Pope Benedict XVI gave a brief address to the city of Rome on Dec. 8 that could have easily been given to people living in the Chicago area, or any city for that matter.
It was the feast of the Immaculate Conception and he was engaging in the annual papal tradition of crowning a statue of Mary near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
In an address during the ceremony he spoke of how Mary’s presence reminds us that there is hope amid the evil, sadness and suffering often abundant in cities (You can read it here).
He said since bad news appears daily in the media we can become hardened to the evil and “in a certain way poisoned since the negative effect is never eliminated but accumulates day after day.” He told the Romans that, “The heart hardens and thoughts grow gloomy.”
Desensitization to the trials and moral struggles of others can happen here in the Chicago area as well. When we read about or watch a report on a shooting death or violence in a neighborhood not our own it is tempting to think “That doesn’t really affect me.” When we hear of a victim of domestic violence or drug addiction it is also tempting to think “It’s not my problem.”
Violence and evil is newsworthy. With the proliferation of mass media in the last decade we can read about the evil and tragedy occurring in the world anytime we want and as much as we want.
Pope Benedict said the mass media can make us feel like “spectators” to these events, which can make us think that the evil only happens to others. The people in the news stories become bodies lost to tragedy. We can lose sight of the fact that they are human beings -- someone’s father or mother, daughter or son, brother or sister or friend.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that every person is valuable, that every life has purpose and meaning. To be faithful to Christ we must resist the temptation to become hardened to the tragedy that is reported upon in news. One way to do this is to pray for the people affected.
Our actions and behaviors can make a difference in the atmosphere of a city, Pope Benedict told Rome. It may not seem like that in the city the size of Chicago, but imagine if all 9 million people in the Chicago metropolitan area did something kind for one person each day. Can you imagine the joy that would spread in ripples? What if just 10,000 Chicagoans reached out of their comfort zones and across neighborhoods to help someone in need? What if we all started praying for our neighbors?
In all of this we can turn to Mary for guidance, especially this week as we approach the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on Jan. 1. The pope says she is an excellent teacher.
“Our Lady teaches us to be open to God’s action and to see others as he sees them;” he said, “starting with the heart.”