"Big Four" Highlights


Bridges for Fraternity

A papal proposal to millennials

By Jason Godin

During the final stage of his apostolic journey to Sarajevo last month, Pope Francis answered the yearning of his youthful audience for a peace message by asking them to consider bridges, particularly the proverbial ones found in their relations with others.

“When a bridge is not used to go toward another person, but is closed off,” the Holy Father observed, “it leads to the ruin of a city, the destruction of existence.”

Calling for honesty and coherence in their thoughts, feelings and actions, Francis concluded: “Be united, build bridges, but also let yourselves cross the bridges that you build. This is brotherhood.”

Yet again, it seems to me, the Bishop of Rome raised critical points that hit home with millennials, the millions of men and women around the world born between 1981 and 1996. Bridges are universal, man-made, constructed with many parts. The ones that endure are anchored at two ends, connected by a series of towers and cables, grounded with foundations plunged far below the deck surface into unseen depths. Such structures are a sum of parts subject to strong, sustained stresses. They require frequent inspection; for if not checked regularly, they’re susceptible to structural failure and collapse.

Millennial relationships – and the sense of fraternity that flows from them – are forged, fostered and verified in ways very similar to bridges. Many times they’re found in the virtual world, made and maintained in real-time, put to the test constantly in an online urgency that always says now.

They start with one person reaching out to another with a friend or follower request on a social media platform. A series of status updates or a steady supply of short tweets – usually including hyperlinks to tagged photos or streaming videos – nurture them. If such exchanges contain an amount of intimate detail too alarming, they unleash emotional forces that damage. Ultimately, if neglected long enough by one or both parties, online bridges fall apart and end.

The Catholic Church has some time-tested insight into this new media culture, based on the Ten Commandments telling us not to steal a person’s good name, not to bear false witness against others, not to lust, covet or do anything harmful to your neighbor or his goods. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls on the users of communications media to “show concern for respect and restraint” by building a society that seeks “freedom from widespread eroticism” and “avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion” (2525). The Church’s media insights, in short, call for a campaign for greater human dignity. Pope Francis told his young listeners in Bosnia and Herzegovina that they could help advance this campaign by building and using respectful relationship links among themselves.  

Throughout history humanity has built bridges to provide passage over natural obstacles. Their designs have depended on terrain, materials, function and funding. When completed, they become an iconic staple to a city skyline – such as the Golden Gate Bridge, London’s Tower Bridge or Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Today, especially for millennials, memorable bridges are increasingly taking a virtual form. More fleeting perhaps than their counterparts in the real world, they nonetheless evoke ties that push, pull and twist at the hearts of those they connect. Pope Francis, the most popular Catholic figure for millennials, knows these facts and, with his signature tact, proposes that people start making them bridges for fraternity.   

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.