Each group — one, consisting of desperately poor refugees and the other, extremely rich adventurers — took risks that cost them their lives at sea this month. Each individual within those groups was a child of God whose story should be viewed with the compassion that Christ calls us to — and not the ridicule that our social media feeds incite.
The sinking of an overcrowded fishing trawler off the coast of Greece resulted in the deaths of more than 300 Pakistani nationals, according to a June 19 CNN report (https://tinyurl.com/3m9kb2r5). They were fleeing war, persecution and poverty. However, as the number of refugees fleeing their homelands grows, so too does resentment from their would-be adopted homelands – unless the refugees are able to immediately support themselves and serve the best interest of their new neighbors. Christ calls us to welcome the strangers, not to slam the door on those who don’t serve our purposes.
Contrast the fishing trawler tragedy with the Titan submersible tragedy, where initial compassion turned quickly to resentment, egged on by social media feeds aimed at gaining eyeballs for advertisers. The submersible went missing shortly after the five wealthy passengers aboard began their adventure to visit the Titanic shipwreck on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean about 350 miles from Newfoundland, Canada. Their story made headlines for nearly a week as rescuers searched desperately for the vessel before the passengers’ oxygen ran out. “But as more details emerged — about the wealth of those on board, the known concerns with the Titan submersible and comments from the CEO that seemed to disregard safety — empathy gave way to crass humor, with memes mocking the victims appearing across platforms including Twitter, TikTok and Instagram,” NBC News reported June 22 (https://tinyurl.com/amjyaz2j).
Some glimpses of compassion did emerge on social media, including from Lyndsay Maloney, who works in the Diocese of Davenport. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t follow this story very closely but the memes regarding it are gut wrenching,” she said in a Facebook post. She hoped that death came quickly for the passengers so that they didn’t have to suffer. “My prayers go to the wives and kids that were left behind.”
A homily that Pope Francis delivered four years ago, focusing on compassion, seems all the more meaningful today. “Compassion allows you to see reality; compassion is like the lens of the heart: it allows us to take in and understand the true dimensions. In the Gospels, Jesus is often moved by compassion. And compassion is also the language of God,” he said. Compassion is not a feeling of pity; rather, it takes hold when “we get involved in the problems of others.” He invited those present at the Mass in September 2019 to “make an examination of conscience” and to ask themselves whether they let the Holy Spirit take them along the road to compassion, according to a Vatican news story (https://tinyurl.com/mtxxf2yn).
“Every one of us is a child who is loved” and blessed by God, the Holy Father said in a homily three years later during the closing Mass for Italy’s eucharistic congress (https://tinyurl.com/54zuwc9m). That truth is one we need to contemplate in a daily examination of conscience.
We need to exercise what the U.S. surgeon general’s advisory on the epidemic of loneliness and isolation calls a culture of connection. It “rests on core values of kindness, respect, service, and commitment to one another. Everyone contributes to the collective culture of social connection by regularly practicing these values,” the advisory states. We do so in public and private dialogue, in our schools and workplaces and “the forces that shape our society like social media and entertainment.” The advisory calls on all of us to use our voices to underscore these core values of kindness, respect, service and commitment to one another. These are the core values we embrace in the Eucharist, which calls us to be the body of Christ in the world.
We begin by letting go of our resentment, suspicion and jealously that prevents us from expressing Christ’s compassion toward refugees, the rich and everyone in between. We begin by following the advice of Deacon Kent Ferris, diocesan director of the social action office. “It’s a matter of being aware of the ongoing pain of those around us and slowing down long enough to respond with some level of compassion.”
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor