Pope Francis continued his series of catecheses on the need to heal the world in this time of pandemic, as he resumed his General Audiences with the presence of the faithful on Wednesday morning, 2 September. The following is a translation of his reflection on solidarity and the virtue of faith, which he shared in Italian with the hundreds of faithful who had gathered in the Vatican’s San Damaso courtyard.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After many months, we meet each other again face to face, not screen to screen. Face to face. This is good! The current pandemic has highlighted our interdependence: we are all connected to each other, for better or for worse. Therefore, to emerge from this crisis better than before, we have to do so together; together, not alone. Together. Not alone, because it cannot be done. Either it is done together, or it is not done. We must do it together, all of us, in solidarity. I would like to underline this word today: solidarity.
As a human family we have our common origin in God; we live in a common home, the garden-planet, the earth where God placed us; and we have a common destination in Christ. But when we forget all this, our interdependence becomes dependence of some on others — we lose this harmony of interdependence and solidarity — increasing inequality and marginalization; the social fabric is weakened and the environment deteriorates. The same way of acting.
Therefore, the principle of solidarity is now more necessary than ever, as Saint John Paul II taught (cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38-40). In an interconnected world, we experience what it means to live in the same “global village”; this expression is beautiful. The big wide world is none other than a global village, because everything is interconnected, but we do not always transform this interdependence into solidarity. There is a long journey between interdependence and solidarity. The selfishness — of individuals, nations and of groups with power — and ideological rigidities instead sustain “structures of sin” (ibid., 36).
“The word ‘solidarity’ is a little worn and at times poorly understood, but it refers to something more than a few sporadic acts of generosity”. Much more! “It presumes the creation of a new mindset which thinks in terms of community and the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by a few” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 188). This is what “solidarity” means. It is not merely a question of helping others — it is good to do so, but it is more than that — it is a matter of justice (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1938-1949). Interdependence, to be in solidarity and to bear fruit, needs strong roots in humanity and in nature, created by God; it needs respect for faces and for the land.
The Bible, from the very beginning, warns us [of this]. Let us think of the account of the Tower of Babel (cf. Gen 11:1-9), which describes what happens when we try to reach heaven — our destination — ignoring our bond with humanity, with creation and with the Creator. It is a figure of speech. This happens every time that someone wants to climb up and up, without taking others into consideration. Just myself. Let us think about the tower. We build towers and skyscrapers, but we destroy community. We unify buildings and languages, but we mortify cultural wealth. We want to be masters of the Earth, but we ruin biodiversity and ecological balance. In another audience I told you about those fishermen from San Benedetto del Tronto, who came this year, and said: “We have taken 24 tonnes of waste out of the sea, half of which was plastic”. Just think! These people have the spirit to catch fish, yes, but also the refuse, and to take it out of the water to clean up the sea. But this [pollution] is ruining the earth — not having solidarity with the earth, which is a gift — and the ecological balance.
I remember a medieval account that describes this “Babel syndrome”, which occurs when there is no solidarity. This medieval account says that, during the building of the tower, when a man fell — they were slaves — and died, no one said anything, or at best, “Poor thing, he made a mistake and he fell”. Instead, if a brick fell, everyone complained. And if someone was to blame, he was punished. Why? Because a brick was costly to make, to prepare, to fire…. It took time and work to produce a brick. A brick was worth more than a human life. Let us each, think about what happens today. Unfortunately, something like this can happen nowadays too. When shares fall in the financial markets — we have seen it in the newspapers in these days — all the agencies report the news. Thousands of people fall due to hunger and poverty and no one talks about it.
Pentecost is diametrically opposite to Babel (cf. Acts 2:1-3), as we heard at the beginning of the audience. The Holy Spirit, descending from above like wind and fire, sweeps over the community closed up in the Cenacle, infuses it with the power of God, and inspires it to go out and announce the Lord Jesus to everyone. The Spirit creates unity in diversity; he creates harmony. In the account of the Tower of Babel, there was no harmony; only pressing forward in order to earn. There, people were simply instruments, mere “manpower”, but here, in Pentecost, each one of us is an instrument, but a community instrument that participates fully in building up the community. Saint Francis of Assisi knew this well, and inspired by the Spirit, he gave all people, or rather, creatures, the name of brother or sister (cf. LS, 11; cf. Saint Bonaventure, Legenda maior, VIII, 6: ff 1145). Even brother wolf, remember.
With Pentecost, God makes himself present and inspires the faith of the community united in diversity and in solidarity. Diversity and solidarity united in harmony, this is the way. A diversity in solidarity possesses “antibodies” that ensure that the singularity of each person — which is a gift, unique and unrepeatable — does not become sick with individualism, with selfishness. Diversity in solidarity also possesses antibodies that heal social structures and processes that have degenerated into systems of injustice, systems of oppression (cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 192). Therefore, solidarity today is the road to take towards a post-pandemic world, towards the healing of our interpersonal and social ills. There is no other way. Either we go forward on the path of solidarity, or things will worsen. I want to repeat this: one does not emerge from a crisis the same as before. The pandemic is a crisis. We emerge from a crisis either better or worse than before. It is up to us to choose. And solidarity is, indeed, a way of coming out of the crisis better, not with superficial changes, with a fresh coat of paint so everything looks fine. No. Better!
In the midst of crises, a solidarity guided by faith enables us to translate the love of God in our globalized culture, not by building towers or walls — and how many walls are being built today! — that divide, but then collapse, but by interweaving communities and sustaining processes of growth that are truly human and solid. And to do this, solidarity helps. I would like to ask a question: do I think of the needs of others? Everyone, answer in your heart.
In the midst of crises and tempests, the Lord calls to us and invites us to reawaken and activate this solidarity capable of giving solidity, support and meaning to these hours in which everything seems to be wrecked. May the creativity of the Holy Spirit encourage us to generate new forms of familiar hospitality, fruitful fraternity and universal solidarity. Thank you.
I cordially greet the English-speaking faithful. My thoughts turn especially to young people returning to school in the coming weeks. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. God bless you!
I offer a special greeting to the elderly, young people, the sick and newlyweds. The Lord knows better than we do about the expectations and needs we carry in our hearts. Let us entrust ourselves to his Providence with full confidence, always seeking the good, even when it comes at a high cost.