Solidarity as a Christian virtue
Having sketched the central place that solidarity has in any healthy society, John Paul goes on to claim solidarity as a characteristic Christian virtue, closely allied to charity (the theme, be it remembered, of Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical). The Christian sees the neighbour not only as an autonomous human being with rights and fundamental equality but as the living image of God the Father, redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit. Christian solidarity thus ought to go further, higher, faster than its secular equivalent: even the enemy must be loved “with the same love with which the Lord loves him or her”, which ultimately means a willingness to lay down our lives for him or her (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis –“Social Concern” (1987), paragraph 40).
The world is (or should be!) seen differently by the Christian, as a sacrament of God. The believer’s rationale for living in solidarity is primarily theological, and not simply the practical business of sharing a crowded and fragile planet. Both the worth of the individual and the unity of the human species are inalienable because they are founded in the Creator. The Christian understands each person (and the whole of Creation, we might add) as made for communion, for a sharing in the life of the Trinity. So actions of solidarity are part of the realisation of the divine plan and become sacraments of salvation, staging posts along the way.
Many saints (among whom JPII names specifically Peter Claver, who for 30 years ministered to the African slaves shipped to Cartagena in Colombia, and Maximilian Kolbe, giving his life to save another in Auschwitz) give heroic examples of solidarity, he reminds us. Mother Teresa of Calcutta might now be added to that list as perhaps the greatest witness of all to self-giving solidarity. The fact that her recently released correspondence has revealed something of the personal cost that such a life involved makes it the more striking. So saints are another possible ‘way in’ with young people to talk about solidarity, perhaps.