Towards another world of fraternity and social friendship

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On Sunday 4 october Pope Francis published his long-awaited new Encyclical “Fratelli tutti”. The title is a literal quotation from Saint Francis of Assisi, who addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. It is a call to love others as brothers and sisters, even when they are far from us; it is a call to open fraternity, to recognizing and loving every person with a love without borders; it is a call to encounter others in a way that is capable of overcoming all distance and every temptation to engage in disputes, impositions, or submissions. It is an invitation in continuation of his groundbreaking Encyclical Laudato sí from 2015 to contribute to a new civilization of love, justice, solidarity and care for our common home.

As the Pope was writing this Encycical the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. It would mean denying reality if the only lesson to be learned of it was the need to improve what we are already doing. The pain, uncertainty and fear brought on by the pandemic made it all the more urgent to rethink “our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of life”. The pandemic has made evident that everything is connected: “no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.”

The first chapter of the Encyclical describes the dark clouds over a closed world; these clouds extend to all parts of the world, hindering the development of universal fraternity; they are the circumstances that leave many people wounded by the roadside, discarded and rejected. The clouds plunge humanity into confusion, isolation, and desolation. In the second chapter the Pope offers a catechesis of the parable of the Good Samaritan as a ray of light in the darkness. When we come upon an injured stranger on the road, we can assume one of two attitudes: we can pass by or we can stop to help. The type of person we are and the type of political, social or religious group we belong to will be defined by whether we include or exclude the injured stranger.

God is universal love, and as long as we are part of that love and share in it, we are called to universal fraternity, which is openness to all. There are no “others”, no “them,” there is only “us”. We want, with God and in God, an open world (Chapter 3), a world without walls, without borders, without people rejected, without strangers. To achieve this world, we must have an open heart (Chapter 4). We need to experience social friendship, seek what is morally good, and practice a social ethic because we know we are part of a universal fraternity. We are called to solidarity, encounter, and gratuitousness.

To create an open world with an open heart, it is necessary to engage in politics, and a better kind of politics (Chapter 5) is essential. Politics for the common and universal good. Politics that is “popular” because it is for and with the people. It is politics with social charity that seeks human dignity. The politics of men and women who practice political love by integrating the economy with the social and cultural fabric into a consistent and life-giving human project.

Knowing how to dialogue is the way to open the world and build social friendship (Chapter 6) which manifests an open heart and provides the basis for a better politics. Dialogue seeks and respects the truth. Dialogue gives rise to the culture of encounter, which becomes a way of life, a passionate desire. Whoever dialogues is generous, recognizing and respecting the other.

But it is not enough just to engage in encounter. We have to face the reality of the injuries of past mis-encounters, and so we have to establish and walk the paths of re-encounter (Chapter 7). We need to heal the wounds, which requires seeking and offering forgiveness. To forgive is not to forget. We need to be daring and start from the truth—the recognition of historical truth—which is the inseparable companion of justice and mercy. All this is indispensable for advancing towards peace. Conflict is inevitable on the road to peace, but violence is inadmissible. That is why war is a recourse that must be rejected, and nuclear weapons and the death penalty must be eliminated.

The different religions of the world recognize human beings as God’s creatures. As creatures, we are in a relationship of fraternity. The religions are called to the service of fraternity in the world (Chapter 8). In dialogue and with hearts open to the world, we can establish social friendship and fraternity. In our openness to the Father of all, we recognize our universal condition as brothers and sisters. For Christians, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is what inspires our actions and commitments.

This Encyclical addressed to all men and women of good will confirms Pope Francis´ spiritual and moral leadership.  Faithful to the the Second Vatican Council he presents a Church serving the unity of humanity and promoting justice and peace. Faced with those injured by the shadows of a closed world and still lying by the roadside, Pope Francis invites to make our own the world’s desire for fraternity, starting with the recognition that we are “Fratelli tutti”, brothers and sisters all.

Martin Maier SJ, JESC