The Globalization of Indifference and Violence

Ever since the beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis has spoken out against the culture of “global indifference” that reigns in many of our societies. He has addressed the issue within the context of a wide variety of problems facing us today, for example the unspeakable drama of boat refugees crossing the Mediterranean and the untold numbers dying when trying to reach the shores of Europe in search of a better life. In his Lenten message the Holy Father commented:


As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.

This is a problem we as Christians indeed must confront, because this indifference not only leads to loneliness and despair of those ignored, it also leads to new waves of violence coming out of our very own societies that claim to be peaceful, tolerant and democratic. The following example illustrates this point: the weekly newspaper “The Economist” reports in its April 18th-24th, 2015 issue that the top nine countries from which jihadists flow to Iraq and Syria are west European. What does this tell us about our Western societies? Despite the freedom and prosperity enjoyed by those in Europe, many thousands of young men and women from Europe are flocking eagerly to the Middle East to participate in ideologically inspired acts of hatred and brutal violence.

Why do these young men and women choose violence and death over a relatively comfortable life in prosperous Europe, where mainstream society promises them instant pleasure and material bliss with the latest smartphone and a cradle to grave social welfare state? Aside from the many useful explanations sociologists and politicians may give us about radicalization of certain youths, there is a much more profound cause at work here, which is the institutionalization of indifference towards the good, the true and the beautiful. When a society and its laws become dependent on mere feelings, opinions and preferences, rather than the pursuit of what is right and the avoidance of what is wrong, emptiness and desperation are the logical consequences.

This is the problem we Christians in Europe and other Western nations need to confront. We need to win back our youth for Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life. We cannot win young men and women back to Christ merely by doing good deeds, by being nice people, or by staying within the walls of our parishes and communities. It is important, but it is far too little. We need to go out, leave our comfort zones, and follow the Gospel call to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28, 20). We need to speak about the love of God the Father, in private and in public, and we need to show and proclaim at every suitable occasion that living a life in Christ is good, and beautiful, and true – even if at times quite a challenge (but we all know that noting truly good and lasting comes easy). As Pope Francis says, we should not be afraid of being rejected but rather be assured that God’s love will redeem the world:


God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded.

He then concludes this thought by reminding us that “God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves”. When we Christians withdraw into ourselves and become indifferent to what happens in the world, we risk becoming silent bystanders of the many grave injustices that take place around us every day, near and far. Many courageous Christians are giving the example by their initiatives to spread the Gospel and do good around the world, others even by their martyrdom. But so much more witness is needed, especially to turn the ever growing tide of institutionalized indifference towards the sanctity of life; whether it be the life of the unborn, the elderly, the refugees or fellow human beings professing a different faith. Christ died on the Cross and rose from the dead out of love for every human being to be redeemed and to live.

The makers of this video show how radical Christ’s love – and thus ours – needs to be.

History and the Pope of Justice and Mercy

Mercy Sunday 2015 (12 April) will go into history as a little noticed but all-important day in the life of the Catholic Church, when Pope Francis showed courageous leadership by speaking in no uncertain terms about the genocides and mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries, starting with the Armenian Genocide of 1915, then the genocides planned and executed by Nazism and Stalinism and drawing a line all the way to the mass slaughter of ethnic groups and Christians for their faith today, especially in the Middle East and Africa:

On a number of occasions I have spoken of our time as a time of war, a third world war which is being fought piecemeal, one in which we daily witness savage crimes, brutal massacres and senseless destruction.  Sadly, today too we hear the muffled and forgotten cry of so many of our defenseless brothers and sisters who, on account of their faith in Christ or their ethnic origin, are publicly and ruthlessly put to death – decapitated, crucified, burned alive – or forced to leave their homeland.

Today too we are experiencing a sort of genocide created by general and collective indifference, by the complicit silence of Cain, who cries out: “What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (cf. Gen  4:9; Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).

The Holy Father, whom we have all come to know as the Pope of Mercy, and whose words are often misunderstood or misused by those failing to see the unique charisma and calling of Pope Francis, has done something very important: he has spoken the uncensored truth about facts of history that certain governments and political leaders are trying to cover up and silence. Whether it is the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the extermination campaigns by Lenin. Stalin and Mao, or the systematic uprooting, torture and killing of Christians and other groups in the Middle East, Asia and Africa today, leaders East and West are all too often engaged in campaigns of organised forgetting. Where this organised forgetting leads to, Pope Francis tells us as well:

(..) for whenever memory fades, it means that evil allows wounds to fester. Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it!

We need the living memory of history, not as a political tool to condemn others, but as a constant reminder of our ever recurring human frailty and tendency to do evil, even very great evil. Real mercy, therefore, is not – as many today would like to suggest the Catholic Church to do – to look away when sin or evil occurs, but to have the courage to be merciful in truth and justice. As the Catholic author Michael O’Brien puts it so well “Without justice, human mercy all too easily dissolves into sentimentalism and false compassion, leading to an increase of sin and error.” We have seen this mechanism occur in the history of humankind again and again. The Holy Father refers to this tragic cycle of sin and error leading to senseless slaughter:

It seems that the human family has refused to learn from its mistakes caused by the law of terror, so that today too there are those who attempt to eliminate others with the help of a few and with the complicit silence of others who simply stand by. We have not yet learned that “war is madness”, “senseless slaughter” (cf. Homily in Redipuglia, 13 September 2014).

And let there be no mistake: this continued senseless slaughter is not only caused by war in the classical sense, by means of guns and knives in the hands of brutal terrorists and armies, it also takes place globally almost unheard and unseen in clinics at the hands of men and women who are convinced that the unborn child in the womb of the mother has no independent right to live. Also here there is a complicit and an even highly organized silence and covering up in the face of a brutal practice that kills more human beings every year than all the other mass killings of the 20th and 21st centuries combined (over 40 million by official UN estimates). Whilst we cannot and should not make a comparison between the people and the motives behind these forms of killing, the undeniable fact remains that no other slaughter of innocent human life is so vast and so systematically – even industrially – organised as abortion is today. Whilst we rightly condemn the genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries, let us not forget and remain silent about the mass killing of unborn life that takes place in our cities every day. It is still, as Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta rightly said, the biggest threat to world peace.

The great tragedy of history is that the killing of certain groups of people by other groups of people always seems perfectly justified for the perpetrators – they always think and openly proclaim that they are doing a service to society. Sadly, no mass killing in the history of mankind – whether it be the many genocides or even abortion – escapes this deadly error of judgment. It is here that the words of Pope Francis on Mercy Sunday 2015 turn out to be so vital, because he reminds the world of the foolishness of forgetting. He warns in clear wording, rarely heard from world leaders, that this attitude leads to ever more horror and death:

It is the responsibility not only of the Armenian people and the universal Church to recall all that has taken place, but of the entire human family, so that the warnings from this tragedy will protect us from falling into a similar horror, which offends against God and human dignity. Today too, in fact, these conflicts at times degenerate into unjustifiable violence, stirred up by exploiting ethnic and religious differences. All who are Heads of State and of International Organizations are called to oppose such crimes with a firm sense of duty, without ceding to ambiguity or compromise.

It is then, our duty as Christians to speak about and speak out against all these horrors of yesterday and today and not let political or economic expediency blind us for the truth. If we Christians in the West – whether in academia, politics or elsewhere – would start speaking with the same courage and respectfulness as Pope Francis does, it would very likely lead to less of these horrors for our children.

Deported Armenian Children 1915 Deported Armenian children in 1915

Mercy and Truth in a Confused World

The Gospel reading on Easter Monday relates the story of the risen Christ meeting two of his disciples on their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus and is a powerful reminder of the role of the Christian in a world where much confusion reigns. This Gospel reading gives – more than we might realize – a detailed explanation of how we ought to deal with those inside and outside of the Church that do not follow Christ’ teaching or do not believe in Him at all. The lack of faith and faithfulness to the Gospel can be found as much in the Church as among non-Christians.

We read in the last chapter of Luke (24, 13-35, cf.

“13. Now that very day two of them were going to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus, 14. and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred. 15. And it happened that while they were conversing and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, 16. but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. 17. He asked them, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” They stopped, looking downcast. 18. One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19. And he replied to them, “What sort of things?” They said to him, “The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people 20. how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. 21. But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place. 22. Some women from our group, however, have astounded us: they were at the tomb early in the morning 23. and did not find his body; they came back and reported that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who announced that he was alive. 24. Then some of those with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women had described, but him they did not see.” 25.  And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! 26. Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures. 28. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. 29. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. 31. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 32. Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” 33. So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them 34. who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” 35. Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

The risen Christ, whose disciples do not even recognize him because of their confusion and lack of faith, must have been disappointed by their blindness. But He is patient, and before explaining to them the scriptures – something especially theologians love to do – Jesus takes the time to walk with them and listen to them. Jesus does not commence his journey with these men by condemning them for their inability to recognize him and understand the truth of his suffering, cross and resurrection. No, Christ himself went in search of his confused children to be with them and to let them express all their sorrows and questions. Only after the disciples had spoken and Jesus had listened did He guide them through the scriptures explaining God’s plan. And still they did not see. Even the words spoken by the risen Christ himself did not right away lead the two disciples to understanding and seeing. Their hearts remained closed although “burning within them”, meaning that even more was needed to finally overcome their blindness. Their eyes were opened when Jesus broke the bread and said the blessing – when Christ brought them into union with him through the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the summit of our faith.

What does this mean for us Christians, for those teaching or studying at the ITI, at theological faculties, or otherwise serving the Church? What does this Gospel tell us about our relationship with lukewarm Christians and non-Christians alike? What does this mean for our approach to an increasingly non-religious and anti-Christian mainstream world, where now the targeted persecution and killing of Christians is rising dramatically in the face of a largely silent political leadership?

Mercy in Truth. We need to go out and look for those rejecting Christ the Son of God and His teaching, we need to walk with them and listen to them ever so patiently and only then without compromise but with great charity and clarity teach the Gospel in its fullness and bring them to the sacraments; and still we should not expect “success” in our own lifetimes or for us to see, knowing that only Christ himself can convert hearts. This requires much courage and the willingness to come out of hiding, whether it be hiding in worldliness or in self-righteousness, two sides of the same coin. As Pope Francis said to the millions of young people gathered on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janiero during World Youth Day 2013:

“Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone. The Gospel is for everyone, not just for some. It is not only for those who seem closer to us, more receptive, more welcoming. It is for everyone. Do not be afraid to go and to bring Christ into every area of life, to the fringes of society, even to those who seem farthest away, most indifferent. The Lord seeks all, he wants everyone to feel the warmth of his mercy and his love.”

If we Christians in the West do not rise up and stand for our faith and diligently proclaim the Gospel in deed and word, which means active evangelization by all on all levels of society, then we are withholding the greatest treasure from our fellow human beings that do not know or follow Christ. Distorted ideologies will then also continue to immerse and reshape our culture that are not human but ever more barbaric in their extreme violence – whether physical or psychological – towards the sacredness of life, the family and religious freedom.

We have no choice but to do like Jesus did on his way to Emmaus: to actively seek the confused and the unbelieving and to journey with them with patience, mercy and in truth so as to lead them to Christ – to bring them to the point where the two Emmaus disciples said to each other: “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” The fire of faith burning in our hearts should ignite a fire in the hearts of those we journey with, which can be achieved by following Jesus’ example of seeking, accompanying, listening and speaking. How fitting and bitterly true are the words written in the spiritual testament of the martyred Pakistani Catholic Shahbaz Bhatti, who died in a hail of bullets for defending Christians in his country as Minister for Minorities in 2011:

“I want my life, my character and my actions to speak for me, and to say that I am a follower of Jesus Christ. This is so strong a desire in me that I would consider it a privilege if Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life.”

All areas of our life should reflect Christ brightly. Every Christian should work to lead others to Christ, which also has to be the primary goal in life for every theologian, whether lay or clergy. If not, we will allow ourselves to be further led into a culture that is directed by disruptive and violent ideologies where Man and its many falsehoods, and not God his Creator, is the measure of all things. History tells us how such societies end.