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Paris, Nigeria: brotherhood rejected

The need for peace in every corner of the world has been weighing upon my heart following the terrorist attacks in Paris and the mass slaughter of thousands by Boko Haram in Nigeria.

The calculated brutality of these attacks has stunned us all and made our hearts ache. But the cause of these murders is nothing new—it goes all the way back to Cain and Abel.

Pope Francis noted this in his 2014 Message for the World Day of Peace, where he stated, “Cain’s murder of Abel bears tragic witness to his radical rejection of their vocation to be brothers. Their story (cf. Gn 4:1-16) brings out the difficult task to which all men and women are called, to live as one, each taking care of the other.”

There has been much discussion in France, in the press and in our own country about the importance of defending freedom of speech, but there is another side to the debate. The ability to freely express ourselves must be tempered by respect for the dignity of others, including their beliefs. Free speech needs to be exercised within our larger vocation to be brothers and sisters to one another.

Peace is missing in our world. There are many contributing factors to this situation, such as poverty, corruption, a lack of education and jobs, or hatred of others because of their religious beliefs, but at the heart of it all stands a rejection of the vocation to be a brother or sister. It is a failure to follow the second great commandment “to love your neighbor as yourself.”

This refusal creates a world that is deficient in love and forgiveness, and it breeds a society that thoughtlessly discards the dignity of others, and among some, even justifies murder and violence. This dynamic was on display in the Paris attacks, the massacre in Nigeria and in many other violent events.

Although the severity of their rejection varies greatly, both those who drew the cartoons that offended many Muslims and the gunmen who attacked the cartoonists, turned away from their call to brotherhood.

The radical Islamist group Boko Haram carried out its deadliest massacre yet in northeastern Nigeria last week, taking the lives of some 2,000 people in the villages of Baga and Doron Baga. Certainly these men have violently cast aside their vocation to be brothers to their fellow Nigerians. Yet the Nigerian government’s failure to protect its people and to tackle some of the underlying causes that have attracted young people to Boko Haram is also an abandonment of its duty to serve its brothers and sisters.

I want to be clear that by saying this I am not in any way equating the evil of murder with insulting someone’s religion. Instead, I am pointing to their shared roots: the disregard shown for a brother or sister, the failure to respect the inherent dignity of the human person.

If the world is going to become a more peaceful place, then we must be faithful to our vocation to brotherhood, which we received from God when we were given the gift of life.

While flying between Sri Lanka and the Philippines on Jan. 15, Pope Francis spoke to reporters about free speech. Each person, he said, has “the obligation to say what one thinks to help the common good. … We have the obligation to speak openly, to have this liberty, but without giving offense …” In other words, he explained, “there is a limit” to free speech, and that limit is determined by what will respect the other person’s dignity.

This means people deserve the truth about what will help them flourish; they deserve to hear the Gospel and be introduced to Jesus. The truth, though, must be proclaimed in love.

Treating every person as a brother or sister, especially those who do not love us in return, requires God’s grace. As Catholics, we know that Cain’s rejection of Abel and his brotherly vocation was redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In Christ, all human relationships can be restored and every person can become an adopted son or daughter of the Father.

We are called to be people who respond to what Pope Francis calls the “globalization of indifference” by fostering a culture of solidarity and fraternity, beginning in our own families, parishes and neighborhoods. We are called to share the truth in love in these places.

When each of us faces Christ at our final judgment, he will ask us what we did for our fellow man. May we be able to say that we saw the face of Christ in the face of every person—a brother, a sister—and did for them what we would do for Christ (Mt 25: 40). Without a renewed fidelity to our vocation in Christ as brothers and sisters, a commitment to caring for the least and living the fullness of the Gospel in humility, the world will only become more violent and more divided.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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