“I invite everyone to renewed hope” Pope Francis writes in his new encyclical letter “Fratelli Tutti,” addressed to his “brothers and sisters all” in this “wounded world” brought to its knees by the coronavirus pandemic and other crises, including poverty, racism and violence. The pope signed the encyclical letter at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, on Oct. 3, after celebrating Mass there.
In the encyclical letter, whose English-language version will be titled “Fratelli tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” Francis suggests ways in which we can build a more just, peaceful world, one in which we recognize each other as brothers and sisters of one human family.
It is significant that the pope traveled to Assisi to sign the social encyclical at the tomb of St. Francis. The pope noted that the saint used the phrase “Fratelli Tutti” as he “addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” He said the saint inspired him to write the encyclical “Laudato Si’” in 2015, in addition to this new letter “devoted to fraternity and social friendship.”
St. Francis inspired the pope to write the encyclical “Laudato Si’” in 2015, in addition to this new letter “devoted to fraternity and social friendship.”
Pope Francis also said that the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom he signed “The Document on Human Fraternity” in Abu Dhabi on Feb. 4, 2019, encouraged him in this enterprise, “which takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in that document.” He also drew inspiration from Blessed Charles de Foucauld, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, and “many other brothers and sisters who are not Catholics.”
He wrote “Fratelli Tutti” from a “Christian perspective,” he said, but intended it also “as an invitation to dialogue among all people.” The pope said it does not claim “to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman.”
Francis revealed that he was already working on the text when the Covid-19 pandemic “unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities,” as well as the inability of various countries to work together.
The pope said the 90-page encyclical letter “brings together” many statements he has made during the past seven years on the theme of human fraternity and social friendship. Indeed, when one reads the encyclical, much of it seems familiar, but it has been enriched by profound new insights, especially in the second chapter, titled “A Stranger on the Road.”
In this chapter, Francis looks at our contemporary world through the lens of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, which “eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan.”
“The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project.”
Francis writes, “The parable is clear and straightforward, yet it also evokes the interior struggle that each of us experiences as we gradually come to know ourselves through our relationships with our brothers and sisters. Sooner or later, we will all encounter a person who is suffering. Today there are more and more of them. The decision to include or exclude those lying wounded along the roadside can serve as a criterion for judging every economic, political, social and religious project.”
Moreover, he writes, “For Christians, the words of Jesus have an even deeper meaning. They compel us to recognize Christ himself in each of our abandoned or excluded brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:40.45).”
Francis concludes the chapter by noting that “still today, there are those who appear to feel encouraged or at least permitted by their faith to support varieties of narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different.” But, he said, “Faith, and the humanism it inspires, must maintain a critical sense in the face of these tendencies, and prompt an immediate response whenever they rear their head.”
“Dark clouds” from aggression and isolation
In the first of the encyclical’s eight chapters, “Dark Clouds Over a Closed World,” Francis highlights “certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity.” He notes the re-emergence of ancient conflicts, the rise of “a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and “new forms of cultural colonization.” He laments that “political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of ‘divide and conquer.’”
Francis also returns to his longtime theme of “a throwaway culture” that “finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep re-emerging.”
Turning to the persistence of poverty, Francis writes that “while one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon.” Moreover, our world “is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men.”
He attributes much violence to the fact that “we no longer have common horizons that unite us.” Indeed, he adds, “in today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
“The sense of belonging to a single human family is fading.... What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
Francis writes that “the culture of encounter,” as opposed to isolation and the building of walls, can restore hope and bring about renewal. However, modern methods of communication have brought “digital campaigns of hatred and destruction” and a “social aggression” that “has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices.” He notes that “even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”
Francis recalls that the Covid-19 pandemic “momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” He expresses the hope that, “God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those,’ but only ‘us’.”
“All saved together or no one is saved”
In Chapter 3, Francis emphasizes the value of “solidarity” and suggests “re-envisaging the social role of property.” Significantly, he declares that “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” He calls for “a new way of thinking” about “the foreign debt” of poor countries.
Chapter 4 addresses migration and the need for creative responses to people fleeing “grave humanitarian crises.” Calling for greater international cooperation, Francis writes, “we need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.”
Francis emphasizes the need for “a better kind of politics” in Chapter 5, writing that it should be centred on human dignity and the common good. Turning to economics, he writes that “the marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem,” as the current pandemic has shown. Moreover, the “trickle-down” theory of neo-liberal economics “does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.” Francis writes that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 “provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles,” but “the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.”
“When one part of society exploits all that the world has to offer, acting as if the poor did not exist, there will eventually be consequences.”
Because “the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tend to prevail over the political,” Francis also concludes that “it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions,” including those dealing with international finance.
In the sixth chapter on “Dialogue and Friendship in Society,” Francis writes, “a country flourishes when constructive dialogue occurs between its many cultural components.” He warns that “when one part of society exploits all that the world has to offer, acting as if the poor did not exist, there will eventually be consequences. Sooner or later, ignoring the existence and rights of others will erupt in some form of violence, often when least expected.”
Renewing a commitment to peace
In Chapter 7, Pope Francis highlights “the need for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.”
He writes, “every peace process requires enduring commitment. It is a patient effort to seek truth and justice, to honour the memory of victims and to open the way, step by step, to a shared hope stronger than the desire for vengeance.” He cites examples of this process in South Africa, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
On the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation, Francis writes that “forgetting is never the answer” and cites the Holocaust, as well as the use of atomic weapons, the slave trade and “ethnic killings” as examples of “historical events that make us ashamed of our humanity.”
Calling for the resolution of conflicts through negotiation and the United Nations Charter, he warns that military aggression is rationalized with “all sorts of allegedly humanitarian, defensive or precautionary excuses.” But because of the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’. ” Following this theme, Francis also repeats his call for the elimination of nuclear weapons, calling this a “moral imperative.”
He also restates his magisterial teaching that the death penalty is “inadmissible” and said the Catholic church “is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide.”
In the last chapter on “Religions at the Service of Fraternity in the World,” Francis writes that “the different religions, based on their respect for each human person as a creature called to be a child of God, contribute significantly to building fraternity and defending justice in society.” Quoting the bishops of India, he writes, “the goal of dialogue [between the different religions] is to establish friendship, peace and harmony, and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love”.
Pope Francis writes that “while others drink from other sources, for us the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” He concludes by saying, “We Christians ask that, in those countries where we are a minority, we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority.” Indeed, he writes, “One fundamental human right must not be forgotten in the journey towards fraternity and peace. It is religious freedom for believers of all religions.”