“Adam, where are you?” Cain, where is your brother?”
Pope Francis recently used these quotes from Genesis in his sermon on the Italian island of Lampedusa.? They were intended as an appeal against the development of ‘globalised indifference’ to suffering in the world.? “We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!” the Pope said. “Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters”
These words echoed through my mind while watching World Vision CEO Tim Costello report on the conditions in the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, where over 100,000 Syrian refugees have fled the civil war in their country in order to survive.? Tim Costello laments how refugees fleeing conflict are perceived differently from those fleeing natural disasters “Conflict tends to evaporate compassion for aid” he said “but suffering knows no moral difference, it is suffering!”? These men, women and children are trying to survive in a desolate and hostile environment that is markedly different from the developed country they have fled from in order to survive.? “The fact I can’t solve this is no excuse to do nothing, the fact that we in Australia can’t solve this, isn’t an excuse not to help some families” Tim Costello appeals “I am saying to Australian’s don’t give up on these people”
While Tim Costello is worthily appealing for financial aid for World Vision to try to help these refugees, a question remains in my mind on how we should respond to such appeals?? Is the Pope is asking us to respond to suffering by just opening our wallets and salving our conscience, or is it also an appeal to our hearts and minds?? How can we develop that sense of responsibility for the suffering of others?
In his encyclical ‘Octogesima Adveniens’, Pope Paul VI asks us “to analyse with objectivity the situation which is proper to their [our] own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church.”? This is a cycle of praxis, one of ongoing critical reflection and action.? Through this process we can become aware of the ‘systemic unity’ of all peoples reality.? These are the bonds and threads that link our common humanity that makes us responsible for our brothers and sisters.
For Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, this is a process of conscientization.? The development of a critical awareness of one’s social reality, which results in no one able to live with their ‘arms crossed’, it demands action.? Paulo Freire said that “those who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly.? This conversion is so radical as not to allow for ambivalent behaviour…? Conversion to the people requires a profound rebirth.? Those who undergo it must take on a new form of existence; they can no longer remain as they were.”
That Easter conversion requires a constant re-examination of the suppositions that form our attitudes and behaviours.? Such critical reflexivity is not an easy task, we often don’t like what the mirror shows us.? As a white middle aged male I am freely able to choose where I live and work, how I spend my time, where I shop and I expect a degree of respect from other members of society.? Yet these are rights that are not available to all our brothers and sisters by virtue of their social and economic situation, their cultural origins, their language or the colour of their skin.? This is something that I need to critically reflect upon.
According to Elenie Poulos of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, “as individuals and as a society we have been captured by the lies and easy phrases. Our view of the world around us and our place in it bears too little resemblance to the truth of it; and in this we are doomed to live disconnected, small and impoverished lives”.? Elenie says she proudly wears the badge of being a ‘bleeding heart’, as a Christian social justice advocate “I have a responsibility to understand how our policies, systems and structures actually affect people.” There is no ambivalence about that, her arms are definitely not crossed!
Maybe Tim Costello is wrong, in that we can solve the situation in Syria, maybe not today or tomorrow but maybe we can change the events that led to the civil war through a process a feeling responsible for my brothers and sisters, becoming aware of their situation and my response. A process of ‘globalised difference’
‘People say, ‘What good can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?’ They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time. We can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes.’? Dorothy Day