In a document focused on today’s socio-economic problems, the Holy Father proposes an ideal of fraternity where all countries can be part of a “larger human family.”
By The National Catholic Register’s Ed Pentin
Pope Francis has called for a “better kind of politics,” a more “open world,” and paths of renewed encounter and dialogue in his latest social encyclical, a letter that he hopes will promote a “rebirth of a universal aspiration” toward “fraternity and social friendship.”
Titled Fratelli Tutti (Brothers All), the eight-chapter, 45,000-word document — Francis’ longest encyclical yet — delineates many of today’s socio-economic ills before proposing an ideal world of fraternity where countries are able to be part of a “larger human family.”
The encyclical, which the Pope signed on the tomb of St Francis in Assisi on 3 October, was published the following day on the 12th Century saints’s Feast.
The Pope begins in his introduction by explaining that the words Fratelli Tutti are taken from the sixth of 28 admonitions, or rules, that St Francis gave his brother friars — words, Pope Francis writes, that offered them “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.”
But he focuses in particular on St Francis’ 25th admonition — “Blessed is the brother who would love and fear his brother as much when he is far from him as he would when with him” — and re-interprets this as calling “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance.”
Noting that “wherever he went,” St Francis “sowed seeds of peace” and accompanied the “least of his brothers and sisters,” he writes that the 12th-century saint did not “wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines” but “simply spread the love of God.”
The Pope draws mostly on his previous documents and messages, the teaching of post-conciliar popes, and some references to St Thomas Aquinas. And he also regularly cites the Document on Human Fraternity that he signed with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar university, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi last year, saying the encyclical “takes up and develops some of the great themes raised in the Document.”
In a novelty for an encyclical, Francis says he also has incorporated “a number of letters, documents and considerations” received from “many individuals and groups throughout the world.”
In his introduction to Fratelli Tutti, the Pope says he does not intend the document to be a “complete teaching on fraternal love,” but rather help further “a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.” He also explains that the Covid-19 pandemic, which “unexpectedly erupted” as he was writing the encyclical, underlined the “fragmentation” and the “inability” of countries to work together.
Francis says he desires to contribute to the “rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity” and “brotherhood” between all men and women. “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all,” the Pope writes.
Negative Contemporary Trends
In Chapter One, titled Dark Clouds Over a Closed World, a bleak picture is painted of today’s world which, contrary to the “firm conviction” of such historical figures as the European Union’s founders who favored integration, a “certain regression” has taken place. The Pope notes the rise of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” in some countries, and “new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense.”
With a focus almost entirely on socio-political issues, the chapter goes on to note “we are more alone than ever” in a world of “limitless consumerism” and “empty individualism” where there is a “growing loss of the sense of history” and a “kind of deconstructionism.”
He notes “hyperbole, extremism and polarisation” that have become political tools in many countries, and a “political life” without “healthy debates” and “long-term plans” but rather “slick marketing techniques aimed at discrediting others.”
The Pope states that “we are growing ever more distant from one another” and that voices “raised in defense of the environment are silenced and ridiculed.” While the word abortion is not used in the document, Francis returns to his previously expressed concerns about a “throwaway society” where, he says, the unborn and the elderly are “no longer needed” and other kinds of wastefulness proliferate, “which is deplorable in the extreme.”
He speaks against increasing wealth inequalities, calls for women to possess “the same dignity and identical rights as men,” and draws attention to the scourge of human trafficking, “war, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution.” He repeats that these “situations of violence” now constitute a “piecemeal” third world war.
The Pope warns against the “temptation to build a culture of walls,” notes that the sense of belonging to a “single human family is fading” and that the search for justice and peace “seems an outdated utopia,” replaced by a “globalized indifference.”
Turning to Covid-19, he notes that the market did not keep “everything secure.” The pandemic forced people to recover concern for each other, but he warns that individualist consumerism could “rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all” that would be “worse than any pandemic.”
Francis criticises “certain populist political regimes” that prevent migrants entering at all costs, and lead to “a xenophobic mentality.”
He then moves onto today’s digital culture, criticizing “constant surveillance,” campaigns of “hatred and destruction,” and “digital relationships,” saying it is “not enough to build bridges” and that digital technology is removing people from reality. Building fraternity, the Pope writes, depends on “authentic encounters.”
The Good Samaritan’s Example
In Chapter Two, called A stranger on the road, the Pope gives his own exegesis on the parable of Good Samaritan, emphasizing that an unhealthy society turns its back on suffering and is “illiterate” in caring for the frail and vulnerable. He stresses that all are called to becomes neighbors to others like the Good Samaritan, to give time as well as resources, and overcome prejudices, personal interests, historic and cultural barriers.
The Pope also criticises those who believe worship of God is enough and are untrue to what his faith demands of them, and he singles out those who “manipulate and cheat society” and “live off” welfare. He also stresses the importance of recognising Christ in the abandoned or excluded and says he “sometimes wonders why it took so long for the Church unequivocally to condemn slavery and various forms of violence.”
Chapter Three, entitled Envisaging and engendering an open world, is about going “‘outside’ the self” in order to find “a fuller existence in another,” opening ourselves up to the other according to the dynamism of charity which can lead to “universal fulfilment.” In this context, the Pope speaks against racism as a “virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.” He also draws attention to people with disabilities who can feel like “hidden exiles” in society.
The Pope says he is not proposing a “one-dimensional” model of globalization that seeks to eliminate differences, but is advocating that the human family must learn to “live together in harmony and peace.” He often argues for equality in the encyclical, which, he says, is not achieved by an “abstract proclamation” that all are equal but is the result of the “conscious and careful cultivation of fraternity.” He also distinguishes between those born into “economically stable families” who need only “claim their freedom” and those where this does not apply such as those born in poverty, the disabled, or lacking those lacking adequate healthcare.
The Pope also argues that “rights have no borders,” calling for ethics in international relations, and drawing attention to the burden of debt on poor countries. He says that the “feast of universal fraternity” will only be celebrated when our socio-economic system no longer produces “a single victim” or casts them aside, and when all have their “basic needs” catered for, enabling them to give the best of themselves. He also underlines the importance of solidarity and says differences in colour, religion, talent and birthplace “cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all.”
He also urges the “right to private property” be accompanied by the “prior principle” of “subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.”
Focus on Migration
Much of the encyclical is dedicated to migration including the entire fourth chapter, titled A heart open to the whole world. A subchapter is titled “without borders.” After recalling the hardships migrants face, he calls for a concept of “full citizenship” that rejects discriminatory use of the term minorities. Others who are different from us are a gift, the Pope insists, and the whole is more than the sum of its single parts.
He also criticises “narrow forms of nationalism,” which he says are unable to grasp “fraternal gratuitousness.” Closing doors to others in the hopes of being better protected leads to the “simplistic belief that the poor are dangerous and useless,” he says, “while the powerful are generous benefactors.” Other cultures, he adds, “are not ‘enemies’ from which we need to protect ourselves.”
Chapter Five is dedicated to A better kind of politics in which Francis criticizes populism for exploiting people, polarizing an already divided society, and fomenting selfishness in order to increase its own popularity. A better politics, he says, is one that offers and protects work, and seeks opportunity for all. “The biggest issue is employment,” he says. Francis makes a strong appeal to end human trafficking and says hunger is “criminal” because food is “an inalienable right.” He calls for reform of the United Nations and calls for a rejection of corruption, inefficiency, the malign use of power and lack of respect for laws. The UN must “promote the force of law than the law of force,” he says.
The Pope warns against concupiscence — the “proclivity to selfishness” — and financial speculation that “continues to wreak havoc.” The pandemic, he says, has shown “not everything can be resolved by market freedom” and human dignity must be “back at the center.” Good politics, he says, looks to build communities and hears all opinions. It is not about “how many people endorsed me?” or “how many voted for me?” but such questions as “how much love did I put into my work?” and “what real bonds did I create?”
Dialogue, Friendship and Encounter
In Chapter Six, called Dialogue and friendship in society, the Pope underlines the importance of the “miracle of kindness,” “true dialogue” and the “art of encounter.” He says that without universal principles and moral norms that prohibit intrinsic evil, laws become merely arbitrary impositions.
The seventh chapter, titled Paths of renewed encounter, underlines that peace is dependent on truth, justice and mercy. He says peace-building is a “never-ending task” and that loving an oppressor means helping him to change and not allowing the oppression to continue. Also forgiveness does not mean impunity but renouncing the destructive power of evil and the desire for revenge. War can no longer be seen as solution, he adds, because its risks outweigh its supposed benefits. For this reason, he believes it is “very difficult” nowadays to speak of the possibility of a “just war.”
The Pope reiterates his belief that the death penalty is “inadmissible,” adding “there can be no stepping back from this position” and calling for its abolition worldwide. He says “fear and resentment” can easily lead to punishment being seen in a “vindictive and even cruel way” rather than as a process of integration and healing.
He says “fear and resentment” can easily lead to punishment being seen in a “vindictive and even cruel way” rather than as a process of integration and healing
In Chapter Eight, Religions at the service of fraternity in our world, the Pope holds up interreligious dialogue as a way to bring “friendship, peace and harmony,” adding that without “openness to the Father of all,” fraternity cannot be achieved. The root of modern totalitarianism, the Pope says, is the “denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person” and he teaches that violence “has no basis in religious convictions, but rather in their deformities.”
But he stresses that dialogue of any kind does not involve the “watering down or concealing of our deepest convictions.” Sincere and humble worship of God, he adds, “bears fruit not in discrimination, hatred and violence, but in respect for the sacredness of life.”
Sources of Inspiration
The Pope closes the encyclical by saying he felt inspired not only by St Francis of Assisi but also non-Catholics such as “Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” He also holds up Blessed Charles de Foucauld who prayed that he be “the brother of all,” something he achieved, the Pope writes, by “identifying with the least.”
The encyclical closes with two prayers, one “to the Creator” and the other an “Ecumenical Christian Prayer,” offered by the Holy Father so that the heart of mankind may harbor “a spirit of fraternity.”
Edward Pentin is globally-known reporter specialising in the Catholic Church. He began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register, a US-based national Catholic newspaper.