My wife and I were blessed to be able to attend the World Meeting of Families conference in Philadelphia back in 2015 during Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Of the many talks we were able to attend that week, this talk by Professor Helen Alvaré was probably the most meaningful to me.
Professor Alvaré was talking about how the love we give and receive within the family grows and overflows into the wider world. Specifically, she spoke on how a parent’s unconditional love for their child “organically and divinely” grows into the unconditional love of strangers. She said:
“Eventually, if you have asked God day in and day out to work His will with you, you begin to see every child as if they could be your child….You won’t be able to look at the homeless, the sick, the depressed, the fatherless, without remembering how they are someone’s child or sibling or mother and then converting that co-suffering—converting your maternal and paternal selves—into action.”
In other words, the virtue of solidarity is fostered within the family. By loving my own family and suffering with them, I can learn to love and truly recognize the suffering of strangers. This comment resonated with me at the time and still resonates with me now.
Just a few weeks before this conference started, there was a picture of a little boy that was circulating online. The boy was three years old in this picture, just a little older than my eldest son, Simon. In the picture he was lying down with his knees tucked under him, his arms off to his sides, and his head full of light brown hair turned sideways. It looked just like Simon when he slept.
Except this little boy wasn’t sleeping in this picture, he was lying on a Mediterranean beach after drowning in the Aegean Sea. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and his family were refugees fleeing Syria.