Last night I read a moving address given by Pope Francis to the people of the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, where immigrants fleeing from the coast of Africa had come to seek refuge. He came there to visit them and express his solidarity and sorrow for the suffering of those families who died on ships on the way, having been repelled before they could apply for asylum. He called their plight a thorn in his heart.
Pope Francis spoke passionately of the “globalization of indifference,” a phrase which caught my attention. While we have so much awareness of world events because of the media, we often lack the very human ability to weep for our brothers and sisters around the world, who find themselves in tragic circumstances. We are satisfied to say, “Oh, too bad!” and turn off the news. If we can’t weep with the suffering, and mourn the dead, how can we work up the energy to assist those in need?
But how? Many of us feel a world away and very small, incapable of changing anything. But is it true? We are actually all members of the same human family, and sharers of the same world, with all its diversity. In the movie version of “The Hobbit” Gandalf says he thinks that the wizard Sauroman is mistaken in his belief that only force and might can overcome great evil. Gandalf proposes instead that many small and simple acts of goodness and love are what hold evil at bay.
As a mother, I of course think about how this applies to my children. Am I teaching them to be people of peace, who care about the needs of others, who know how to sacrifice for love, who stand up for the oppressed? Or am I allowing them to stay in a bubble of prosperity, satisfied with satisfying themselves, enclosed in material goods and unable to empathize with those unluckier? I hope and pray that I can help them grow into people who find joy in serving others, who know how to weep with the suffering, and rejoice with the rejoicing.
I think this all starts at home, in a very simple way, by teaching children to love their siblings. Sometimes kids can sound like a den of wildcats preparing for battle, but you have to keep encouraging them to think of others and appreciate the moments when that inner goodness shines through. I remember being very impressed once when my oldest daughter, then almost three, thought of her baby sister before herself. They were in the double stroller on the bus when the bus lurched and sent the stroller smashing sideways into the bus wall. My toddler’s finger was caught between and hurt, but her first words were, “Is my sister ok?” I knew then that something was going right.
I’m sure many of my fellow moms have great practical suggestions on how to teach children to be people of peace, and I encourage you to share them. I would like to share more of them as well, but that will have to wait for another post, as my delicious mommy time will likely soon expire. I’ll finish up with one last thought: the peace of the world is not merely in the hands of the rich and powerful, but in the hands and hearts of everyone. It has been said that charity consists more in understanding than in giving, so it is something possible for people of every economic backround. If we teach kids to be understanding and compassionate to others, even those very different from themselves, we can hope that when in positions of influence as adults, they will make decisions not merely based on self-interest. Since every person influences those around them for better or worse, raising every child well matters. If we mothers and fathers succeed, we will have greatly enriched the world, and given peace a fighting chance.