serious problems and challenges afflicting our time, such as, fundamentalism, intolerance and massacres, persecutions on account of faith and ethnicity, disregard for freedom and the destruction of the rights of entire peoples, the exploitation of human beings submitted even to the different forms of slavery, corruption and organized crime, war and the plight of refugees and forcibly displaced persons.”

Looking back to last January 1’s message, the Holy See urged everyone: “A field in which peace can be constructed, day by day, overcoming indifference is that of the forms of slavery in the world today, to which was dedicated the message for the World Day of Peace 2015, ‘No Longer Slaves But Brothers.’ We must pursue this commitment, with increased awareness and collaboration.” In that message Pope Francis spoke about the physical slavery that millions of people are still suffering in today’s world, plus the Spiritual slavery that even billions of people allow themselves to endure.

“Peace is possible where the rights of every human being are recognized and respected, heard and known, according to freedom and justice,” the communiqué continued. “The message for 2016 aims to be a starting point for all people of good will, particularly those who work in the education, media, culture, each one acting according to their possibilities and according to their best aspirations to build together a more conscious and merciful, and, therefore, more free and fair world.”

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