Cardinal Peter Turkson presented the Message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Prayer for Peace – 1 January 2016 – at a Press Conference on 15 December. With him, as well as members of the Pontifical Council for Justice & Peace, were a number of refugees with Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council “Justice and Peace” at the presentation of the Papal Message. They came from Syria, Somalia, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire, assisted by the [Jesuit] Centro Astalli in Rome. We are grateful to the Vatican Information Service [VIS] for the following and the actual Message itself.
Cardinal Turkson began by explaining that in a period in which there is a widespread attitude of indifference, the Pope considers in depth this “globalisation of indifference” which, starting with indifference to God, is extended to human beings and all creation. Human beings consider themselves self-sufficient and believe they owe nothing to anyone other than themselves, granting themselves rights without assuming duties.
“After showing that peace is threatened by indifference at all levels, the Message offers a biblical and theological reflection, which enables us to understand the need to overcome indifference to open up to compassion, mercy, commitment and, therefore, to solidarity. This latter is defined as a moral virtue and an attitude that those with responsibility in education and formation, such as families, educators and trainers, and those who work in relation to means of social communication, are required to cultivate”.
The document reaffirms the confidence in the capacity of human beings to conquer evil with good, and indicates the many praiseworthy forms of solidarity present in society in favour of victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters, the poor and migrants. It concludes with an appeal from the Holy Father to every person, in the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, to assume a concrete commitment to help improve the situation in which he or she lives: in the family, the neighbourhood, or the workplace. … Therefore, it is not only indifference at the centre of the 2016 Message, but also man’s capacity, with the grace of God, to overcome evil and to combat resignation and indifference. In this regard, the Pope mentions some key events in 2015, such as the COP 21 on climate change, the Addis Ababa Summit for funding sustainable development worldwide, the adoption of Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, and the 50th anniversary of the publication of Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes, two Vatican Council II documents that opened the door to dialogue with non-Christian religions and all the human family.
The under-secretary Flaminia Giovanelli noted the continuity of Pope Francis’ teaching with that of his predecessors Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. The Pope emeritus, in Caritas in Veritate, identified in the anthropological question the current social issue, emphasising the problem of nihilism. The link to the Magisterium of St. John Paul II is instead particularly visible in the indication of the path of mercy as the way to combat indifference.
Vittorio V. Alberti commented that if peace demands a victory and a conquest, it is because there is a conflict. “Indifference affects the public sphere – politics and culture”, he said, “and Francis writes once only a word that is a major conflict: corruption. When he was a cardinal, he called it the tiredness of transcendence – resignation, turning in on oneself. This is corruption. … There are many key words in the Message: man’s capacity, apathy, lack of commitment, concrete commitment to contributing to improve the situation. But to improve in the name of what?”
“If I do not believe that there is a future”, he continued, “I do not believe in the meaning of things. And if I do not believe, where can I find the trust – and thus the strength of commitment – to combat corruption and to overcome indifference? … But is this a crime, nowadays? It is and it isn’t. And this is perhaps the most dramatic terrain of this message: indifference that must be treated with mercy. If I see Palmyra destroyed, or the spread of corruption, I feel crushed by it because I do not believe that together we can change things. This is nihilism”.
“Mercy is not merely a moral fact, but also mental and intellectual: it is freedom of thought and Francis is giving us the deepest keys to combating indifference. He is providing the cultural base for combating corruption, framing it in the broader context of the crisis of our times, which is a cultural crisis. The lack of meaning is the greatest form of suffering because, insisting upon a perennial present, it corrupts the past, the future and the very present itself by exhausting its transcendence, debilitating the capacity to go beyond, towards a dream or an ideal”.
The Archbishop of Monreale, in his text, recalls that it is decisive for the credibility of the Church to live and bear witness to mercy in the first person, towards the frailest in society, including detainees, as the Pope emphasises. He writes, “I hope that the Church and civil society will take into consideration Article 27 of the Italian Constitution, which affirms that ‘punishment cannot consist in treatment contrary to human dignity and must aim at rehabilitating the offender’. Custodial sentences are meaningful if, as well as affirming the needs of justice and deterrence, they serve also to rehabilitate the person, offering those who have erred the possibility to reflect and change their life, so as to be fully reintegrated in society. The Christian community is called upon to educate, assist and rehabilitate every person, enabling them to feel worthy of being loved and promoted in social life”.
Father Luigi Ciotti writes that peace, from Pope Francis’ perspective, is “the opposite of quietism, of seeking to ‘stay in peace’. True peace comes from a spiritual reawakening that has immediate practical consequences, that asks to be incarnated in … actions that involve our existence both as people and as citizens. We are workers for peace when we are attentive to our neighbours, when we do not turn away from their needs and their fragility; when we promote the common good. … Inhabiting the ‘peripheries’ is the first step in constructing peace, the basis for a more human civilisation and a society of closeness, in which people are not instruments for profit, and the well-being of the few does not mean poverty, exclusion, desperation and death for many others”.