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49th World Day of Peace

Solemn Feast of Mary, Mother of God, Theotokos
New Year's Day, 1st January 2016

Overcome Indifference and Conquer/Win Peace

Pope Francis's Message
- also in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian & Spanish  

1. God is not indifferent! God cares about humanity, God does not abandon it/humanity! At the beginning of the New Year, I would like to accompany this my profound conviction with good wishes of abundant blessings and of peace, in the sign of hope, for the future of every man and every woman, of every family, people and nation of the world, as well as for the Heads of State and Government and all Leaders of religions. Therefore, we do not lose hope that 2016 finds us all firmly and confidently engaged in realising justice and working for peace on different levels. Yes, peace is the gift of God and the work of men. Peace is the gift of God, but entrusted to all men and all women, who are called to put it into practice/realise it.

Guarding the reasons for hope

2. War and terrorist actions, with their tragic consequences, kidnapping, persecutions for ethnic or religious motives, abuses of power, have marked the past year, from beginning to end, multiplying sorely/painfully in many regions of the world, so much so as to assume the forms of what could be called a “third world war in phases”. But some events of the past years and the year just concluded invite me, in the perspective of the new year, to renew the exhortation not to lose hope in the capacity of man to conquer evil, with the grace of God, and not to surrender to resignation and indifference. The events to which I am referring represent the capacity of humanity to work in solidarity, beyond individualistic interests, apathy and indifference with respect to critical situations.

Among these events I would like to remember the efforts made to promote the meeting of world leaders in the field of COP 21, with the aim of finding new ways to tackle climate change and to safeguard the welfare of the Earth, our common home. This brings us to two earlier events of global character: the Addis Ababa Summit to raise funds with the objective of sustainable development of the world; and the adoption on the part of the United Nations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with the objective of ensuring by that year a more dignified existence for everyone, above all for the poor populations of the planet.

The year 2015 was also special for the Church, because it marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of two documents of the Second Vatican Council which very eloquently expressed the sense of the Church's solidarity with the world. Pope John XXIII, at the beginning of the Council, wanted to open wide the windows of the Church so that communication between her and the world would  be more open. The two documents, Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes, are emblematic expressions of the new relationship of dialogue, solidarity and accompaniment which the Church sought to introduce within humanity. In the Declaration Nostra Aetate, the Church has been called to be open to dialogue with non-Christian religious expressions. In the pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, from the time that “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the people of today, above all of the poor and of those suffering, are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anguish of the disciples of Christ" [1], the Church wanted to establish a dialogue with the human family about the world's problems, as a sign of solidarity and respectful affection. [2]

In this same perspective, with the Jubilee of Mercy, I desire to invite the Church to pray and work so that every Christian may develop a humble and compassionate heart, capable of announcing and witnessing to mercy, of “forgiving and giving”, of opening oneself “to all those living on the most disparate existential peripheries, which the modern world frequently creates in a dramatic way”, without falling “into indifference which humiliates, into habitual routine which numbs the soul and impedes one from discovering novelty, into cynicism which destroys” [3].

There are many reasons to believe in the capacity of humanity to act together in solidarity, in recognition of their interconnection and interdependence, caring for the most fragile members and the protection of the common good. This attitude of shared responsibility is at the root of the fundamental vocation of/to fraternity/brotherhood and common life. Dignity and interpersonal relationships are what constitute us as human beings, desired by God in his image and likeness. As creatures endowed with inalienable dignity, we exist in relation with/to our brothers and sisters, before whom we have a responsibility and with whom we act in solidarity. Outside of this relationship, we would be less human. Precisely for this reason, indifference threatens the human family. As we are walking towards a new year, I desire to invite everyone to recognise this fact, so as to overcome indifference and conquer/win peace.

Some forms of indifference

3. It is true that the attitude of someone indifferent, of one who closes his heart so as not to take others into consideration, of one who closes his eyes so as not to see what is around him or who dodges so as not to be touched by the problems of others, characterizes a human typology fairly widespread and present in every epoch of history. But in our time, this typology has definitely surpassed/exceeded the individual ambit/scope to assume a global dimension and produce the phenomenon of a/the “globalization of indifference”.

The first form of indifference in human society is indifference towards God, from which also springs indifference towards one’s neighbour and towards the environment. This is one of the grave effects of a false humanism and of practical materialism, combined with a relativistic and nihilistic thinking. Man thinks of being the author of himself, of his own life and of society; he feels self-sufficient; he seeks not only to replace God, but completely to dispense with Him. Consequently, he believes he doesn't owe anything to anyone, except to himself, and pretends to have only rights [4]. Against this erroneous self-understanding of the person, Benedict XVI recalled that neither man nor his development are capable of giving the ultimate meaning to man himself [5]; and previously Paul VI had affirmed that “there is no true humanism which is not open to the Absolute, in the recognition of a vocation, which gives/offers the true idea of human life” [6].

Indifference towards one's neighbour assumes different forms. There are those who are well-informed, listen to the radio, read the newspapers or watch television programmes, but do so in a frivolous way, almost by sheer habit; these people know vaguely the dramas that afflict humanity but do not feel committed/involved, do not live compassion. This is the attitude of those who know, but keep their gaze, their thoughts and their actions focused on themselves. Unfortunately we must note that the increase of information, characteristic of our time, does not of itself mean an increase of attention to/on the problems, if it is not accompanied by an opening of conscience in the sense of solidarity [7]. Moreover, it can entail/lead to a certain saturation that anaesthetizes and, to some extent, relativizes the gravity of the problems. "Some simply revel blaming the poor and poor countries for their own troubles, with unwarranted generalizations, and aim to find the solution in an ‘education’ that tranquilizes them and transforms them into domesticated and inoffensive beings. This becomes even more irritating if the excluded see grow social cancer which is this corruption deeply rooted in many countries – in governments, in business and in institutions – whatever (may) be) the political ideology of the rulers/leaders” [8].

In other cases, indifference manifests itself as a lack of attention towards surrounding reality, especially more distant/further away reality Some people prefer not to search, not to inform themselves and live their wellbeing and their comfort indifferent to the cry of pain of suffering humanity. Almost without realizing it, we have become incapable of feeling compassion for others, for their dramas, we have no interest in caring for them, as if what happens to them was a responsibility that is alien to us, that does not fall to us [9]. “When we are well and we feel comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does), we are not interested in their problems, or their sufferings, or the injustices they suffer… Then our hearts fall into indifference: while I am relatively well and comfortable, I forget about those who are not well” [10].

Living in a common home, we cannot but ask ourselves about the state of its health, as I tried to do in Laudato si’. The pollution of the water and air, the indiscriminate exploitation of forests, the destruction of the environment, are often the fruit of man’s indifference with respect to others, because everything is interrelated. As also man's behaviour with animals influences his relations with others [11], not to mention those who are allowed to do elsewhere what they would not dare do in their own home [12].

In these and other cases, indifference provokes above all closure and detachment, and thus ends by contributing to the lack of peace with God, with one's neighbour and with creation.

Peace threatened by globalized indifference

4. Indifference towards God surpasses the intimate and spiritual sphere of each person and reaches the public and social sphere. As Benedict XVI affirmed, “there exists an intimate link between the glorification of God and peace among men on earth” [13]. Indeed, “without an openness to the transcendent, man falls easily prey to relativism and then finds it difficult to act in accordance with justice and to work for peace" [14]. The forgetfulness and negation of God, which lead man to not recognise any norm above himself and to take only he himself as the norm, have produced cruelty and violence without measure [15].

At the individual and community level, indifference towards one’s neighbour, daughter of indifference towards God, assumes the appearance of inertia and unconcern/disregard/detachment/disengagement, which feed the persistence of situations of injustice and grave social disequilibrium/imbalance which, in their turn, can lead to conflicts or, in any case, generate a climate of dissatisfaction which runs the risk of culminating, sooner or later, in violence and insecurity.

In this sense indifference, and the unconcern which follows, constitute a grave lack of the duty that each person has to contribute, in measure with one's capabilities and with the role that one plays in society, to the common good, particularly to peace, which is one of humanity’s most precious goods [16].

When it affects the institutional level, indifference with respect to the other, to his dignity, to his fundamental rights and to his freedom, combined/united with a culture orientated to profit and hedonism, favours and sometimes justifies actions and policies that end up constituting threats to peace. Such an attitude of indifference can even lead to justifying some deplorable economic policies, harbingers of injustice, division and violence, with a view to attaining/achieving their own welfare or that of a nation. Indeed, it is not uncommon for the economic and political projects of men to have as their objective the conquest or maintenance of power and wealth, even at the cost of trampling on the rights and fundamental needs of others. When populations are deprived of their elementary rights, such as food, water, health care or work, they are tempted to take them by force [17].

Furthermore, indifference in respect to the natural environment, by favouring deforestation, pollution and natural catastrophes which uproot entire communities from their living environment, forcing them to precariousness and insecurity, creates new poverty, new situations of injustice, often with dire consequences in terms of security and social peace. How many wars have been and how many more will be fought because of the lack of resources or so as to satisfy the insatiable demand for natural resources [18]?

From indifference to mercy: conversion of heart

5. A year ago, in the Message for the World Day of Peace "No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters", I referred to the first biblical icon of human brotherhood, that of Cain and Abel (cf Gen 4, 1-16), and I did it so as to draw attention to the way in which this first brotherhood was betrayed. Cain and Abel were brothers. They came both from the same womb, they were equal in dignity and created in the image and likeness of God; but their creational fraternity was broken. “Cain, in addition to not standing his brother Abel, killed him out of envy by committing the first fratricide” [19]. Fratricide thus became the paradigm of betrayal, and the refusal/rejection on the part of Cain of fraternity to Abel is the first rupture in the relations(hips) of brothers, solidarity and mutual respect.

God intervened then so as to call man to responsibility in regard to his fellow man, as he had done with Adam and Eve, the first parents, when they ruptured communion with the Creator. “The Lord said to Cain: “Where is Abel, your brother?” Cain replied, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Lord responded: “What you have you done? The blood of your brother is crying to me from the soil/ground” (Gen 4, 9-10).

Cain said that he did not know what had happened to his brother, he said that he was not his guardian. He did not feel responsible for his life, for his fate. He did not feel implicated/involved. He was indifferent towards his brother, although they were both united/linked by the same origin. How sad! What a fraternal, familial/family, human drama! This was the first manifestation of indifference between brothers. However God is not indifferent: Abel’s blood had great value in his eyes and he asked Cain to render an account for it. Thus God reveals himself/is revealed since the beginning of humanity as the One who interests himself/is interested in the fate of man. When later the children of Israel were in slavery in Egypt, God intervened anew. He said to Moses: “I have seen the oppression of my people in Egypt and have heard their grievances against their oppressors; I know their sufferings. I have come down to liberate/free them from the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land, to bring them to a fertile and spacious land, to a land where milk and honey flow” (Ex 3, 7-8). It is important to note the verbs which describe God’s intervention: He sees, hears, knows, comes down, liberates/frees. God is not indifferent. He is attentive and he acts.

In the same way, in Jesus his Son, God has come down among us. He took flesh and showed his solidarity with humanity in all things but sin. Jesus identified with us: He became “the first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8, 29). He was not content merely to teach the crowds, but he was concerned for their welfare, especially when he saw them hungry (cf Mk 6, 34-44) or without work (cf Mt 20, 3). He was concerned not only for men and women, but also for the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, plants and trees, all things great and small. He saw and embraced all of creation. But he did more than just see; he touched people’s lives, he spoke to them, helped them and showed kindness to those in need. Not only this, but he felt strong emotions and he wept (cf Jn 11, 33-44). And he worked to put an end to suffering, sorrow, misery and death.

Jesus taught us to be merciful like our heavenly Father (cf Lk 6, 36). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (cf Lk 10, 29-37), he condemned those who fail to help others in need, those who “pass by on the other side” (cf Lk 10, 31-32). By this example, he taught his listeners and his disciples in particular, to stop and to help alleviate the sufferings of this world and the pain of our brothers and sisters, using whatever means are at hand, beginning with our own time, however busy we may be. Indifference often seeks excuses: observing ritual prescriptions, looking to all the things needing to be done, hiding behind hostilities and prejudices which keep us apart.

Mercy is the heart of God. It must also be the heart of the members of the one great family of his children: a heart which beats all the more strongly wherever human dignity – as a reflection of the face of God in his creatures – is in play. Jesus tells us that love for others – foreigners, the sick, prisoners, the homeless, even our enemies – is the yardstick by which God will judge our actions. Our eternal destiny depends on this. It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul tells the Christians of Rome to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep (cf Rom 12, 15), or that he encourages the Corinthians to take up collections as a sign of solidarity with the suffering members of the Church (cf 1 Cor 16, 2-3). And Saint John writes: “If any one has the world’s goods and sees his brother or sister in need, yet refuses help, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 Jn 3, 17; cf Jas 2, 15-16).

This then is why “it is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she herself live and testify to mercy. Her language and her gestures must transmit mercy, so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.”[20]

We too, then, are called to make compassion, love, mercy and solidarity a true way of life, a rule of conduct in our relationships with one another.[21] This requires the conversion of our hearts: the grace of God has to turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh (cf Ezek 36, 26), open to others in authentic solidarity. For solidarity is much more than a “feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far”.[22] Solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all”,[23] because compassion flows from fraternity.

Understood in this way, solidarity represents the moral and social attitude which best corresponds to an awareness of the scourges of our own day, and to the growing interdependence, especially in a globalized world, between the lives of given individuals and communities and those of other men and women in the rest of the world.[24]

Building a culture of solidarity and mercy to overcome indifference

6. Solidarity, as a moral virtue and social attitude born of personal conversion, calls for commitment on the part of those responsible for education and formation.

I think first of families, which are called to a primary and vital mission of education. Families are the first place where the values of love and fraternity, togetherness and sharing, concern and care for others are lived out and handed on. They are also the privileged milieu for transmitting the faith, beginning with those first simple gestures of devotion which mothers teach their children.[25]

Teachers, who have the challenging task of training children and youth in schools or other settings, should be conscious that their responsibility extends also to the moral, spiritual and social aspects of life. The values of freedom, mutual respect and solidarity can be handed on from a tender age. Speaking to educators, Pope Benedict XVI noted that: “Every educational setting can be a place of openness to the transcendent and to others; a place of dialogue, cohesiveness and attentive listening, where young people feel appreciated for their personal abilities and inner riches, and can learn to esteem their brothers and sisters. May young people be taught to savour the joy which comes from the daily exercise of charity and compassion towards others and from taking an active part in the building of a more humane and fraternal society”.[26]

Communicators also have a responsibility for education and formation, especially nowadays, when the means of information and communication are so widespread. Their duty is first and foremost to serve the truth, and not particular interests. For the media “not only inform but also form the minds of their audiences, and so they can make a significant contribution to the education of young people. It is important never to forget that the connection between education and communication is extremely close: education takes place through communication, which influences, for better or worse, the formation of the person.”[27]

Communicators should also be mindful that the way in which information is obtained and made public should always be legally and morally admissible.

Peace: the fruit of a culture of solidarity, mercy and compassion

7. While conscious of the threat posed by a globalization of indifference, we should also recognize that, in the scenario I have just described, there are also many positive initiatives which testify to the compassion, mercy and solidarity of which we are capable.

Here I would offer some examples of praiseworthy commitment, which demonstrate how all of us can overcome indifference in choosing not to close our eyes to our neighbour. These represent good practices on the way to a more humane society.

There are many non-governmental and charitable organizations, both within and outside the Church, whose members, amidst epidemics, disasters and armed conflicts, brave difficulties and dangers in caring for the injured and sick, and in burying the dead. I would also mention those individuals and associations which assist migrants who cross deserts and seas in search of a better life. These efforts are spiritual and corporal works of mercy on which we will be judged at the end of our lives.

I think also of the journalists and photographers who shape public opinion on difficult situations which trouble our consciences, and all those devoted to the defence of human rights, especially the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, indigenous peoples, women and children, and the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Among them are also many priests and missionaries who, as good pastors, remain at the side of their flock and support them, heedless of danger and hardship, especially during armed conflicts.

How many families, amid occupational and social difficulties, make great sacrifices to provide their children with a “counter-cultural” education in the values of solidarity, compassion and fraternity! How many families open their hearts and homes to those in need, such as refugees and migrants! I wish to thank in a particular way all those individuals, families, parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines who readily responded to my appeal to welcome a refugee family.[28]

Finally, I would mention those young people who join in undertaking works of solidarity, and all those who generously help their neighbours in need in their cities and countries and elsewhere in the world. I thank and encourage everyone engaged in such efforts, which often pass unobserved. Their hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied, their mercy will lead them to find mercy and, as peacemakers, they will be called children of God (cf Mt 5, 6-9).

Peace in the sign of the Jubilee of Mercy

8. In the spirit of the Jubilee of Mercy, all of us are called to realize how indifference can manifest itself in our lives and to work concretely to improve the world around us, beginning with our families, neighbours and places of employment.

Civil society is likewise called to make specific and courageous gestures of concern for their most vulnerable members, such as prisoners, migrants, the unemployed and the infirm.

With regard to prisoners, it would appear that in many cases practical measures are urgently needed to improve their living conditions, with particular concern for those detained while awaiting trial.[29] It must be kept in mind that penal sanctions have the aim of rehabilitation, while national laws should consider the possibility of establishing penalties other than incarceration. In this context, I would like once more to appeal to governmental authorities to abolish the death penalty where it is still in force, and to consider the possibility of an amnesty.

With regard to migrants, I would ask that legislation on migration be reviewed, so, while respecting reciprocal rights and responsibilities, it can reflect a readiness to welcome migrants and to facilitate their integration. Special concern should be paid to the conditions for legal residency, since having to live clandestinely can lead to criminal behaviour.

In this Jubilee Year, I would also appeal to national leaders for concrete gestures in favour of our brothers and sisters who suffer from the lack of labour, land and lodging. I am thinking of the creation of dignified jobs to combat the social plague of unemployment, which affects many families and young people, with grave effects for society as a whole. Unemployment takes a heavy toll on people’s sense of dignity and hope, and can only be partially compensated for by welfare benefits, however necessary these may be, provided to the unemployed and their families. Special attention needs to be given to women – who unfortunately still encounter discrimination in the workplace – and to some categories of workers whose conditions are precarious or dangerous, and whose pay is not commensurate to the importance of their social mission.

Finally, I express my hope that effective steps will be taken to improve the living conditions of the sick by ensuring that all have access to medical treatment and pharmaceuticals essential for life, as well as the possibility of home care.

Looking beyond their own borders, national leaders are also called to renew their relations with other peoples and to enable their real participation and inclusion in the life of the international community, in order to ensure fraternity within the family of nations as well.

With this in mind, I would like to make a threefold appeal to the leaders of nations: to refrain from drawing other peoples into conflicts or wars which destroy not only their material, cultural and social legacy, but also – and in the long term – their moral and spiritual integrity; to forgive or manage in a sustainable way the international debt of the poorer nations; and to adopt policies of cooperation which, instead of bowing before the dictatorship of certain ideologies, will respect the values of local populations and, in any case, not prove detrimental to the fundamental and inalienable right to life of the unborn.

I entrust these reflections, together with my best wishes for the New Year, to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our Mother, who cares for the needs of our human family, that she may obtain from her Son Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the granting of our prayers and the blessing of our daily efforts for a fraternal and united world.

From the Vatican, 8 December 2015
Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy


[1] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 1.

[2] Cf. ibid., 3.

[3] Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, 14-15.

[4] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 43.

[5] Cf. ibid., 16.

[6] Encyclical Populorum Progressio, 42.

[7] “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers. Reason, by itself, is capable of grasping the equality between men and of giving stability to their civic coexistence, but it cannot establish fraternity” (BENEDICT XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 19).

[8] Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 60.

[9] Cf. ibid., 54.

[10] Message for Lent 2015.

[11] Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 92.

[12] Cf. ibid., 51.

[13] Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 7 January 2013.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Cf. BENEDICT XVI, Intervention during the Day of Reflection, Dialogue and Prayer for Peace and Justice in the World, Assisi, 27 October 2011.

[16] Cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 217-237.

[17] “Until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence. The poor and the poor peoples are accused of violence, yet without equal opportunities the different forms of aggression and conflict will find a fertile terrain for growth and eventually explode. When a society – whether local, national or global – is willing to leave a part of itself on the fringes, no political programmes or resources spent on law enforcement or surveillance systems can indefinitely guarantee tranquility. This is not the case simply because inequality provokes a violent reaction from those excluded from the system, but because the socioeconomic system is unjust at its root. Just as goodness tends to spread, the toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear” (Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 59),

[18] Cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’, 31 and 48.

[19] Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, 2.

[20] Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, 12.

[21] Cf. ibid., 13.

[22] JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 38.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Cf. ibid.

[25] Cf. Catechesis for the General Audience of 7 January 2015.

[26] Message for the 2012 World Day of Peace, 2.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Cf. Angelus Address of 6 September 2015.

[29] Cf. Address to Delegates of the International Association of Penal Law, 23 October 2014.