Hope in an uncaring world

Pope Francis’ World Peace Day address reminds us of the dangers of indifference, Greg Daly writes

Although a gift from God, peace does not keep itself and must be worked towards, Pope Francis has reminded us, urging governments to abolish the death penalty, be more welcoming to migrants, ensure all have healthcare, and combat the “social plague” of unemployment.

In his annual address for World Day of Peace, January 1, the Pope appealed to national leaders to refrain from drawing others into destructive wars and conflicts, to forgive or sustainably manage the debts of poorer nations, and to adopt cooperative polices that respect local values and do not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.

Stressing that “peace is both God’s gift and a human achievement”, the Pontiff pointed out that “as a gift of God, it is entrusted to all men and women, who are called to attain it”.

He described 2015 as having been marked “from start to finish” by “kidnapping, ethnic or religious persecution and the misuse of power”, and said indifference underlies much of the world’s conflict and misery. While history has always known people who close their eyes and hearts to others’ problems and needs, things are different now that a “globalisation of indifference” is rife, he clarified.

Indifference to others and to the environment can too easily rest on indifference to God, he argued, describing this as “one of the grave consequences of a false humanism and practical materialism allied to relativism and nihilism”.


Remarking that we have come to think “we are the source and creator of ourselves”, the Pope asserted that the consequent feeling of self-sufficiency leads us to think we can do without God and feel entitled to claim rights for ourselves without owing anything to anyone else. 

Against this erroneous understanding of the person, the Holy Father cited his retired predecessor Pope Benedict XVI’s observation that neither man himself nor human development can, in isolation, answer the question of our ultimate meaning. Similarly Blessed Paul VI taught, he recalled, that “there is no true humanism but that which is open to the Absolute, and is conscious of a vocation which gives human life its authentic significance”.

The indifference to others that can arise from indifference to God expresses itself in different ways, the Pope argued, citing as an example those who are deliberately well-informed about world affairs without truly engaging with the suffering of those whose stories they hear. 

“Sadly,” he said, again drawing on his immediate predecessor, “it must be said that today’s information explosion does not itself lead to an increased concern for other people’s problems, which demands openness and a sense of solidarity. Indeed, the information glut can numb people’s sensibilities and to some degree downplay the gravity of the problems.”

There are others, he added, who simply blame the poor for their own plight, or who refrain from paying any attention to the world beyond themselves, leading “lives of comfort, deaf to the cry of those who suffer”. 

The self-absorption and lack of commitment indifference can foster contributes in turn to “the absence of peace with God, with our neighbour and with the environment”, he continued, arguing that without openness to the transcendent, human beings easily slip into relativism and find it difficult to work for peace. 

“Disregard and the denial of God, which lead man to acknowledge no norm above himself and himself alone,” he said, “have produced untold cruelty and violence.”

Such indifference to others’ plight and the world around us, the Pope said, leads to conflicts being prolonged and can even lead to the rationalisation of actions and policies, including economic policies, that “aim at securing or maintaining power and wealth” for some, “even at the cost of trampling on the basic rights and needs of others”.

For all that, the Pope insists, there are grounds for hope. 

The COP21 climate change agreement, the Addis Ababa Summit for funding sustainable development and the adoption of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development all stand as examples from just this year, he said, of how world leaders can come together in the search for new ways to protect our common home and to ensure a more dignified standard of living for all the world’s peoples.

He also cited the key Vatican II documents Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes, both of which are 50 years old this year, as “emblematic of the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment which the Church sought to awaken within the human family”, recognising how Christians share in the joys and sorrows of all mankind.

“There are many good reasons to believe in mankind’s capacity to act together in solidarity,” he said, “and, on the basis of our interconnection and interdependence, to demonstrate concern for the more vulnerable of our brothers and sisters and for the protection of the common good.”

Our mutual responsibility to each other is rooted in our fundamental vocation to fraternity, he explained. “Personal dignity and interpersonal relationships are what constitute us as human beings whom God willed to create in his own image and likeness,” he said, continuing, “As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we are related to all our brothers and sisters, for whom we are responsible and with whom we act in solidarity. Lacking this relationship, we would be less human.”

Recalling how the story of Cain and Abel is an icon of how fraternity can be betrayed and our mutual obligations denied, the Pope stressed that God is never indifferent to us, and that Jesus came among us to share and touch our lives, to put an end to suffering, sorrow and death, and to teach us to be merciful. 


“Mercy is the heart of God,” he said, insisting that it must also be the heart of God’s family, recalling how “Jesus tells us that love for others – foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies – is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions”.

Urging us to build a culture of compassion, the Pope praised those families that pass on the Faith, encouraged educators to help children see the joy that comes from compassion and fraternity, and pressed journalists to dedicate themselves to serving the truth, being mindful – in an apparent nod to the current Vatileaks scandal – that “the way in which information is obtained and made public should always be legally and morally admissible”.

Commending missionaries and young people working to help those less fortunate, he said the efforts of those within and outside the Church who work, often in dangerous conditions, to help the injured, the sick, and migrants in search of a better life, are, he said, “spiritual and corporal works of mercy on which we will be judged at the end of our lives”.

He ended his address by appealing to governments, calling on them to make “specific and courageous gestures of concern for the most vulnerable, such as prisoners, migrants, the unemployed and infirm”. 

He commended his reflections to the intercession of Our Lady.