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Catholic Review Column: Yes, You Are Your Brother’s Keeper!

Catholic Review Column: Charity in Truth

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

These words come from the Prayer of St. Francis. Many of us are familiar with them and the rest of the words of this commonly-prayed and sung petition for God’s peace. These immediately came to mind when I learned two weeks ago Sunday of Pope Francis’ call for a worldwide day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world.

Pope Francis is, indeed, an instrument of God’s peace. In his role as Supreme Pontiff, Pope Francis is bringing a calming voice, a prayerful voice to the worldwide public discourse about how to respond to the horrors that have befallen the suffering people of Syria.

“All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace,” he said earlier this month. “I make a forceful and urgent call to the entire Catholic Church, and also to every Christian of other confessions, as well as to followers of every religion and to those brothers and sisters who do not believe: peace is a good which overcomes every barrier, because it belongs to all of humanity!”

I was privileged to offer Masses last Saturday—the day the Pope chose for worldwide prayer for peace—at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore and at St. Mary’s in Hagerstown. I also encouraged churches throughout the Archdiocese to remain open for people to come and pray in solidarity with our Holy Father, who led a five-hour prayer vigil in Saint Peter’s Square attended by an estimated 100,000 people.

At that vigil, the Pope warned man to think not only of himself and of his own interests. “When he [man] puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict,” he said. The Pope expounded further by drawing on the passage in Genesis where God asks Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ The question elicits this oft-quoted response: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper.’ The Pope said we too must ask ourselves this same question. But our response, he said, must not be the same. “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill ... We bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war.”

In my own homily at the Mass I celebrated in Baltimore on Saturday, I recalled the writings of an ancient Chinese philosopher from some six centuries before Christ’s birth. Like, Pope Francis, this philosopher traced the wildfires of hatred which fuel conflict and war to the wellspring of families and the hearts of individuals.

“If there is to be peace in the world, there must be peace between nations. If there is to be peace between the nations, there must be peace between cities. If there is to be peace between cities, there must be peace between neighbors. If there is to be peace between neighbors, there must be peace in the home. If there is to be peace in the home, there must be peace in the heart.”

I am grateful to all who have heeded Pope Francis’ call to prayer and encourage the people of God in this, His local Church, to pray that the Lord will make all of us His instruments of peace and that further violence and bloodshed will be averted in Syria and throughout the world.