"The encyclical affirms the Pope’s enduring hope in humanity."
Entitled “Fratelli Tutti,” which means “Brothers All,” the recent encyclical of Pope Francis released during the feast of his sainted namesake, Francis of Assisi, is a straightforward reminder of how our world is losing its sense of our common humanity. It is also a fitting invitation for all to reflect on the importance of solidarity amidst the differences and divisions that exist within today’s society.
The encyclical is a radical call to examine those social structures that lead to strife and conflict to exist and persist—including capitalism, populism and the excesses of globalization—and the attitudes and values necessary in building a genuine human community.
It is not the first time that Pope Francis has delved into the political and social realities of the day, but perhaps, to date, “Fratelli Tutti” could be his strongest political statement.
In this encyclical, the Pope draws lessons from the parable of the good Samaritan—“the stranger on the road”—echoing the question which the expert of the law asked Christ himself, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Pope 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” (FT, 69). In fact, pope concludes that following the example of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks that “that we ourselves become neighbors to all” (FT, 69).
“Fratelli Tutti” speaks straightforwardly to the social, political and moral malaise of our times—including lack of truthfulness, the corrosion of civility, the deception of populism and the threat of nationalism.
In fact, Pope Francis is not afraid to ask even the difficult questions, “I sometimes wonder why, in light of this, it took so long for the Church unequivocally to condemn slavery and various forms of violence” (FT, 86). He even pointed out how “paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers” (FT, 74.)
The Pope admits the unexpected emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed not only our false securities, but also our inability of nations and peoples to work together. “For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all” (FT, 7)—and for Pope Francis, the problem is far from just superficial or structural. Instead, it is a failure that affects the very nature of human relationships. To him, it was evident that the belief of every man for himself “would prove worse than any pandemic” (FT, 36).
In “Fratelli Tutti,” the Pope takes notice that people have become intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a “permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” In fact, he mentioned how leaders are using “a strategy of ridicule” and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to “dominate and gain control.” The Pope underscored that “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others.” (FT, 15)
While he admits, “For many people today, politics is a distasteful word, often due to the mistakes, corruption and inefficiency of some politicians. There are also attempts to discredit politics, to replace it with economics or to twist it to one ideology or another”—the Pope poses the question, “Yet can our world function without politics?”
In response, Pope Francis provides a timely criticism of contemporary politics, reminding us how politics is failing the poor, and that populism—“where leaders exploit fear to attain power for their own exploit a people’s culture under an ideological banner for their own personal advantage or to continue their grip on power (FT, 154)”— does not work for the common good, but instead plunges the poorest into poverty, suffering and despair.
He points out an alternative, “a better kind of politics,” one that is motivated by charity and works to change the social conditions that deprive human dignity. He urges us to rehabilitate politics as one of the loftiest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. Politics, according to the pope, “is a force capable of inspiring new ways of approaching the problems of today’s world, of profoundly renewing structures, social organizations and legal systems” (FT 183).
The Pope had his own words directed to politicians—that they are called to serve the needs of the people; that they should work towards ambitious but realistic goals, and that they must be open to dialogue and convergence on some issues. With candor, the pope reminds political leaders that “their biggest concern should not be about a drop in the polls, but about finding effective solutions to ‘the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion’, with its baneful consequences” (FT, 188). “Amid the daily concerns of political life, the smallest, the weakest, the poorest should touch our hearts” (FT, 194)
Finally, the Pope affirms the Church’s affinity to the realities of our time. Of this, he writes, “Called to take root in every place, the Church has been present for centuries throughout the world, for that is what it means to be ‘catholic’. She can thus understand, from her own experience of grace and sin, the beauty of the invitation to universal love. Indeed, ‘all things human are our concern’” (FT, 278)
The encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” is the pope’s call to action. In his own words, he encourages us, “Each day we have to decide whether to be good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders.” (FT, 69) Despite the seemingly sad and sorry state of today’s society, the encyclical even more emphatically affirms the Pope’s enduring hope in humanity and in the promise of human solidarity.