“It has constantly come back to me like a painful thorn in my heart,” Pope Francis explained while on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa this summer.
“Immigrants dying at sea, in boats which were vehicles of hope and became vehicles of death,” he began. “That is how the headlines put it.”
The island has become a refuge for refugees fleeing the “Arab Spring” the media world had somewhat recklessly cheered on, then lost interest in, as we so often do.
“I felt that I had to come here today, to pray and to offer a sign of my closeness, but also to challenge our consciences lest this tragedy be repeated,” he continued. “Please, let it not be repeated!”
He talked about indifference. We may think, as a matter of principle, that religious persecution is a terrible scourge. But do we actually really care? When you hear about Nigerians being killed for going to Sunday Mass, do you move to the next story, or do you weep for them? When you see threats against religious liberty in your own country, do you move to the next story, and even vote the guy back in? Do you care that others are trying to live lives according to their conscience? Do you feel inspired or challenged, or do you move on and get to Mass next Sunday again just in time to make it count for showing up, and leave once you get what you came for?
And then what about the neighbor who needs to talk or the stranger who inconveniences you? What about the woman you see crying? Do we stop? Or do we deem our time too economically precious and our lives too busy for one more burden. As you deprive them of the gift of your time, you may have just robbed yourself of your ladder out of poverty.
In Lampedusa, Pope Francis said:
How many of us, myself included, have lost our bearings; we are no longer attentive to the world in which we live; we don’t care; we don’t protect what God created for everyone, and we end up unable even to care for one another! And when humanity as a whole loses its bearings, it results in tragedies like the one we have witnessed.
“Where is your brother?” His blood cries out to me, says the Lord. This is not a question directed to others; it is a question directed to me, to you, to each of us. These brothers and sisters of ours were trying to escape difficult situations to find some serenity and peace; they were looking for a better place for themselves and their families, but instead they found death. How often do such people fail to find understanding, fail to find acceptance, fail to find solidarity. And their cry rises up to God! Once again I thank you, the people of Lampedusa, for your solidarity. I recently listened to one of these brothers of ours. Before arriving here, he and the others were at the mercy of traffickers, people who exploit the poverty of others, people who live off the misery of others. How much these people have suffered! Some of them never made it here.
“Where is your brother?” Who is responsible for this blood? . . . Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: “Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?” Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: “poor soul!”, and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. 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!
When Pope Francis quotes St. John Chrysostom in his recent “The Gospel of Joy” — “Not to share one’s wealth with the poor is to steal from them and to take away their livelihood. It is not our own goods which we hold, but theirs” — this is the context. It’s not an economic plan he is proposing, but an awareness of a deeper eternal reality — we will be held accountable for our stewardship of our gifts and who we turned away from.