With these words, Catholic News Service summed up Pope Francis’ visit to one of Rio de Janeiro’s notorious slums, Varginha, where the pope reminded the people: “You are not alone.”
To understand the full meaning of the pope’s words requires a sense of what John Paul II did. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, John Paul II supported the solidarity movement in his homeland of Poland. Solidarity was the first independent labor union that broke free from being controlled by the Communist government. Because it was such a popular movement, Solidarity eventually forced the Communist government to negotiate and even conduct elections leading to a gradual reduction of its powers, even after a brutal period of repression under martial law. John Paul II eventually referred to solidarity—not the Polish union—as the “new name for charity.”
Pope Francis urged Brazilians to stand together in opposing corruption in government. Going beyond Brazil, Pope Francis called upon youth celebrating World Youth Day to overcome the culture of individualism and selfishness which has such a powerful grip on pop culture throughout the western world. Perhaps the corruption and selfishness in government drives many young people to take part in social protests against the government of Brazil.
What might the pope’s words to the World Youth Day participants mean for U.S. Catholics? That may require soul-searching for all of us. Certainly social scientists and social commentators in the United States have pointed to an American culture of individualism and narcissistic tendencies since the 1970s.
The challenge the pope throws at U.S. Catholics is to do whatever we can to live in solidarity with immigrants, the poor, the sick, and the victims of social prejudice and discrimination. The pope is leading by example as he tries always, despite personal risks, to be close to all the people wherever he might be. His actions proclaim the Gospel. Whatever we do to the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters, that we do to Christ.
We need the virtue of solidarity.
Photo Credit: Catholic News Service