Is Francis Telling Anything Special in Fratelli Tutti?
Fraternity, reconciliation, solidarity, peace, and interconnectedness
Pope Francis released his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (Dear brothers and sisters)* on 4th October. I feel that the encyclical is also a fruit of his convictions and experiences. We should read it (or pray with it) more like a text which has the power to transform us rather than as a brilliantly written piece. Before getting into some details, I would like to start with some of my favorite (sometimes really challenging too) quotes.
- Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still “illiterate” when it comes to accompanying, caring for, and supporting the frailest and vulnerable members of our developed societies. (FT, 64 which means number 64 in Fratelli Tutti. This is the most powerful, real, and challenging quote for me)
- 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 (FT, 69).
- Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness, and even, in some cases, ‘suffers’ that closeness and tries to help them. (FT, 115)
- The idea of social policies being a policy for the poor, but never with the poor and never of the poor, much less part of a project that reunites peoples. (FT, 169)
- It is moving to see forgiveness shown by those who are able to leave behind the harm they suffered, but it is also humanly understandable in the case of those who cannot. (FT, 246, This is one of the most human and non-judgemental lines for me)
- For when the good of others is at stake, good intentions are not enough. Concrete efforts must be made to bring about whatever they and their
nations need for the sake of their development. (FT, 185)
Now let's try to have a surface level glance over the encyclical. Though I read it fully, I still didn’t do it so well to do a summary. I will mention some of the ideas that inspired me.
- Similarity with Laudato Si: Both the encyclicals spoke of the great theme of interconnectedness. Both have Francis of Assisi as the premier inspiration, though Pope has also been inspired by many others (People of various types of beliefs). When Laudato Si started with quotes from the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, Fratelli Tutti starts with the joint statement of Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb at Abudabhi. When the dignity of each human person is the central point in Fratelli Tutti, Laudato Si speaks of the inherent value of each creation.
- What are the most commonly occurring words? Fraternity, charity, reconciliation, politics, good samaritan, poor, poverty, etc. That gives an idea about the encyclical.
- There are eight chapters in the encyclical. But two of them that captured my attention are one on the good samaritan (very very challenging) and one of politics.
- Pope Francis appreciates many different kinds of workers, activists, and people involved in the creation of fraternity and social friendships. He appreciates popular movements too.
- Pope Francis is sure that a transformation is required (not customary changes). When he invited a conversion from the technocratic paradigm to a paradigm of integral ecology in Laudato Si, here the invitation is from a neo-liberal or narrow nationalistic or a type of globalization favoring a few to a paradigm of fraternity.
- He reminds us that the great economic depression of 2008 was a warning for us, but we didn’t learn from it. Many of the instances of Covid-19 points to the throwaway culture. He sees the pandemic as an invitation (both environmental and social) to transform.
- He attacks strongly a form of globalization (which makes us neighbors and not brothers), populism, and narrow nationalism (we have enough examples in the world today) and neo-liberalism favouring only a few. This strong political tone is probably surprising for many. He is emphatically speaking against all forms of war and the death penalty. He speaks of the urgent need to welcome refugees and creating conditions in the countries that prevent people from becoming refugees.
- He also speaks of the need to combine global (to go beyond self and pointing to outside) and local (rootedness). Many people do face the tragedy of not belonging anywhere, and it is mainly true with many migrants and refugees. The historical consciousness and need to preserve it is a connected time that we are 1) rooted and 2) can learn from the mistakes of history.
- He constantly challenges the tendency of Christian communities to be closed. Closed couples, narrow groups, and all such narrow mentalities which go against Charity are not spared. Another aspect could be a very practical critique against maintaining a consumerist lifestyle for all, which is not possible and this is a natural cause for violence. In Laudato Si, he critiqued the same lifestyle too.
- Fraternity forms the basis for equality and liberty. If not, equality remains a theoretical concept and liberty becomes individualism. In such a system we no longer have neighbors, but associates or partners. But in the background of fraternity, option for the poor can really become ‘friendship with the poor’.
- Reconciliation and forgiveness include justice and is not an invitation to forget. Penitential memory and social forgiveness are symbols worth mentioning in this direction.
- Two of the most beautiful invitations from Pope are… 1)invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. 2)Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as “a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good” (FT 55;180)
- Pope Francis invites us to accept the differences and uniqueness of the people. This is not a theoretical consideration, but it needs patience. In the case of refugees, they need to be integrated into the system, respecting their uniqueness? He constantly uses the image of the polyhedron to drive home the point of different persons and visions contributing to peace and development.
He raises a few self-critical (or even for the self-examination of the church) remarks.
1. One detail about the passers-by does stand out: they were religious, devoted to the worship of God: a priest and a Levite. This detail should not be overlooked. It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. (FT, 74)
2. I sometimes wonder why it took so long for the Church unequivocally to condemn slavery and various forms of violence. Today, with our developed spirituality and theology, we have no excuses. Still, 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. (FT, 86)
3. We no longer have common horizons that unite us; indeed, the first victim of every war is “the human family’s innate vocation to the fraternity”. (FT, 26)
4. Fraternity and Solidarity should be taught (in homes and in schools). A great question is to reflect on our method of running educational institutions. “We should not expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes.” (FT, 77)
*I know that the literal translation of Fratelli Tutti is dear brothers. And he wants to use the exact quote of Francis of Assisi, which captures the essentials of fraternity. It is intended for all people of goodwill. This could be a point of discussion, but I am not doing it here.