A Pope Francis Lexicon has been launched in Rome in March 1 at the Jesuit Generalate.
Writers: Joshua McElwee and Cindy Wooden
“This book is a collection of over fifty essays by an impressive set of contributors from around the globe, each writing on a specific word that has become important in the ministry of Pope Francis.”
One of the contributions comes from UISG President, Sr Carmen Sammut, msola. She writes about Indifference.
By Sr. Carmen Sammut, Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa
We know that all changes of mentality and of structures takes much time and effort. We hope that more and more of us, within and outside the Church, will answer Pope Francis’ call to have eyes and see, have ears and hear, to let our hearts be converted and our arms and feet drawn towards the other. Let us strive to build a culture of compassion.
In the Book of Revelation, the Faithful One says to the Church of Laodicea: “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were one or the other” (3:15). Pope Francis seems to give us the same message by his frequent reference to our indifference, even to the “globalization of indifference.” It is as if he wants to wake us up to our responsibility for our contemporaries, for the generations that will come after us, for our planet. He exhorted religious men and women during the year dedicated to consecrated life to “wake up the world,” to live up to their mission. In Evangelii Gaudium he reminded us that we each are “a mission on earth … We have to regard ourselves as sealed, even branded, by this mission of bringing light, blessing, enlivening, raising up, healing and freeing” (273). The importance of each person for the well-being of the whole makes indifference even more deplorable.
During the pope’s 2015 visit to the Philippines, a child asked him why so many children are abandoned by their parents and end up on the streets. She asked why God allowed something like this to happen, even to innocent children and why there are so few who are helping them.
Francis had no answer to these questions and just allowed himself to ask: “Why do children suffer so much?” He asked the youth who were there to learn to weep when they see someone left on the side, someone who suffered abuse. And to learn to love and let oneself be loved. (Meeting with young people at Santo Tomas University, Jan. 18, 2015).
For alas, we often turn our faces away from the suffering of others: “When we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others, we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure … Our heart grows cold” (Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2015).
Walking with a vision
By calling us out of our indifference, Pope Francis reveals to us something of his vision of God, of the person, of creation. God is the all-merciful Father, a God whose love is unlimited, to the point of giving us His Son for our salvation. “God is not indifferent to what happens to us. He knows us by name, cares for us and seeks us out whenever we turn away from him” (Message for Lent 2015). In this perspective, every person is of inestimable worth, a son or daughter of the Father. We all belong to the same family, brothers and sisters of each other. How could we be indifferent to what our brothers and sisters suffer? During the Eucharistic celebration marking the very start of his Petrine ministry, Francis asked all “to be protectors of God’s gifts … It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live” (Homily for the inauguration of the Petrine ministry, March 19, 2013).
In his message for the celebration of the 44th World Day of Peace Jan. 1 2016, “Overcome indifference and win peace,” Francis explained that our society is often indifferent to God and we “think that we are the source and creator of ourselves, our lives and society.” This in turn “leads to indifference to one’s neighbor and to the environment.” We might be aware of the tragedies, but we do nothing to help those suffering; or we turn our head and blame others for their misfortunes. We do not care about the state of health of our common home. All this “prolongs situations of injustice and grave social imbalance, which in turn lead to conflict.” In his 2015 encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si’, he asks us “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are growing up?” (160). He calls us to examine the deep purpose of our life and to care for our common home as well as for our brothers and sisters who live in it. One cannot go without the other.
Leading by example
Pope Francis does not only preach against indifference. It seems that every suffering in the world, in persons and in creation, affects him personally. He does not only send out messages of hope, he goes out to bring the message himself, to be the message. This came very strongly across as he walked, alone, in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau in July 2016 in deep silence as if carrying on his shoulders the pain of those who were killed, the horror lived there, the sinfulness of our humanity. “Lord, have mercy on your people! Lord, forgiveness for so much cruelty!” he wrote in the camp’s guestbook.
His first trip as pope in July 2013 was to Lampedusa, the little island off the shores of Italy where so many migrants have died while seeking better lives. It is also an island where so many migrants have also been rescued and welcomed. Another trip took Francis to the Greek Island of Lesbos in April 2016, where he said he “saw the sorrow of war in the eyes of the refugees, the anguish of peoples thirsting for peace.” He brought with him back to Rome three refuge families from Syria — 12 people in all, including six children — hoping that other states would follow his example and become more willing to welcome refugees.
His example carries and, as he explained in his January 2016 peace message, many –individuals, families, non-governmental and charitable organizations, journalists and photographers, defenders of human rights, young people — are striving to join forces in an effort to globalize compassion and create a culture of encounter and of solidarity.
A call to structural change
Pope Francis’ great wish is to see a change of heart as well as of structures. He knows that for change to last it needs a transformation of the mind and the heart as well as of societal and church structures. He calls us to prayer, for “together with the saints… we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love” (Message for Lent 2015). This ensures that we drop “our pretentions to self-sufficiency.” Secondly, he calls us to be engaged especially with those on the peripheries of society.
He calls for structural changes and asks national leaders for better conditions for prisoners, for the sick, for migrants, for concrete gestures in favor of those deprived of labor, land and lodging. He calls leaders to concretely cooperate in order to work for peace beyond their borders. He often specifically asks that women be given their rightful place, within the Church and society, so that they can give their full share in the building of our common home.