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Solidarity: Challenging Global Order

By: Marcel Uwineza

April 4, 2022

The Culture of Encounter as an Engine of Solidarity

At the heart of Pope Francis’ pontificate, humanity has experienced a strong call to rediscover the importance of the culture of encounter, which in turn challenges global priorities. From the onset of his pontificate in March 2013, Francis has proposed a way forward in dealing with global crises. We must develop “a culture of encounter” in which we can “speak with those who think differently, as well as those who hold other beliefs, who do not have the same faith.” Humanity faces crises ranging from a global pandemic, to inequalities and inequities, forced migration, threats to international order, clergy sex abuse, climate change, and human trafficking. To deal with these challenges, we must dream “as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth, which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.” To answer Francis’s call for the development of a culture of encounter, we must live in solidarity with one another and challenge contemporary global order.

Solidarity is a concept deeply rooted in our sacred and shared human dignity. It is based on the acknowledgment of humanity’s interrelatedness. Solidarity prizes our interconnectedness beyond social, racial, and economic status. Many African societies find the roots of solidarity in the ubuntu philosophy of existence: “I am because we are.” Since a human being is a social and political animal, solidarity ethically functions as the criteria for the choices of individual, community, and nations. Solidarity is a moral expression of concrete service to the people, not just to ideas. When one community or nation is under assault, the idea of human solidarity is also assaulted. The ongoing global sanctions on Russia’s blatant disregard for Ukraine’s integrity, international law, and order is an example of how humanity prizes solidarity. The response of the international community after the earthquake in Haiti was an example of global solidarity. New global movements such as Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, and mobilization for vaccination and against xenophobia are paradigms of the moral imperative of solidarity.

Solidarity is rooted in the fact that no human being can face life in isolation. It has its origin in the love of neighbor, which is not something different from the love of God; it is merely the earthly side of the same coin. Solidarity is also informed by the memories of our ancestors. It is solidarity with the dead, the forgotten. As Elizabeth Johnson has emphasized, “their lives bespeak an unfinished agenda that is now in our hands; their memory is a challenge to action.” There is also solidarity with those yet to come, because decent people think of what they will bequeath to their children. In short, solidarity is an existential imperative that states, to use Pope Francis’ words, that “unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that [misled] us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness” (Fratelli Tutti n. 36)

The three Abrahamic religions–Judaism, Christianity, and Islam–affirm that God is the source of human solidarity and human beings have responsibility for each other. Humanity finds its solidarity in its first origins. Adam bore the name of humanity. Eve was the mother of all living. Adam and Eve were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). They carried great mission and responsibility on humanity’s part. This mission and responsibility still demand that the image of God be prized in each human person. This is illustrated in the command, albeit limited, to set free every servant from bondage once a week, on the Sabbath day, in order to demonstrate the human person’s “concern for the image of God invested in him or her at creation” (Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, 1972, 20). Consequently, the denial of anyone’s life is ipso facto the denial of the Creator. We have no reason whatsoever to belittle ourselves and others because in doing so we belittle God.

In Islamic societies, one lives for all Muslims as they live for him or her. Mohammed said: “the parable of the believers in their affection for each is that of a body. When any limb ashes, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” There is an ad intra Muslim solidarity rooted in each Muslim’s connection to others. Similarly, Saint Paul tells Christians that, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” Behind these claims, there is an idea that we cannot live in isolation. Put more broadly, “poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet” (Fratelli Tutti n. 137) The devastating impacts of COVID-19 are a clear example.

Within the Islamic financial system, zakat obliges the rich to care for those in need. In Christianity, solidarity is theological. In supporting the needy, one is united to God present in them (Matthew 25:31-46). Solidarity requires a Christian to make himself or herself a neighbor as the Good Samaritan did (Luke 10:25-37). The Good Samaritan became a neighbor heedless of any question or danger. The solidarity question is thus about me. I have to become the neighbor, and when I do, the other person counts for me, “as myself.” This is exemplified by the life of Dr. Paul Farmer.

Having briefly explained the essence of solidarity and the contributions of Abrahamic religions, how does the moral notion of solidarity call into question prevailing global order?

We live in a world where some people and communities have been made to feel as though they are disposable. Pope Francis invites nations to realize that “we need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved” (Fratelli Tutti n. 137) The dignity of each person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all national, economic, political, and pharmaceutical policies. For instance, most countries in the northern hemisphere have vaccinated their population against COVID-19, while most people from Africa are struggling to get the first or second vaccination dose. Given the spreading and mutating nature of COVID-19, “Pandemic will not end for anyone, ‘until it ends for everyone.’” The notion of solidarity thus challenges the rhetoric of universal human rights (e.g. right to health) that is not often seen in action in places where those rights are under assault. It calls us to speak out and act against inequality that spawns violence and undesirable death.

The notion of solidarity challenges our contemporary throwaway culture. The latter disregards that there are millions of people in rich and poor nations who could benefit from what is thrown away. Pope Francis put it astutely, “what is thrown away are not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves.” Solidarity thus questions humanity’s conscience and challenges us to evangelize cultures. It calls those engaged in business to live it as a vocation through which they can serve the common good and help to make the goods of this world accessible to all. Ultimately, living in solidarity takes us back to the heart of Pope Francis’ plea to develop a culture of encounter where no one is left out, but where we can dream together. The spirituality of a culture of encounter and solidarity rooted in our shared humanity echo the memories of Francis’ prayer in an empty St. Peter’s square at the height of COVID-19 crisis, a prayer of encounter and solidarity par excellence. In this “extraordinary moment of prayer,” Pope Francis said, “[Lord], You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgment, but of our judgment: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not.”