In his eight-chapter Encyclical, Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis engages the social and ethical dilemmas and sicknesses that face the world in our time. In a two-part series, I want to summarize the compassionate teachings found within the document.
Fraternity and social friendship are the vehicles through which Pope Francis aims to build a better, more just and peaceful world, with the contribution of all--both individuals and institutions. Francis includes a resounding ‘no’ to war and to globalized indifference.
Pope Francis describes Fratelli tutti as a “Social Encyclical” which borrows the title from the Admonitions of Saint Francis of Assisi, who used these words to “address his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” In a world that thumps the Bible but fails to heed the instructions of the Savior, the Encyclical aims to promote a universal aspiration toward fraternity and social friendship. In the background of the Encyclical is the COVID-19 pandemic which, Francis reveals, “unexpectedly erupted” as he “was writing this letter.” But the global health emergency has helped demonstrate that “no one can face life in isolation” and that the time has truly come to “dream, then, as a single human family” in which we are “brothers and sisters all.”
Chapter One: dark clouds cover the world
Chapter One is entitled “Dark Clouds over a Closed World.” Here, Francis discusses the many distortions of our time, such as, the manipulation and deformation of concepts such as democracy, freedom, justice; the loss of the meaning of the social community and history; selfishness and indifference toward the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and the culture of waste; unemployment, racism, poverty; the disparity of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjugated and then forced to abort. Francis also sounds a call against a “culture of walls.”
Chapter Two: strangers on the road
But amidst the darkness, Fratelli tutti responds with a bright shining example, a beacon of hope—the Good Samaritan. Chapter Two is called “A Stranger on the Road” and is dedicated to that exemplary figure. Francis says that, in an unhealthy society that turns its back on the suffering, that is illiterate in caring for the weak and vulnerable, we are all called to become neighbors to others. We are to overcome personal interests, historic and cultural barriers, and our own prejudices. Francis calls us co-responsible in creating a society that is able to embrace, integrate, and edify those who have fallen and are suffering.
“We were made for love,” the Pope adds, particularly exhorting Christians to recognize Christ in the face of every excluded person.
Chapter Three: vision of an open world
Francis continues regarding the capacity to love according to “a universal dimension” in the third chapter, “Envisioning and Creating an Open World.” In this beautiful chapter, Francis encourages and exhorts us to go “outside the self” in order to find “a fuller existence in another,” opening ourselves up to one another according to the activity of love which makes us tend toward “universal fulfilment.” The Encyclical recalls the spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love, which always “takes first place” and leads us to seek better for the life of the other, far from all selfishness.
The right to live with dignity cannot be denied to anyone, Francis again enjoins and, since rights have no borders, no one can remain excluded, regardless of where they are born. In this perspective, Francis also calls us to consider “an ethics of international relations” because every country also belongs to foreigners and the goods of the territory cannot be denied to those who are in need and come from another place. Thus, the natural right to private property will be secondary to the principal of the universal destination of created goods.
Chapter Four: heart open to the world
To the theme of migration, Chapter Four is called, “A Heart Open to the Whole World.” With their lives “at stake”, fleeing from war, persecution, natural catastrophes, human trafficking, torn from their homes and homelands, migrants are to be welcomed, protected, supported and integrated. We need to respect the right to seek a better life elsewhere. In receiving countries, the right balance will be between the protection of citizens' rights and the guarantee of welcome and assistance for migrants. Specifically, the Pope points to several “indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises.” Those steps are: to increase and simplify the granting of visas, to open humanitarian corridors, to assure lodging, security and essential services, to offer opportunities for employment and training, to favor family reunification, to protect minors, and to guarantee religious freedom. What is needed above all – the document reads – is global oversight, an international collaboration for migration which encompasses and implements long-term planning, going beyond single emergencies, on behalf of the supportive development of all peoples.
How many “good Christians” were lost in that final chapter, I wonder. In an era wherein Nationalism, under the guise of Patriotism, supplants compassion for human dignity and decency, the words of Francis echo like Gabriel’s trumpet to those who want to follow the teachings of Christ. Or who simply want to be people of Good Will.
[Next week: Part 2]
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