Life these days is marked by so many separations. Separation from family and friends. Separation from our elderly loved ones. Separation from our colleagues and classmates. Separation from our churches, parishes, and communities. We are separated by masks, by lockdown restrictions, by closed borders, and by the shutting down of so many parts of society.
In the midst of so much separation, what is there to unite us? How can we remain united across the barriers? Being united is what will help us not only to survive this pandemic but to thrive beyond it. Our challenge is to strive for unity in the midst of barriers.
Joe Biden's inaugural address as President of the United States was a profound call to unity in the midst of a fractured country. Beyond our political leanings, I think we can all agree on the urgent need for unity. History, Biden said, "depends not on any one of us, not on some of us, but on all of us." What the new president said about his own country echoes across the entire human family:
"Through struggle, sacrifice, and setbacks, our 'better angels' have always prevailed. In each of these moments, enough of us came together to carry all of us forward. And, we can do so now. History, faith, and reason show the way, the way of unity. We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature. For without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward."
Our unity must be more than just a lack of hatred or violence. It must be the fraternal love that makes us neighbours of people who are totally different from us. We are neighbours not because we live next to each other but because we are fellow human beings. How can we extend this neighbourly care across the whole human family? In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti
, Pope Francis points us to the inspiring example of St. Francis of Assisi, who called us to "a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance," and challenges us to love our neighbour “as much when he is far away from us as when he is with us.”
This is especially necessary in the midst of a pandemic that leaves so many of us "far away" from one another and even from those we love.
And so the question for each of us is: What can I do to build a bridge? What can I do to take a step forward towards being more united to others in spite of the physical distance between us? Maybe calling relatives that I haven't spoken to in a long time. Maybe proposing a virtual hangout with a friend who might be alone. Maybe finding a way to volunteer my time or skills, whether in person or online. Maybe sending a thoughtful card, letter, or gift in the mail to someone I wish I could see. Maybe researching an important cause that I could donate to in a developing country.
These concrete steps that we can take to build bridges not only increase our happiness and the happiness of others. They also reinforce our bonds of love and friendship, which reach across the barriers and distance we experience.
These small, daily, simple acts are what will bring us through this crisis towards a brighter tomorrow. Now is our opportunity to sow the seeds of unity that will lead to a more united future for our world.
As Biden put it: "We will be judged, you and I, for how we resolve the cascading crises of our era. Will we rise to the occasion? Will we master this rare and difficult hour? Will we meet our obligations and pass along a new and better world for our children? I believe we must and I believe we will. We will get through this, together."
Julian would be happy to hear from you, with any questions, insights, or suggestions you may have regarding this blog series. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julian Paparella is a theology student at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Rome. Born and raised in London, Ontario, he has worked in pastoral ministry in Montreal and Paris, especially with young people. Julian strives to communicate our faith in a way that resonates with everyday life, helping people to better experience God today. He is married to Marion.