Stating as a 4 year old child just before being dropped off at school that ‘I love everybody’, wishing at that time I had a fairylike magical stick to make sure everyone can lead a flourishing life, my life has gradually disclosed to me my cosmopolitanism. In the meantime, I realize that love has many meanings – luckily, and sometimes to show respect is the best we can do. On the other hand, the dream of human flourishing for all never went away.
Lately, I struggle with being a cosmopolitan in our divided world, with many inequalities and even a war raging at our backdoor. It happened a few times this week. Last week, we were having lunch with friends – an international couple as she is Lithuanian and he is Belgian. Talking about her family, we heard that her brother has sold his house, in order to have liquid money in case their young family has to flee the country if the war would spill over into her homeland. While we were enjoying our wine and friendship, the thought stuck with me.
A few days later, I had a similar experience. I was driving in an avenue of beautiful blossoming Japanese cherry trees, some of whose blossoms had already been released by the wind. The road surface was brilliantly strewn with pink leaves under the sunlight. Meanwhile on the radio there was an interview with a former correspondent of Russia about Ukraine and the situation in Mariupol. The correspondent told how several sources confirm that many inhabitants of Mariupol have been “delocalised” to the East of Russia, the inhospitable Siberia. As her voice and tone pointed out, the journalist who interviewed him was clearly also dismayed, because we did not know this news yet. Both cautiously mentioned the word ‘deportation’, but without knowing exactly how many people were involved. It seemed so surreal: driving in the sunlight of spring, among the beautiful pink blossoms on the way to another appointment, while the news left me stunned. Several shivers ran over my body. Talk about ‘carnal hermeneutics.’ Could it be true? If so, can we do anything about it or is history repeating itself? And perhaps even more important: do we want to do something about it? Are we becoming silent accomplices of another human disaster? Who are these ‘we’ anyway? And above all: what is my role in that ‘we’? Or ‘our’ role as ethicists?
These questions can really turn my thinking upside down: how to reconcile what I teach my students about Catholic social thought’s universal and inclusive perspective (though not perfect as we realize) and its values of human flourishing, solidarity and justice on the one hand and what I live in daily personal and professional life on the other. As much as I feel encouraged and inspired by some of the thoughts of Pope Francis, what does it mean to see from the periphery, to take our common vulnerability as a point of departure and live the culture of encounter?
Confronted with such huge issues, like a war thousands of kilometers away from us but close enough to care, what can we do? What should we do? What should our priority be? Where should we focus on? Is it to make the best of the situation we are in, aware of its privileges, and trying to use them for the common good? But what does that mean concretely? Is it enough to try to financially support organizations who can locally help people and to indicate you would be happy to help a minor refugee? Is it being ‘in touch’ with ourselves, so that we ‘feel’ when our body speaks to reveal our indignation and sense of solidarity? Is it enough to try to share this with students and family?
I am quite convinced it is not enough. But as I continue my struggle, both at a reflective and embodied level, I am struck by what children pick up from this – through their new channels and the examples they see. Like last Sunday. Our family was exploring a new pilgrimage route to our home town which is the biggest pilgrimage place in Belgium. After the walk, we received a free candle to devote it to our Lady. In the chapel where weekly hundreds of candles are burning, she is referred to as the Queen of families, Comforter of the grieved and Regina Pacis – Queen of Peace. Our ten years old son and his friend thoughtfully chose the latter. “A prayer for the people in Ukraine where there is war, and for the Russians who have nothing to do with this and do not want this war but are undergoing it all the same.”
So maybe it is not enough. But maybe it is a good start, acknowledging the struggle and sharing our felt indignation and powerlessness for what seems too much for us to handle?
 See e.g. Pope Francis, Let us dream: The Path to a Better Future, ed. A. Ivereigh, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020.