Faith Matters

Pope Francis: 'May God inspire the dream of fraternity in each one of us'

In Fratelli Tutti, his new encyclical published this week, Pope Francis sets out his thoughts on the themes of fraternity and social friendship, qualities he believes are much-needed in a world still coming to terms with the coronavirus pandemic. The document balances a critique of contemporary culture - including politics, the media and social media - with a vision of the 'new paths of hope' the Pope believes are essential to build a more peaceful, more deeply connected and friendlier world. Here, from its 92 pages and 38,000-plus words, are just some of Fratelli Tutti's key ideas

Pope Francis signed Fratelli Tutti on Saturday in Assisi as he celebrated Mass at the tomb of St Francis. Picture by Vatican Media via AP

1. "FRATELLI tutti." With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel.

Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother "as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him".

In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of 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.

2. This saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, who inspired me to write the encyclical Laudato Si', prompts me once more to devote this new encyclical to fraternity and social friendship.

Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh.

Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.

5. Issues of human fraternity and social friendship have always been a concern of mine.

In recent years, I have spoken of them repeatedly and in different settings.

In this encyclical, I have sought to bring together many of those statements and to situate them in a broader context of reflection.

In the preparation of Laudato Si', I had a source of inspiration in my brother Bartholomew, the Orthodox Patriarch, who has spoken forcefully of our need to care for creation.

In this case, I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi, where we declared that "God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters".

This was no mere diplomatic gesture, but a reflection born of dialogue and common commitment.

6. I offer this social encyclical as a modest contribution to continued reflection, in the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.

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.

7. 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.

Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.

15. The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values.

Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarisation have become political tools.

Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.

Their share of the truth and their values are rejected and, as a result, the life of society is impoverished and subjected to the hubris of the powerful.

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.

In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.

Digital relationships lack the physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language and even the smells, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration that speak to us and are a part of human communication

16. Amid the fray of conflicting interests, where victory consists in eliminating one's opponents, how is it possible to raise our sights to recognise our neighbours or to help those who have fallen along the way?

A plan that would set great goals for the development of our entire human family nowadays sounds like madness.

We are growing ever more distant from one another, while the slow and demanding march towards an increasingly united and just world is suffering a new and dramatic setback.

17. To care for the world in which we live means to care for ourselves.

Yet we need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home.

Such care does not interest those economic powers that demand quick profits.

Often the voices raised in defence of the environment are silenced or ridiculed, using apparently reasonable arguments that are merely a screen for special interests.

30. In today's world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia.

What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalised indifference, born of deep disillusionment concealed behind a deceptive illusion: thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realise that we are all in the same boat.

This illusion, unmindful of the great fraternal values, leads to "a sort of cynicism. For that is the temptation we face if we go down the road of disenchantment and disappointment... Isolation and withdrawal into one's own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter. Isolation, no; closeness, yes. Culture clash, no; culture of encounter, yes".

32. True, a worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person's problems are the problems of all.

Once more we realised that no-one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.

As I said in those days, "the storm has exposed our vulnerability and uncovered those false and superfluous certainties around which we constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities... Amid this storm, the facade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about appearances, has fallen away, revealing once more the ineluctable and blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another".

34. If everything is connected, it is hard to imagine that this global disaster is unrelated to our way of approaching reality, our claim to be absolute masters of our own lives and of all that exists.

I do not want to speak of divine retribution, nor would it be sufficient to say that the harm we do to nature is itself the punishment for our offences. The world is itself crying out in rebellion.

42. Oddly enough, while closed and intolerant attitudes towards others are on the rise, distances are otherwise shrinking or disappearing to the point that the right to privacy scarcely exists.

Everything has become a kind of spectacle to be examined and inspected, and people's lives are now under constant surveillance.

Digital communication wants to bring everything out into the open; people's lives are combed over, laid bare and bandied about, often anonymously.

Respect for others disintegrates, and even as we dismiss, ignore or keep others distant, we can shamelessly peer into every detail of their lives.

The media's noisy potpourri of facts and opinions is often an obstacle to dialogue...

42. Digital campaigns of hatred and destruction, for their part, are not - as some would have us believe - a positive form of mutual support, but simply an association of individuals united against a perceived common enemy.

"Digital media can also expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation and a gradual loss of contact with concrete reality, blocking the development of authentic interpersonal relationships".

They lack the physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language and even the smells, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration that speak to us and are a part of human communication.

Digital relationships, which do not demand the slow and gradual cultivation of friendships, stable interaction or the building of a consensus that matures over time, have the appearance of sociability.

Yet they do not really build community; instead, they tend to disguise and expand the very individualism that finds expression in xenophobia and in contempt for the vulnerable.

Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.

44. Even as individuals maintain their comfortable consumerist isolation, they can choose a form of constant and febrile bonding that encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart.

Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices.

54. Despite these dark clouds, which may not be ignored, I would like in the following pages 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 recognise 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 realise that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious...

103. Fraternity is born not only of a climate of respect for individual liberties, or even of a certain administratively guaranteed equality.

Fraternity necessarily calls for something greater, which in turn enhances freedom and equality.

What happens when fraternity is not consciously cultivated, when there is a lack of political will to promote it through education in fraternity, through dialogue and through the recognition of the values of reciprocity and mutual enrichment?

Liberty becomes nothing more than a condition for living as we will, completely free to choose to whom or what we will belong, or simply to possess or exploit.

This shallow understanding has little to do with the richness of a liberty directed above all to love.

A worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person's problems are the problems of all

104. Nor is equality achieved by an abstract proclamation that "all men and women are equal".

Instead, it is the result of the conscious and careful cultivation of fraternity. Those capable only of being "associates" create closed worlds.

Within that framework, what place is there for those who are not part of one's group of associates, yet long for a better life for themselves and their families?

118. The world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity.

Differences of colour, religion, talent, place of birth or residence, and so many others, cannot be used to justify the privileges of some over the rights of all.

As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.

156. In recent years, the words "populism" and "populist" have invaded the communications media and everyday conversation.

As a result, they have lost whatever value they might have had, and have become another source of polarisation in an already divided society.

Efforts are made to classify entire peoples, groups, societies and governments as "populist" or not.

Nowadays it has become impossible for someone to express a view on any subject without being categorised one way or the other, either to be unfairly discredited or to be praised to the skies.

163. The concept of a "people", which naturally entails a positive view of community and cultural bonds, is usually rejected by individualistic liberal approaches, which view society as merely the sum of co-existing interests.

One speaks of respect for freedom, but without roots in a shared narrative; in certain contexts, those who defend the rights of the most vulnerable members of society tend to be criticised as populists.

The notion of a people is considered an abstract construct, something that does not really exist.

But this is to create a needless dichotomy. Neither the notion of "people" nor that of "neighbour" can be considered purely abstract or romantic, in such a way that social organisation, science and civic institutions can be rejected or treated with contempt.

176. 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. Yet can our world function without politics?

Can there be an effective process of growth towards universal fraternity and social peace without a sound political life?

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

197. Viewed in this way, politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin.

These sow nothing but division, conflict and a bleak cynicism incapable of mobilising people to pursue a common goal.

At times, in thinking of the future, we do well to ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?", "What is my real aim?"

For as time goes on, reflecting on the past, the questions will not be: "How many people endorsed me?", "How many voted for me?", "How many had a positive image of me?"

The real, and potentially painful, questions will be, "How much love did I put into my work?" "What did I do for the progress of our people?" "What mark did I leave on the life of society?" "What real bonds did I create?" "What positive forces did I unleash?" "How much social peace did I sow?" "What good did I achieve in the position that was entrusted to me?"

200. Dialogue is often confused with something quite different: the feverish exchange of opinions on social networks, frequently based on media information that is not always reliable.

These exchanges are merely parallel monologues. They may attract some attention by their sharp and aggressive tone.

But monologues engage no-one, and their content is frequently self-serving and contradictory.

201. Indeed, the media's noisy potpourri of facts and opinions is often an obstacle to dialogue, since it lets everyone cling stubbornly to his or her own ideas, interests and choices, with the excuse that everyone else is wrong.

It becomes easier to discredit and insult opponents from the outset than to open a respectful dialogue aimed at achieving agreement on a deeper level.

Worse, this kind of language, usually drawn from media coverage of political campaigns, has become so widespread as to be part of daily conversation.

Discussion is often manipulated by powerful special interests that seek to tilt public opinion unfairly in their favour. This kind of manipulation can be exercised not only by governments, but also in economics, politics, communications, religion and in other spheres.

206. The solution is not relativism. Under the guise of tolerance, relativism ultimately leaves the interpretation of moral values to those in power, to be defined as they see fit.

"In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs... we should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient... When the culture itself is corrupt, and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided".

249. Nowadays, it is easy to be tempted to turn the page, to say that all these things happened long ago and we should look to the future. For God's sake, no.

We can never move forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory.

We need to "keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened", because that witness "awakens and preserves the memory of the victims, so that the conscience of humanity may rise up in the face of every desire for dominance and destruction".

The victims themselves - individuals, social groups or nations - need to do so, lest they succumb to the mindset that leads to justifying reprisals and every kind of violence in the name of the great evil endured.

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.

281. A journey of peace is possible between religions. Its point of departure must be God's way of seeing things.

286. 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.

Yet I would like to conclude by mentioning another person of deep faith who, drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation towards feeling a brother to all.

I am speaking of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.

287. Blessed Charles directed his ideal of total surrender to God towards an identification with the poor, abandoned in the depths of the African desert.

In that setting, he expressed his desire to feel himself a brother to every human being, and asked a friend to "pray to God that I truly be the brother of all".

He wanted to be, in the end, "the universal brother". Yet only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all.

May God inspire that dream in each one of us. Amen.

The full text of Fratelli Tutti can be found at the Vatican website. The document and supporting resources can be found at the Irish bishops' website.

Pope Francis signed Fratelli Tutti on Saturday in Assisi as he celebrated Mass at the tomb of St Francis. Picture by Vatican Media via AP

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