A friend recently forwarded me a copy of Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace 2015 entitled "No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters," released by the Vatican on 8 December 2014. The full text can be found at the following address: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/peace/documents/papa-francesco_20141208_messaggio-xlviii-giornata-mondiale-pace-2015.html
As I am not a Roman Catholic, one might well wonder why I would reference a document penned by the leader of that organization. I reference it here because I was frankly impressed by the very Christian nature and Godly spirit of the message. Francis uses Paul's letter to Philemon as his central text, but he draws his theme from a Biblical narrative that stretches back to the book of Genesis. In short, his message is about the celebration of our common humanity and conducting our lives in a way that demonstrates our care and compassion for each other and rejects indifference or self-interest as the impetus for our actions.
Francis' message is mainly concerned with "the great suffering caused by human agency." He speaks of "the negative reality of sin, which often disrupts human fraternity and constantly disfigures the beauty and nobility of our being brothers and sisters in the one human family." According to Francis, this gives rise to a "culture of enslavement" that produces alienation, mistreatment, violations of personal dignity and rights and the institutionalization of inequality.
He points out that slavery manifests itself in many different forms in the modern world. In fact, Francis defines slavery simply as being the deprivation of freedom and the imposition of intolerable living conditions on those who have been so deprived. The Pope sees the institution of slavery in things like the exploitation of workers, prostitution and sexual exploitation, forced marriages, addiction to and trafficking in drugs, people being forced to serve in militias and armies, immigrants being forced to live in the shadows and the kidnapping and holding of hostages by terrorist groups around the world.
Francis sees these things as being the result of us objectifying our fellow man. He points out that the rejection of another person's humanity and our dismissal of the fact that they (like us) were made in the image of God leads to the treatment of our fellow man as a "means to an end." Among the other causes for slavery, the Pope mentions "poverty, underdevelopment and exclusion, especially when combined with a lack of access to education or scarce, even non-existent, employment opportunities."
Finally, Francis points out that we must all share a commitment to end slavery. He underscores the fact that the perpetuation of the institution requires the complicity of everyone. Francis says that states have a responsibility to make sure that their laws protect the dignity of their citizens. The Pope also insists that they are obligated to cooperate with each other in the fight against human trafficking. He continues, "Businesses have a duty to ensure dignified working conditions and adequate salaries for their employees." Finally, Francis points out that “purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act." In other words, we as consumers have an obligation to know where, how and by whom the products we buy were manufactured.
In this connection, we can see why Francis found Paul's letter to Philemon so compelling. Writing to Philemon about his former slave Onesimus, Paul informed his friend that Onesimus had been converted to Christianity while he was away from his master. He continued: "He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord." (Philemon 16) Christ had made master and slave brothers. He had restored the fraternal bond that was sundered by Cain when he killed his brother Abel. (Genesis 4) In this, Francis reminds us that we are our brother's keeper - that we all have a responsibility to care for and cherish each other.
Such a message seems to me to be very consistent with a God who is supposed to be the epitome of love. It also appears to me to be in harmony with Christ's instruction to love your brother as yourself. In short, I find myself in complete agreement with Pope Francis on this one! What do you think?