Praying for our brothers and sisters


1 Jan 2022

Whatever our differences as people, we are all part of the human family and are entitled to support, and receive support from, one another.

When we hear the word ‘true’ put in front of an attractive quality we know that it has other forms which the speaker considers false. Sometimes, as when some people speak of true ecumenism or of true compassion, we would be excused for thinking that what they consider the true quality is the opposite of what ordinary people mean by it.

This, however, is not the case when Pope Francis refers to true human fraternity in his prayer intention for January. By it he means the vision that all people as our brothers and sisters and the determination to relate to them so. Fraternity breaks down the apathy or hostility that can attach to the difference between acquaintances and strangers, families and outsiders, citizens and aliens, native born Australians and migrants. Whatever the differences between us all people command our respect because we share a common humanity. Each has a unique human dignity. We are part of the human family and are entitled to support from one another. We are also committed to support one another.

The importance of fraternity was recognised in the slogans of the French Revolution, which called for a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity. The three qualities rest on one another – take one away and the other two fall over. Fraternity is the cement that binds liberty and equality together. Without fraternity, liberty and equality will be rivals which will fight to the death. If we seek complete freedom, our desires will inevitably come into conflict with other people and we shall infringe on the freedom of others. We shall no longer be equal. Similarly, equality will stifle freedom. In both cases people who wish to be free and to be equal must respect one another as family and see one another as precious. Then they can negotiate a freedom and equality that respect one another      .

Pope Francis prays especially for people who are persecuted and suffer discrimination because of their religious difference. Such treatment shows that one group of people sees others as different, as enemies, and not as brothers and sisters. Because they lack fraternity persecutors regard others in society as unequal, inferior. They then deprive them of their liberty to pray, to gather and to express their faith or political beliefs. Fraternity is the key to ensuring that people who are different are equal and free in society.

In all societies some people who are different from the majority will suffer discrimination on religious, political, racial, national, gender, economic and many other grounds. In Australia discrimination is often half-hidden and not acknowledged. People who have suffered from it have shown us how wounding apparently jocular remarks about people’s race, colour or religion can be. People in the dominant group have had to be forced to see that their ways of relating and speaking with others humiliate them.

In Australia there is no systematic, violent religious persecution of the kind found in many other societies. In these people in majority groups often beat and treat violently people from minority religious groups, drive them from their homes, and pass laws against their religious practice. In the Middle East, where religion and politics often run together, they have had to leave their homelands. It is doubly important for them to be welcomed for who they are in other nations.

As Christians we pray especially for our Christian brothers and sisters who are our close family. But we also keep in our prayers the people from Muslim, Buddhist and other communities who are also persecuted. They too are our brothers and sisters, persons whom God loves and for whom Jesus gave his life.

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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