What is World Humanitarian Day?
World Humanitarian Day has its origins in the tragic bomb attack on August 19, 2003, at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. The bombing claimed 22 lives, and among the victims was Brazilian diplomat and chief humanitarian in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The United Nations General Assembly later formalized World Humanitarian Day in 2009 to honour Vieira de Mello and the other victims of the tragedy.
World Humanitarian Day is rather unique in the sense that it does not focus on a single issue like many other UN days, which gives it the freedom to look at various global crises that impact humanity as a whole. This allows the WHD to have a strong timely theme that can build partnerships amongst humanitarian workers/advocates in order to better serve the people affected by crises and respond to security issues that aid workers face.
This year's focus is the ongoing climate crisis and the human cost associated with it. The aim is to put pressure on governments to take meaningful actions to help the world’s most vulnerable.
What does this mean for Catholics?
World Humanitarian Day, and all it stands for, is aligned with the message of the Gospel, Catholic social teaching, and Pope Francis’ recent encyclicals (Laudato Si’
and Fratelli Tutti
The heart of the Gospel is about humanity's redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice for all of us on the cross. But before His crucifixion Jesus showed us how to be brothers and sisters to one another: He fed the poor. He made those at the margins feel loved and welcomed. He walked among us and left us with a roadmap to follow.
Catholic social teaching
simply reiterates what we are called to do: Respect one another. Love one another. Cherish one another. Help one another.
Pope Francis further expands on these essential teachings in both Laudato Si’
and Fratelli Tutti
. He reminds us that we need to be stewards of the planet and work to ensure that we are all living together with a sense of solidarity and fraternity.
This constant reiteration reminds us that we need to love one another in a radical way where we turn thought into deed – the agape
love that Christ calls us to exhibit to one another.
The idea of taking on the climate crisis can be a very daunting and overwhelming thought. It’s being tasked with saving the world but without the handy powers of Superman or the Avengers. Instead of looking at it as a singular problem with a singular solution, take a step back and examine where you can be effective with your actions and remember to hold in your heart that it is the small links that make up a chain. As with any crisis, it will be the small actions that lead up to an overall solution.
First, look in your own proverbial backyard. Are there ways that you can reduce consumption? Perhaps recycle and compost? Perhaps use a refillery service to reduce packaging? Adopt a plant-based diet? These are merely a few suggestions of the many small steps we can all take. Not everyone’s steps will be the same.
Additionally, with a federal election just around the corner in Canada, it is the perfect opportunity to examine candidates to see where they stand on humanitarian and other issues that may be near and dear to your heart. A great resource for Catholics in Canada to help prepare and navigate an election cycle is Catholic Conscience
. They aim to educate people about Catholic social teaching, Catholic civics, and how we as Catholics are called to model active and positive citizenship in service to our neighbours. Catholic Conscience does not tell you how to vote; rather, they encourage you to take time to discern.
These are just a few options available to you, but there are many more out there for you to explore. Once you’ve done your research, take time to pray and discern, and then act.
For additional information about World Humanitarian Day, check out what the United Nations
is doing for the day.