On the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the Holy Father, Pope Francis, released the third encyclical letter of his papacy entitled Fratelli Tutti, on fraternity and social friendship. As with Laudato Si’, the title is an Italian quotation of the pope’s saintly namesake, translated as “brothers and sisters all.” The 287-paragraph document is a brisk walking-tour of Pope Francis’s social teaching and well worth a read. In this time of social distancing, the Holy Father reminds us that we ought to love our brothers and sisters as much when they are far away as we are with them.
The encyclical articulates in eight chapters a call for all human persons to recognize and live out our common fraternity. It starts with a consideration of what is holding humanity back from the development of universal fraternity and moves to an expression of hope that peace and unity will be achieved through dialogue among peoples of faith. I offer a summary of each chapter below.
Chapter 1 – Dark Clouds Over a Closed World
In the first chapter, Pope Francis outlines some trends in the world today that he finds running counter to seeing each other as brothers and sisters: the loss of a historical consciousness, the throwaway culture, the stalled expansion of human rights, fear of immigrants, and the superficiality of digital connection that can lead to aggression and polarization. Francis does not intend to produce an exhaustive list of the world’s social ills, but rather highlights how these issues are all connected by an elevation of the individual over concern for the whole of humanity:
“The gap between concern for one’s personal well-being and the prosperity of the larger human family seems to be stretching to the point of complete division between individuals and human community… It is one thing to feel forced to live together, but something entirely different to value the richness and beauty of those seeds of common life that need to be sought out and cultivated” (31).
Chapter 2 – A Stranger on the Road
After the lament of the first chapter, Pope Francis offers an extended reflection on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan as a “ray of light in the midst of what we are experiencing” (56). The Holy Father sees in the parable a reminder that the natural love we experience for family members should be consciously extended to those who are strangers to us. This call to care for strangers in need has its roots in Judaism, and Pope Francis highlights that this care must be expressed both personally, case by case, and communally, united as a family. Each new day should be seen as an opportunity to “include, integrate, and lift up the fallen” rather than “an arena for [our] own power plays” (77).
Chapter 3 – Envisaging and Engendering an Open World
Pope Francis goes on to say that the social, loving dimension of human life is universal, natural, and essential. Love both draws us out of ourselves and draws the ones we love into ourselves. True love also “impels us towards universal communion… By its very nature, love calls for growth in openness and the ability to accept others as part of a continuing adventure that makes every periphery converge in a greater sense of mutual belonging” (95). This movement toward solidarity does not eliminate differences, but celebrates the beauty of diversity.
An authentic human fraternity must be based on a recognition of the inherent dignity of all persons, especially those who are vulnerable, poor, or suffering. In economic terms, human dignity also entails the right to “sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development” (118). Francis here reiterates the Church’s teaching of the “common destination of created goods,” which states that “if one person lacks what is necessary to live with dignity, it is because another person is detaining it” (119). Rights to private property are derived from the universal destination of goods and therefore are subordinate to it. Pope Francis recognizes that this way of thinking is not common these days, but that “if we accept the great principle that there are rights born of inalienable human dignity, we can rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity” (127).
Chapter 4 – A Heart Open to the Whole World
In concrete terms, the Holy Father points to the plight of immigrants in today’s world as an opportunity to better care for our brothers and sisters. The topic of borders and their limitations is a recurring theme throughout the encyclical, and it is directly addressed in this chapter. Pope Francis writes that since migration is an international concern, an international response is needed. Furthermore, rather than seeing migration as cause for fear or turmoil, we ought to welcome the fruitful exchange that migrants bring to a community and the opportunities for caring for strangers. The pope recognizes a tension between globalization and localization, but sees a way of healthily living rooted in one’s own culture while striving for the common good of the whole of humanity. “Each particular group becomes part of the fabric of universal communion and there discovers its own beauty. All individuals, whatever their origin, know that they are part of the greater human family, without which they will not be able to understand themselves fully” (149).
Chapter 5 – A Better Kind of Politics
In the political sphere, Pope Francis discusses two movements that hinder our ability to see the world as open and having a place for all people: populism and liberalism. Populism distorts the notion of a “people” in a closed and exclusionary way. Liberalism, specifically neoliberalism, exalts the marketplace as the solution to all problems, to the benefit only of those in power. Citing St. John Paul II, Pope Francis imagines a nobler politics that puts social love at the forefront rather than economics. Political love is practiced in sacrifice for those in greatest need, but in accord with subsidiarity so that it does not become “a soulless pragmatism” (187). This requires politicians to strive for “fruitfulness” over “results”: “what is important is not constantly achieving great results… It is truly noble to place our hope in the hidden power of the seeds of goodness we sow, and thus to initiate processes whose fruits will be reaped by others” (194-195). Thus, politics should focus on the long-term common good. Concretely, the pope also calls for reform of the U.N. and an end to human trafficking.
Chapter 6 – Dialogue and Friendship in Society
In this chapter, Pope Francis turns to dialogue and its essential role in creating a new culture of fraternity. Dialogue is a middle path between “selfish indifference” and “violent protest” (198). Society is built on authentic dialogue, which involves respecting the other’s viewpoint, but not in a relativistic fashion. Rather, “it must respect the truth of our human dignity and submit to that truth” (207). In envisioning how this might look in a pluralistic society, the pope draws on a favorite image, that of the polyhedron, “whose different sides form a variegated unity, in which ‘the whole is greater than the part’” (215). This is lived out in the hard, but joyful, work of encountering those who are different than ourselves. For this we can call on the Holy Spirit for the gift of kindness.
Chapter 7 – Paths of Renewed Encounter
In many circumstances, peace and fraternity require healing between groups who have experienced conflict. Pope Francis outlines some ways to move forward toward lasting peace. He recognizes that true peace must be based on truth, along with justice and mercy. Unity is often best achieved when people work together to address the problems they share. The process of peacemaking is on-going and requires work, especially a care for the most vulnerable in society. Conflicts will arise but can be resolved through dialogue and honest negotiation. This does not mean that whole societies can be reconciled and forget past sins; rather, “reconciliation is a personal act” and human evils like the Shoah and the atomic bombings must be remembered as symbols of the depths of human evil (246-247).
At this point, Pope Francis writes of war and the death penalty as two “false answers” that seem to address certain extreme circumstances, but “do no more than introduce new elements of destruction in the fabric of national and global society” (255). The Holy Father makes clear that his condemnation of war and the death penalty is in keeping with the ancient teaching of the Church. In previous eras each of these institutions was permitted by certain justifications, but because of the changed circumstances of our times, those justifications are no longer valid.
Chapter 8 – Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World
In this final chapter, the pope asserts the essential role that the different religions of the world should play in fostering universal fraternity. Religions remind humanity of the existence of transcendent truth which is the source of human dignity. Moreover, religious formation fortifies human consciences against the individualism and materialism that underlie the divisions and polarizations in our world. The Roman Pontiff calls for greater collaboration among religions “for the common good and the promotion of the poor” (282). Finally, Pope Francis quotes directly from the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” which he signed in February 2019 with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi, committing again, in the name of God, to a path of peace and dialogue toward greater human fraternity.