Obstacles to Fraternity

In this chapter of his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis starts off by saying that certain trends in our world hinder the development of universal fraternity. He notes that our own days seem to be showing signs of a certain regression, with ancient conflicts thought long buried breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise.

“Opening up to the world” is an expression that has been co-opted by the economic and financial sector and is now used exclusively of openness to foreign interests or to the freedom of economic powers to invest without obstacles or complications in all countries. Local conflicts and disregard for the common good are exploited by the global economy in order to impose a single cultural model. This culture unifies the world, but divides persons and nations, for “as society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbors, but does not make us brothers,” the Pope adds.

As a result, according to the Holy Father, there is a growing loss of the sense of history, which leads to even further breakup. A kind of “deconstructionism” whereby human freedom claims to create everything starting from zero, is making headway in today’s culture. The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism. The Holy Father then offers this warning to the youth, “If someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he himself holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed.

In this chapter, Pope Francis decries what he calls as the throwaway culture, making the observation that some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. By way of example, he says that a decline in the birthrate, which leads to the aging of the population, together with the relegation of the elderly to a sad and lonely existence, is a subtle way of stating that it is all about us, that our individual concerns are the only thing that matters. We have seen what happened with the elderly in certain places in our world as a result of the coronavirus.

The Pope also laments the insufficiency of universal human rights because, according to him, in practice, human rights are not equal for all. Respect for those rights “is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development. While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated.”

But 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, he writes. Once more, we realized that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. The Pope however warns that once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation. According to Pope Francis, unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness.

But for Pope Francis, we must not lose hope for God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family. The recent pandemic enabled us to recognize 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 realize 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… they understood that no one is saved alone, he concludes.

He invites us to renewed hope, for “Hope speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love.”


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