Pope Francis recently signed his latest encyclical, titled Fratelli Tutti, which focuses on spiritual unity through social friendship and the importance of caring for our neighbors. In it, he discusses how the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the “throw-away culture” which denies the dignity of those who are vulnerable within our global systems. Fratelli Tutti is a call to love one another as brothers and sisters; it is a call for fraternity beyond borders; to engage with each other in positive and meaningful ways, as we are all children of God. To quote Pope Francis directly, “The signs of the times clearly show that human fraternity and care of creation form the only path to integral development and peace. . .”
Fratelli Tutti has never been more relevant as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic threatens every person and system across the world. While we may not be able to easily cure the virus and restore a sense of normalcy, what we can do is take a minute to realize that our neighbors are suffering and do what we can to help.
First Off, What is an Encyclical?
For those unfamiliar with Catholic traditions, every so often the Pope issues an encyclical letter, which is an authoritative or official teaching document. An encyclical letter can be addressed to a local church, to the entire Church, or in some cases (such as in Fratelli Tutti), to “all people of good will” (no. 57).
Fratelli Tutti vs. Tribalism
“Fratelli tutti 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.” (Introduction, An Overview of Fratelli Tutti)
Now more than ever it seems the world is experiencing the negative effects of hyper-localized tribalism. Despite unprecedented interconnectedness, modern globalized society makes us more like neighbors, but less like brothers and sisters; we know about each other, but we do not truly care for one another. In this way, we are more alone than ever.
Tribalistic sentiments run so deeply in every facet of society — politics, religion, ethnicity, and within communities — that it’s easy to forget that other people, with whom we may disagree, are nonetheless created in God’s image and should be treated with dignity and respect.
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis stresses that respectful, open, and patient discourse is the only true way to resolve conflict. In order to find resolution we must prioritize the needs of victims of violence; work against fear; seek to eliminate inequality; and build relationships through dialogue (no. 262).
Throughout Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the story, a man is stripped, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. Several members of his own community pass him by; but the man who offers help is a Samaritan, a perceived adversary. Because the Samaritan, despite being labeled an enemy, is the only one to offer help, he is, therefore, the only true neighbor — willing to show compassion, tolerance, and brotherly love not to an opponent, but to a fellow man.
So, when was the last time you helped a down-but-not-out neighbor? Do you walk through life turning a blind eye to problems that do not affect you? Do you exemplify, through action, compassion for the suffering of your fellow neighbor?
These are the types of questions we all need to ask ourselves. It’s easier to ignore problems than it is to solve them. It’s easier to turn away from conflict than it is to participate in productive discourse. But as children of God, we must strive to create a world in which all can thrive, even in the face of adversity, to be able to pick each other up when we’re down, and to expel the “I got mine” mindset. These tenets are particularly relevant than during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The thing is, you do not have to dedicate your entire life to charity in order to participate in social unity. Every little bit counts; and you can make positive differences in the lives of others without even knowing it, whether it’s donating to food drives or calling for systemic reform in your community. Fratelli Tutti doesn’t just ask you to open your heart to borderless love, it also calls on us as children of God to facilitate a universal culture of encounter.
A Culture of Encounter
For 50 years, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has created a culture of encounter by confronting the root causes of economic injustice through on-the-ground work and promotion of policies that help to break the cycle of poverty. Pope Francis said it best — “A better kind of politics seeks the common and universal good; it is politics for and with the people. In other words, it is the people’s politics, practicing social charity and pursuing human dignity. It can be carried out by men and women who, with political love, integrate the economy into a popular social, cultural, and political project.”
Through our initiatives like PovertyUSA, CCHD recognizes the Pope’s call to rebuild a hurting world and to, “form a community of men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject a society of exclusion. . .lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good” (no. 67). There is a common vein running through modern society that tempts us to ignore the reality of others and flourishes on indifference to another’s pain.
CCHD rejects this social exclusion and helps those who are marginalized by supporting their work for food equality, environmental justice, adequate housing, immigrant accompaniment, and more. In our Church and in society, we are seeing a rise in polarization and extremist groups that have emboldened perspectives that allow fear of the other to overshadow love. Our work to enact just systemic change and encourage love for our fellow neighbor counteracts misplaced fear, elevates the downtrodden, and tells the marginalized that they matter, too.
By reframing the politics surrounding a societal issue, we can get people to think differently about it and work together as one community to help those who need it. We aim to do away with the notion that life is a zero-sum game. In reality, others do not need to suffer for you to prosper, for all of God’s people are entitled to happy, dignified lives. Thinking otherwise is the byproduct of the individualism that has permeated our society. CCHD pursues dignity for all through community organizing, supporting local nonprofits, and committing to on-the-ground work that makes a positive impact in peoples’ lives.
COVID-19: Exacerbation of Social Divides
The old saying goes “desperate times call for desperate measures.” Throughout history, in times of desperation, we as Americans tend to make personal sacrifices and unite as one in order to overcome universal threats. Yet, American society has never been more divided and the distance between us seems to be expanding; even in the face of COVID-19:
The current pandemic has not only killed over 1 million across the globe, more than 200,000 of those being Americans, it has exposed every flaw in both local and global systems. It has caused some to become even more entrenched in self-serving individualism at the expense of their fellow citizens. At the same time, the pandemic has only widened the disparities that have always existed. Now we need to focus on what matters most: creating supportive communities with inspiring leaders that help everybody live dignified lives.
Pope Francis consistently refers to the parable of the Good Samaritan to illustrate that there is no room for apathy or neutrality when it comes to acting in solidarity with struggling people.
It’s never easy to do the right thing, but doing nothing is the wrong thing.