Lately, we’ve been bombarded with so many sad events. From the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down in Ukraine, to children and others fleeing Central America because of unbearable gang violence, to the fighting between Israel and Palestine, the world indeed looks like a precarious place.
In times like these, we are called to pray for and to do whatever is necessary for peace. And Pope Francis has given us good examples of both.
Regarding the crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, Pope Francis drew attention especially to minors seeking asylum from the violence and oppression in a speech directed mostly at Mexico, but with a clear call for U.S. immigration policy officials to pay attention.
“Such a humanitarian emergency demands as a first urgent measure that these minors be protected and duly taken in,” Pope Francis said. He reminds us not to forget those in harm’s way when we can easily be preoccupied with our own personal worries and problems.
When Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down, the pope called not only for prayers but also for those responsible to stop the violence in Ukraine. A statement from the Vatican press office said, “The pope raises prayers for the numerous victims of the incident and for their relatives, and renews his heartfelt appeal to all parties in the conflict to seek peace and solutions through dialogue, in order to avoid further loss of innocent human lives.”
And when Israel attacked Gaza a few weeks ago, the pope telephoned the presidents of Israel and Palestine in an attempt that cooler heads might prevail. Pope Francis called for an immediate ceasefire “to bring an end to hostilities, making efforts to promote a truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved.”
This call came on the heels of a prayer service, which Pope Francis held with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres. The pope’s actions show that he understands the power of personal relationships and his role as a spiritual leader, guiding others and hopefully influencing their actions, not merely praying for peace.
While other popes have indeed prayed for a lasting peace in the world and made that a central theme of their papacy, it is remarkable that Pope Francis is unafraid to be involved in the heart of the matter and that he provides guide points for all of us to consider.
People are always at the heart of the pope’s public comments. His mission is not a political one, per se, but one that calls each of us to consider the Jesuit maxim of “Cura Personalis,” that is, care for the whole person. We’re not merely hoping to improve political relations between countries, rather we are looking at each individual with compassion, especially those who have been suffering. Be it minors crossing the border, the loss of innocent life in Ukraine or the continued bombing in Gaza and Israel, Pope Francis values all life and chooses the side of life over all factions that exist in a conflict.
Perhaps we should take his example to heart. While we have much less influence than the pope does, we can focus on helping the suffering in our own way. Donations to groups like Catholic Relief Services and Caritas or other relief organizations go a long way. Working directly with the disenfranchised to understand their plight a bit more is also helpful. Volunteer to deliver meals on wheels. If you’re just out of college, join a year-long volunteer program. Tutor a struggling student or join Big Brothers/Big Sisters and give some time to a lonely child.
The pope’s call to care for those in need is not merely directed at those in elected offices but also to each of us. It’s a very democratic notion when I think about it. We are not merely our governments. No, we the people are much more than that. And each time we reach out to the suffering, we become Christ for another. We see Christ in the eyes of the poor and recognize that he is among us at every turn, and, far too often, Christ is a suffering savior. Might we challenge ourselves to not leave the care of the suffering to those we elect or appoint, but rather, we should appoint ourselves to reach out each day to someone in need. And by doing so we become a bit more of the person that God calls each of us to be.