The title of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” is taken from the words of Saint Francis of Assisi while the latter proposed to his brothers and sisters a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel. With St. Francis’ numerous exhortations as his guide, Pope Francis selects 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 introducing his newest encyclical, Pope Francis points out how 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. According to the Holy Father, this Saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy, was also the inspiration to the Encyclical Laudato Si’, and prompts him once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship. He then writes: “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.
”The Pope begins by recounting an episode in the life of Saint Francis when he visited Sultan Malik-el-Kamil, in Egypt, which entailed considerable hardship, given Francis’ poverty, his scarce resources, the great distances to be travelled and their differences of language, culture and religion. That journey, undertaken at the time of the Crusades, further demonstrated the breadth and grandeur of Francis’ love, which sought to embrace everyone. Unconcerned for the hardships and dangers involved, Francis went to meet the Sultan with the same attitude that he instilled in his disciples: If they found themselves “among the Saracens and other nonbelievers” without renouncing their own identity, they were not to “engage in arguments or disputes, but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake.
”The Pope is impressed that as early as 800 years ago, Saint Francis urged that all forms of hostility or conflict be avoided, and that a humble and fraternal “subjection” be shown to those who did not share his faith.
Pope Francis notes that his namesake did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that “God is love and those who abide in love abide in God.” In this way, he became a father to all and inspired the vision of a fraternal society. Indeed, “only the man who approaches others, not to draw them into his own life, but to help them become ever more fully themselves, can truly be called a father.
”For Pope Francis, this encyclical is not a claim for a complete teaching on fraternal love, but rather to consider its universal scope, its openness to every man and woman. It is 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.
While the Pope was writing this encyclical, 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.
In this encyclical, the Pope acknowledges the dignity of each human person and that we can all contribute to the rebirth of a universal aspiration to fraternity. He writes: “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.
”For Francis, we must “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.
”The next few Eagle Eyes columns will be dedicated to echoing and sharing my reflections on Tutti Fratelli. This voice is so needed at this time.
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