The theme of Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace Message for 2023 is No one can be saved alone: Combatting COVID-19 together, embarking together on paths of peace. At the heart of this brief Message lie three questions:
- What did we learn from the pandemic?
- What new paths should we follow to cast off the shackles of our old habits, to be better prepared, to dare new things?
- What signs of life and hope can we see, to help us move forward and try to make our world a better place? (n 3)
Pope Francis centres the word “together” in responding to each of these questions. It is the key to whether we emerge from the pandemic better or worse.
This reflection guide by Dr Sandie Cornish is offered to encourage personal prayer and reflection on the World Day of Peace Message 2023, as well as group discussion and reflection.
What did we learn?
Francis suggests that the greatest lesson of the pandemic is that we need one another and that “none of us can be saved alone” (n 3). Our lives and our world are fragile, and so too is our shared humanity as sisters and brothers, children of the one God. Francis deals with this theme in detail in his second social encyclical Fratelli Tutti (On Fraternity and Social Friendship) which he published during the pandemic.
Francis also says that the pandemic has shown that our trust in “progress, technology and the effects of globalisation” was not only misplaced, but profoundly detrimental to the peace, harmony, and justice for which we hope (n 3). A more detailed critique of what Francis calls the “technocratic paradigm” is offered in Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home).
More positively, Francis notes that the experience of the pandemic has fostered a “chastened return to humility, a rethinking of certain consumeristic excesses, and a renewed sense of solidarity that has made us more sensitive to the suffering of others and more responsive to their needs” (n 3). We learned that “it is together, in fraternity and solidarity, that we build peace, ensure justice and emerge from the greatest disasters” (n 3).
What have you, your family, or your community learnt from the pandemic?
The war in Ukraine and its global impact, together with so many on-going conflicts, is hardly the hoped-for post-pandemic future. Francis says that “the virus of war is more difficult to overcome than the viruses that compromise our bodies, because it comes, not from outside of us, but from within the human heart corrupted by sin (cf. Gospel of Mark 7:17-23)” (n 4).
In the face of this, Francis says we are being asked to “let our hearts be changed by our experience of the crisis, to let God, at this time in history, transform our customary criteria for viewing the world around us” (n 5).
This will mean focussing on the common good rather than personal or national interests. We must open our hearts and minds to a universal human sisterhood and brotherhood to “heal our society and our planet, to lay the foundations for a more just and peaceful world, and to commit ourselves seriously to pursuing a good that is truly common” (n 5). It will mean attending to the interconnected nature of the multiple crises that we are facing and confronting these challenges with “a spirit of responsibility and compassion” (n 5).
Francis names the following new paths for the future: ensuring public health for all; promoting “actions that enhance peace and put an end to the conflicts and wars that continue to spawn poverty and death”; joining in clear and effective measures to care for our common home and address climate change; battling the “virus of inequality”; ensuring food and dignified work for all; and developing policies to welcome and include migrants, refugees and those whom our societies discard.
What new paths might you, your family or community, or organisations with which you are involved, take to address these challenges?
Signs of Hope
In addition to the positive things that Pope Francis suggested that we learned from the pandemic, he also notes that “the most effective responses to the pandemic came from social groups, public and private institutions, and international organizations that put aside their particular interests and joined forces to meet the challenges” (n 3). We can count these as signs of hope.
What signs of hope do you see in your family, local community, or in the world?