By Ruth Moraes
The Catholic Church celebrates the first of January each year as the World Day of Peace and Popes have commemorated this day with a message every year since 1968. The themes of the world days of peace messages serve to highlight various injustice issues in our world at the time. Themes covered in previous years have been migrants and refugees (2018), modern slavery and human trafficking (2015), caring for creation (1990 & 2010), Poverty (2009), human rights (1969 & 1999) and dialogue between cultures for building civilisation of love and peace (2001).
For 2021, Pope Francis chose the theme as “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace”. While most of the world is still being ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic Pope Francis highlighted how the current situation has aggravated “deeply interrelated crises like those of the climate, food, the economy and migration” and caused great suffering and hardship. His words could not be more timely because it is precisely because of the pandemic that we have come to realise even more “how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society”.
Despite the broad theme of the Message Pope Francis uses it to highlight specific issues related to justice and peace. He notes that from the earliest pages of scripture we see God’s call on our lives to care and protect both creation and all of humanity. The two are closely related because creation also sustains all human beings and all other living things on the planet.
In his message he draws attention to the major themes of Catholic Social Teaching and how they are relevant right now: the life and dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God; subsidiarity, solidarity and the common good. He stresses the importance of applying these principles to weakest and those in most need of care echoing another essential principle of catholic social teaching and the gospel: the preferential option for the poor.
He notes how in the earliest years of the church the spiritual and corporal works of mercy is what distinguished Christ’s followers from everyone else and how in later centuries this work became highly organised leading to the “beating heart” of the church’s social doctrine.
Pope Francis urges us to take up these foundational principles of Catholic social teaching as a “compass capable of pointing out a common direction and ensuring a more humane future” to help relieve the suffering borne by so many in our world today. In the past the world day of peace message has been the inspiration for a parish social justice group to get started and work on a particular cause or issue. If you would like to get more involved or start a social justice group but are too daunted by the task, please get in touch with the Justice and Peace Office so we can assist.