Pope Francis delivers his Christmas message “Urbi et Orbi” (To the City and the World) from the Hall of Blessings at the Vatican Dec. 25, 2020. CNS photo/Vatican Media

Gerry Turcotte: Come together in the human family we are

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  • November 26, 2021

Last year Pope Francis delivered his traditional Christmas message from the Hall of Benediction of St. Peter’s Basilica, rather than from the usual window where popes more traditionally appear before tens of thousands of the faithful. Just as his place of delivery reflected the grim reality of COVID, so too did his message focus on the responsibilities we — and the wealthier nations especially — have towards those in need.

In his blessing Urbi et Orbi (To the City and the World), Pope Francis called on all of us to come together as brothers and sisters, acknowledging that “we come from every continent, from every language and culture, with our own identities and differences.” Indeed, Christ died for all, the pontiff points out, not just for some of us, and as such we are called to live a fraternity “that has nothing to do with fine words, abstract ideals or vague sentiments. It is a fraternity grounded in genuine love, making it possible for me to encounter others different from myself, feeling compassion for their sufferings, drawing near to them and caring for them even though they do not belong to my family, my ethnic group or my religion.” And if this is true of us as individuals, it is just as true of all nations: “brothers and sisters all!”

In characteristic fashion, Pope Francis pulled few punches, speaking with a gritty realism that is sometimes lacking in these types of “special” holiday messages. Rather than offer platitudes asking us to be good to one another and to hold hands in gentle kumbaya, our Pope calls out the realism of suffering, from domestic violence to war, economic predation to vaccine hesitancy.

“We cannot allow the various forms of nationalism,” he says, “to prevent us from living as the truly human family that we are. Nor can we allow the virus of radical individualism to get the better of us and make us indifferent to the suffering of other brothers and sisters. I cannot place myself ahead of others, letting the law of the marketplace and patents take precedence over the law of love and the health of humanity.” And as always, he reminds us: “Before all others: the most vulnerable and needy!”

What is always refreshing about the pontiff’s addresses is the way he acknowledges the realities of economics, the divisions of labour between the rich and poor, and the deep disparity that exists at every level of society. This is not a man locked in an ivory tower, but one determined to be in the world. Because of this he will not allow us to take comfort behind simple platitudes but calls us out to do more, to acknowledge the gifts we have and our at times reluctance to share these under the guise of community and world complexities.

But the message of Christmas is clear. Christ was born and He died to make a difference, to build hope and compel change. Jesus did not ask simple questions and He didn’t offer easy rules to follow. He understood our humanity and the struggles that we face, but asked, nevertheless, that we do more. This, too, is the message of our Pope: that a world attuned to Christ’s message isn’t one that seeks the easy path, but one that requires the harder road.

The Christmas message is one that is delivered with the greatest promise of hope and salvation. It is joy-filled and inspiring. And yet it asks us to do what we sometimes take for granted or ignore: the need to view and confront the challenges and realities of our wounded world.

Pope Francis invites us to ensure equity — in vaccine distribution, in accepting migrants, in protecting fellow humans from trafficking. He insists that we look at our fractured planet and attend to the environment, not in simple gestures but in global terms that will ask serious sacrifices and a serious commitment to the wider world. Like Jesus, Pope Francis leads with love, but refuses simplistic comforts, urging us to ask the hard questions, especially about ourselves and our communities.

It is not unusual at this time of year to read disappointed editorials about how the focus of Christmas has been lost and commercialized. But our message has to be more than this. It has to be a call to action. Christmas has to be about putting Christ back into the centre of the season, which means not only reminding us of the magnitude of the gift that He delivered us through His birth and death, but also the covenant that he made with us that asked us to become men and women of grace and action.

This Christmas season, then, we should count our blessings and thank our Lord for them — but we should also find a way to share these gifts with others, especially with those in need, remembering that we are “brothers and sisters all!”

(Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.)

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