Brothers and sisters all: Let's build hope!

By Mario J. Paredes

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On October 3, 2020, on the eve of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi and in the eighth year of his Pontificate, Pope Francis presented, to the Catholic faithful of the entire world and all men and women of good will, his third Encyclical Letter on FRATERNITY AND SOCIAL FRIENDSHIP, with the title “FRATELLI TUTTI” (Brothers and Sisters All), words so often spoken by the "Poverello" of Assisi.
With these two words, the title of the encyclical, Pope Francis, like Francis of Assisi, calls for a “fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.” (1)

Although this document logically draws from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and has as its primary audience the faithful of the Catholic Church, which is guided by it, it gains its importance, in the first place, from the worldly authority of this spiritual leader who is recognized by all and in all areas of humanity and, furthermore, from the universal coverage of all the issues that Pope Francis encounters and addresses.

 

On that matter, he himself says: “Although I have written it from the Christian convictions that inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.” (6). And not forgetting the historical and global context of the pandemic through which we are suffering, Francis tells us that “As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all....” (7)

 

On the other hand, it is an Encyclical through which Francis makes his social thought and worldview completely clear and defined: a world—in which, according to the Good News that is Jesus Christ, we live in universal brotherhood, with signs of brotherly love, concrete and committed, to the very end, like the Good Samaritan of the Gospel, who is Jesus himself.

 

This Pontifical Document has engendered such interest that it is already beginning to be equated with Encyclical Letters as important to the concert of the Nations as the Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII or the Populorum Progressio of Paul VI. It is beginning to be ranked among the most important papal documents through which the Church—as Mother and teacher with her social doctrine and always inspired by the deeds and words of the Nazarene—looks to serve and enlighten our entire coexistence as humans, our social institutions, and our development as peoples and nations.

 

Regarding the purpose of the Encyclical, Francis himself says that its pages “do not claim to offer a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman” (6). Because, the Pope says: “It is my desire that, in this our time, by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. Fraternity between all men and women. ‘Here we have a splendid secret that shows us how to dream and to turn our life into a wonderful adventure. No one can face life in isolation... We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together... By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.’”

 

And, for this purpose, through eight chapters and 287 paragraphs, Francis questions us on the reality of every human being and on the local and worldwide reality that we experience today, living in the “DARK CLOUDS OVER A CLOSED WORLD” (Chapter One). That is, he analyzes “certain trends in our world that hinder the development of universal fraternity” (9), such as the dreams of progress and humanity that have been “shattered,” conflicts—especially bellicose conflicts—fears and pessimism about the future, the lack of “historical consciousness” and of a universal plan for everyone, the “throwaway world” that manifests itself especially in the impoverishment of large majorities, human rights violations, globalization and social progress that neither reach nor benefit all equally, pandemics and other great scourges, the tragedy of the migratory movements of great masses of people, the problems of telecommunications that dehumanize, isolate, and create loneliness, a lack of dialogue and personal connection to the truth and the “shameless aggression” of consumerism, etc.

 

But, perhaps Francis’ most profound criticism in this Letter is made against the economic-political- social system of Neoliberal Capitalism and its market system about which he says: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem ... Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes. Neoliberalism simply reproduces itself by resorting to the magic theories of “spillover” or “trickle”—without using the name—as the only solution to societal problems. There is little appreciation of the fact that the alleged “spillover” does not resolve the inequality that gives rise to new forms of violence threatening the fabric of society.”

 

But, the Pope says, that despite these dense shadows that should not be ignored, he wants to “take up and discuss many new paths of hope. For God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family. The recent pandemic enabled us to recognize and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line. We began to realize that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people...” (54)

 

These are shadows that the Pope illuminates with the evangelical Parable of the “Good Samaritan,” which is about “A STRANGER ON THE ROAD” (Chapter Two). It is a parable that asks us to “THINK AND MANAGE AN OPEN WORLD” (Chapter Three), with “A HEART OPEN TO THE WHOLE WORLD” (Chapter Four) in which the work of “A BETTER KIND OF POLITICS” (Chapter Five), through the “DIALOGUE AND FRIENDSHIP IN SOCIETY” (Chapter Six), leads us through “PATHS OF RENEWED ENCOUNTER” (Chapter Seven), in which “RELIGIONS (put themselves) AT THE SERVICE OF FRATERNITY IN OUR WORLD.” (Chapter Eight).

 

And in the beautiful interweaving of the Encyclical, other recurring issues appear here and there in the Magisterium of Francis, such as: the gospel and its universal dynamism of love, which calls for the commitment of every man and woman of good will, the relationship between the local and the universal, the need for a “culture of encounter,” the common destiny of goods and human promotion through work, etc.

 

The Pope indeed paints a grim and dispiriting portrait of the historical and social experience of human beings in today’s world. In the end, however, we have hope. The greatest challenge facing humanity today is—according to the Pope and the teachings of the gospel of the carpenter of Nazareth—the construction of a fraternal world, one in which we move away from the individualism in our society that we see the highest political circles to the way we use social networks. It is an individualism that isolates, leaves millions alone, and forgets “the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least” (2). We need to move toward the construction of an “us” in universal love, recognizing that we are brothers and sisters with a common destiny, where we share the same house and table and where we can truly call each other: “Fratelli tutti” (Brothers and Sisters, All).

 

Fratelli Tutti is, then and above all, an invitation to the commitment of all, individuals, peoples, governments and nations, to building the hope that “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love... Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”.[52] Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope.”

 

We welcome this Encyclical that is destined to become the roadmap of our times, of the entire family of nations and that calls for the commitment of all, if we want—as we yearn for it—a better world today and in the future, for the generations who will come after us. It is the Pope himself who invites us to dream: “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.” (8).

 

“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together, or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.” (137).

 

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