On the feast of the Assumption, Pope Francis addressed the crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square after they had prayed together the Angelus. “I join in the unanimous concern for the situation in Afghanistan. I ask all of you to pray with me to the God of peace so that the clamor of weapons might cease and solutions can be found at the table of dialogue. Only thus can the battered population of that country — men, women, elderly and children — return to their own homes, and live in peace and security, in total mutual respect.
“In the past few hours, a strong earthquake occurred in Haiti, provoking numerous deaths, wounding many, and causing extensive material damage. I want to express my closeness to the dear people hard hit by the earthquake. While I lift up my prayer to the Lord for the victims, I extend my word of encouragement to the survivors, hoping that the interest of the international community to help might move toward them. May the solidarity of all alleviate the consequences of the tragedy! Let us pray together to the Madonna for Haiti. Hail Mary….”
Two horrific tragedies occurred on the same day — the earthquake in Haiti and the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. The Holy Father reminds us that Christians are called to be in solidarity with those who are suffering.
Almost a year ago, on Sept. 2, 2020, Pope Francis gave a general audience explaining what solidarity is and how it is related to “the virtue of faith. 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 pontiff then explained that solidarity and interdependence aren’t the same thing. “The principle of solidarity is now more necessary than ever, as St. 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. [E]verything 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).”
Pope Francis then explained what solidarity is, for a Christian. “‘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’ (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 pope then described what he called the “Babel syndrome,” in which “there is no solidarity.” He shared a medieval account of the construction of the Tower of Babel. “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.”
What Pope Francis said last year sounds very timely given the indifference of some to the suffering of the people under collapsed buildings in Haiti or under Taliban persecution in Afghanistan (to say nothing of the rarely mentioned suffering of people in North Korea, Yemen, Syria, in our own country, etc.).
The pope pointed a way out of this indifference — following the Holy Spirit. “Pentecost is diametrically opposite to Babel (cf. Acts 2:1-3). 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.
“With Pentecost, God makes Himself present and inspires the faith of the community united in diversity and in solidarity. 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.”
The pope then challenged his listeners: “I would like to ask a question: do I think of the needs of others? Everyone, answer in your heart.”
Our hearts should spend some time with the Sacred Heart of Jesus in prayer and solidarity with the suffering people of Haiti and Afghanistan, offering up our prayers and sacrifices for the repose of the souls of the dead and for the healing and protection of the living. Our prayer should also lead us to see what actions we can make to help, be it political action, be it donating what we can to charities which are “on the ground,” such as Catholic Relief Services. We never know when we will be the ones in need.