Fratelli Tutti (143)
We are continuing to examine the latest Papal encyclical, Pope Francis’s call to us to emerge from the crisis of the pandemic as a better society, a better Church. We must refuse the impulse to desire the former normal and dare to follow Christ’s example. “After the crisis, will we continue with this economic system of social injustice and disregard for the environment, creation and our common home? Let’s think about it.”
Our spotlight on the encyclical is to help each one of us assume responsibility, literally, for making the world a better place. Francis reminds us that it is each generation’s task to join in the daily struggle for love, goodness, justice, and solidarity.
We’ve looked at the exhortation to actively incorporate the teaching of the golden rule and the good Samaritan into our being—our lifestyle. This week we’ll look at the encyclical’s emphasis on the value of our cultural identity and heritage.
Francis describes the hold current demagogues have on populations, driving to “limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.” (13) The pope points out that the success of these (corrupt) leaders depends on “young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them”. He reminds us that our spiritual identity, our independence and moral consistency, our very soul, lies in our inherited history and tradition.We must not abandon our inherited past through apathy or negligence, because—here’s the thing—when we care for ourselves, when we value and cherish our own heritage, we are not threatened by other traditions: “I can welcome others who are different, and value the unique contribution they have to make, only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture”. (143) Furthermore, care for my nation involves appreciating global interdependence: a crisis (be it environmental, economic, or political) in one country ineluctably affects the planet as a whole. Ultimately, I am me through my historical culture, which is connected to all other cultures and geographies. “Each of us is fully a person when we are part of a people; at the same time, there are no peoples without respect for the individuality of each person.”
Pope Francis, like St Francis and, indeed, Christ, speaks in blatant opposition to popular figures of our day, who isolate us from each other through their discourse of individual freedoms and entitlements. “Good politics will seek ways of building communities at every level of social life, . . .” (182).
The onus is not only on our politicians and leaders, but on each of us as well. We must be ready to encounter, to listen, to learn from, others—even those with whom we disagree and especially who exist on our margins: “For they have another way of looking at things; they see aspects of reality that are invisible to the centres of power where weighty decisions are made.”
Always, without exception, as St Paul wrote to the Galatians (5:22), we are to act with kindness. “Precisely because it entails esteem and respect for others, once kindness becomes a culture within society it transforms lifestyles, relationships and the ways ideas are discussed and compared. Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.” (224) Francis emphasizes that being kind does not entail tolerating oppression, and, as Christians, we must take a stand against it. “We are called to love everyone, without exception; at the same time, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing him to keep oppressing us, or letting him think that what he does is acceptable.” (241)
Likewise, forgiveness still requires justice and measures to prevent repeated wrongdoing. Christian love does not run from or deny social conflict, but stands with the oppressed and the marginalized. We strive to forgive, but never to demand forgiveness. Significantly, forgiveness does not mean forgetting the wrongdoing or the hurt.
It is imperative to remember past atrocities in order to move forward. Remembering honours victims and creates a social conscience that must try to avoid repetitions of history and justifications for equally violent reprisals. “For this reason, I think not only of the need to remember the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness and fraternity. To remember goodness is also a healthy thing.” (249)
Pope Francis did not write this encyclical because of the pandemic, but it is especially relevant for this time and for every human being. We, Ukrainians in the diaspora, might be victims or family of victims of Russian, Polish, and German oppression. We might be migrants or refugees or children knowing our parents’ sacrifice so that we could have comfort and wealth. . .
Fratelli Tutti asks us to question ourselves—not as a pious exercise—but as a pressing social and moral obligation.
Do I identify with those who are voicing their oppression here and now? Do I stand with indigenous populations so marginalized that communities lack safe drinking water? Do I stand with those whose skin colour separates them from systemic justice? Do I stand with today’s refugees and migrants, with women, with the ever increasing groups who find themselves devalued in society for being old, different, or disabled?
With whom do I identify? Why? With whom do I connect as the world recreates to a pandemic normalcy? Whom do I believe? Is my good the collective good? Am I listening to the periphery? Who is left out? What is the new normal that I am creating?
These are among the questions we must ask ourselves again and again, as we make decisions and form judgements that shape the world.
Francis writes: “In these pages of reflection on universal fraternity, I felt inspired particularly by Saint Francis of Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” (286)
Let’s be sure that we too are guided by those whose example inspires us to live in love for each other and all creation: fratelli tutti.