Pope Francis’s New encyclical, “Brothers All” | Sunday Observer

Pope Francis’s New encyclical, “Brothers All”

22 November, 2020
Pope turns 84 on December 17
Pope turns 84 on December 17

Many ask what Pope Francis has been doing in 2020, as the year draws to an end. The Coronavirus pandemic kept the Pope mostly confined inside the city-state, where in March, he complained that he felt “caged.”The Pope’s year has had some indelible moments, especially a solitary ceremony he held in a rain-soaked St. Peter’s Square. Nevertheless, the Covid -19 has denied the Pope many of his reliable paths for outreach. The Vatican has put on hold all his overseas trips, and with it, the news conferences he classically holds abroad.

Amid all constraints, Pope Francis who will turn 84, on December 17 travelled by car on October 3, to Assisi, the Italian hill town that is the birthplace of St. Francis, to sign a document at the saint’s tomb. It was his first trip outside of Rome in seven months. In Assisi, the Holy Father signed his new encyclical, “Fratellitutti,” or “Brothers All,” on Fraternity and Social Friendship. It is clear that he had planned to release this encyclical before the pandemic.

Nevertheless, one might say that the virus crisis has made his message more urgent. In journalism, we would say it is pegged to the crisis rather than a response to it. Pope Francis has only issued two other encyclicals. The first, Lumen Fidei (“The light of faith”), in 2013. The second, Laudatosi’ (“Praise be to you”) in 2015, was a clarion call to action on behalf of the earth, which is suffering from environmental devastation and global warming.

A man of his word

Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from the Americas, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy. Prior to his election, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998 to 2013. Bergoglio was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 17, 1936, to Italian immigrants. As a youth, Bergoglio underwent surgery to remove part of one of his lungs due to a serious infection.

In 1958, he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus. He studied theology and received a degree from the College of San Jose from 1967 to 1970, and finished his doctoral thesis in theology in Freiburg, Germany in 1986. He was ordained a priest in 1969, named auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, made an Archbishop in 1998 and elevated a cardinal in 2001. Bergoglio reportedly received the second-most votes in the 2005 papal conclave that chose Pope Benedict XVI as Pope John Paul’s successor.

The tone of his papacy, which has become admired globally, was established long before his elevation to the church’s highest position; in choosing to live more simply, Pope Francis broke a tradition that had been upheld by popes for over a century. Addressing a crowd of tens of thousands in St. Peter’s Square, in the Vatican City, after the conclave, Pope Francis said, “It seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen one who is from faraway…Here I am. I would like to thank you for your embrace.”

It was not long after assuming the papacy that Pope Francis began offering more nuanced views and interpretations on key social issues about which the church holds pronounced doctrinal views.

He has not shied away from elaborating on those views, and sound bites such as “Who am I to judge?”, have served to portray him as a compassionate conservative whose views are often considered progressive compared to those of his predecessors.

“Brothers All” – A social encyclical

Pope Francis’s new encyclical, calls all of us to anchor our societies and our politics in encounter: the actual meeting of people who think differently and have different life experiences. This call is a refreshing approach to shaping our world not through power dynamics but through the experience of all - especially those who are marginalised. It can be life sustaining.

The document Pope Francis says is for all people of “good will.”It borrows the title of the “Admonitions” of Saint Francis of Assisi, who used these words to “address his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel.” The Encyclical aims to promote a universal aspiration toward fraternity and social friendship.

In the background of the Encyclical is the Covid-19 pandemic, which, Pope Francis reveals, “unexpectedly erupted” as he “was writing this letter.”Nevertheless, the global health emergency has helped demonstrate that “no one can face life in isolation” and that the time has truly come to “dream, then, as a single human family” in which we are “brothers and sisters all”.

Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarised. He adds that there are “huge economic interests” operating in the digital world, capable of manipulation and subverting “the democratic process.” His prescriptions range from the policy-based to the spiritual.

Pope Francis describes steps countries should take to integrate migrants. He says businesses should direct themselves to eliminate poverty and people born into privilege must remember - the poor and the disabled.Pope writes,“Other cultures are not ‘enemies,’ but differing reflections of the inexhaustible richness of human life.” He stresses, “Even the right to private property should be secondary to the common good.”

Grasping ‘fraternity and friendship’

Through the Encyclical format, Pope Francis is declaringthat he has something important to say about fraternity and friendship.It is a 43,000-word document, written in stately papal prose, skim it slowly in small chunks. If you want to understand Pope Francis, take your time. Do not rush. Give the text time to sink in. Each chapter takes time to digest.

Much of it repeats what Pope Francis has said before. Quotations make up more than a fourth of the Encyclical, with 288 footnotes to lead the reader to their sources. Here,Pope Francis is like an Op-Ed writer who, after seven years of writing, has decided to repackage his work and present his thoughts in a comprehensive and systematic way. He avoids dealing with the topics the media likes.

He also condemns violence against women and human trafficking. It does express strong views on capital punishment, war and economics, but the Pope writes with nuance.

Though it does make specific proposals, it is more about attitudes and values than programs. He also speaks eloquently of kindness that involves, “Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges.” It does not stop Pope Francis from telling politicians they should implement these values.

The Encyclical written for the entire world is a work, which requires meditation for true understanding. It should provide input for philosophers and theologians as well as political and social leaders and ordinary citizens.

I have reviewed Pope Francis’s Social Encyclical chapter wise with the ardent desire of encouraging the readers to grasp a glimpse of the essentials initially.Then, to find time to go through the entire document leisurely during the Christmas holidays.

Chapter 1: Dark clouds over a closed world

The first chapter, reflects on the many distortions of the contemporary era: the manipulation and deformation of concepts such as democracy, freedom and justice; the loss of the meaning of the social community and history; selfishness and indifference toward the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and the culture of waste; unemployment, racism and poverty; the disparity of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjugated and then forced to abort and organ trafficking (paragraphs 10-24). It deals with global problems that call for global actions, emphasises the Pope, also sounding the alarm against a “culture of walls” that favours the proliferation of organised crime, fuelled by fear and loneliness (27-28).

Chapter 2: A stranger on the road

To many shadows, the Encyclical responds with a luminous example, a herald of hope: the Good Samaritan. The second chapter is dedicated to this figure. In it, the Pope emphasises that, in an unhealthy society that turns its back on suffering and that is “illiterate” in caring for the frail and vulnerable (64-65), we are all called - just like the Good Samaritan - to become neighbours to others (81), overcoming prejudices, personal interests, historic and cultural barriers.

We all, in fact, are co-responsible in creating a society that is able to include, integrate and lift up those who have fallen or are suffering (77). Love builds bridges and “we were made for love” (88), the Pope, adds, particularly exhorting Christians to recognise Christ in the face of every excluded person (85).

Chapter 3: Envisaging and engendering an open world

The principle of the capacity to love according to “a universal dimension” (83) is also resumed in the third chapter.The Pope exhorts to go “‘outside’ the self” in order to find “a fuller existence in another” (88), opening ourselves up to the other according to the dynamism of charity which makes us tend toward “universal fulfilment” (95). It recalls the spiritual stature of a person’s life is measured by love, which always “takes first place” and leads us to seek better for the life of the other, far from all selfishness (92-93).

The sense of solidarity and of fraternity begin within the family, which are to be safeguarded and respected in their “primary and vital mission of education” (114).The right to live with dignity cannot be denied to anyone, the Pope affirms, and since rights have no borders, no one can remain excluded, regardless of where they are born (121). The Encyclical places specific emphasis on the issue of foreign debt: subject to the principal that it must be paid, it is hoped nonetheless that this does not compromise the growth and subsistence of the poorest countries (126).

Chapter 4: A heart open to the whole world

To the theme of migration, with their lives “at stake” (37), fleeing from war, persecution, natural catastrophes, unscrupulous trafficking, ripped from their communities of origin, migrants are to be welcomed, protected, supported and integrated. Unnecessary migration needs to be avoided, by affording opportunities to live with dignity in the countries of origin. However, we need to respect the right to seek a better life elsewhere. In receiving countries, the right balance will be between the protection of citizens’ rights and the guarantee of welcome for migrants (38-40).

The Pope points to several “indispensable steps, especially in response to those who are fleeing grave humanitarian crises”: to increase and simplify the granting of visas; to open humanitarian corridors; to assure lodging, security and essential services; to offer opportunities for employment and training; to favour family reunification; to protect minors; to guarantee religious freedom. What is needed above all is global governance, an international collaboration for migration, which implements long-term planning, on behalf of the supportive development of all peoples” (129-132).

Chapter 5: A better kind of politics

The theme of the fifth chapter represents one of the most valuable forms of charity because it is placed at the service of the common good (180) and recognises the importance of people, understood as an open category, available for discussion and dialogue (160).

The best strategy against poverty, does not simply aim to contain or render indigents inoffensive, but to promote them in the perspective of solidarity and subsidiarity (187).

The task of politics, moreover, is to find a solution to fundamental human rights, such as social exclusion; the marketing of organs, tissues, weapons and drugs; sexual exploitation; slave labour; terrorism and organised crime. He makes an emphatic appeal to definitively eliminate human trafficking, a “source of shame for humanity”, and hunger, which is “criminal” because food is “an inalienable right” (188-189).

The politics we need is a politics centered on human dignity and not subjected to finance because “the marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem”: the “havoc” wreaked by financial speculation has demonstrated same (168). Hence, popular movements have taken on particular relevance: as true “torrents of moral energy”, they must be engaged in society with greater coordination. In this way, it will be possible to go beyond a Policy “with” and “of” the poor (169).

Another hope present in the Encyclical is that in the face of the predominance of the economic dimension, a task of the United Nations will be to give substance to the concept of a “family of nations” working for the common good, the eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights. Tireless recourse “to negotiation, mediation and arbitration” - the UN must promote the force of law rather than the law of force (173-175).

Chapter 6: Dialogue and friendship in society

The sixth chapter develops the concept of life as the “art of encounter” with everyone, even with the world’s peripheries and with original peoples, because “each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless and no one is expendable” (215). Then, of particular note, is the Pope’s reference to the miracle of “kindness”, an attitude to be recovered because it is a star “shining in the midst of darkness” and “frees us from the cruelty... the anxiety... the frantic flurry of activity” that prevail in the contemporary era (222-224).

Chapter 7: Paths of renewed encounter

In the penultimate chapter,the Pope emphasises that peace is connected to truth, justice and mercy. Thus, peace is an “art” that involves and regards everyone must do his or her part in “a never-ending task” (227-232). Forgiveness is linked to peace: we must love everyone, without exception - but loving an oppressor means helping him to change and not to continue oppressing his neighbour (241-242).

Forgiveness does not mean impunity, but rather, justice and remembrance, because to forgive does not mean to forget, but to renounce the destructive power of evil and the desire for revenge. Never forget “horrors” like the Shoah, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, persecutions and ethnic massacres. (246-252).

It focuses on war: “a constant threat”, that represents “the negation of all rights”, “a failure of politics and of humanity”. Moreover, due to nuclear chemical and biological weapons, today we can no longer think, of the possibility of a “just war”, but we must vehemently reaffirm, “Never again war!” The total elimination of nuclear arms is “a moral and humanitarian imperative”. With the money invested in weapons, the Pope suggests instead the establishment of a global fund for the elimination of hunger (255-262).

The Pope expresses just as clearly a position with regard to the death penalty: it is inadmissible and must be abolished worldwide. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity,” the Pope writes“and God himself pledges to guarantee this” (263-269). There is emphasis on the necessity to respect “the sacredness of life” (283) where today “some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed”, such as the unborn, the poor, the disabled and the elderly.

Chapter 8: Religions at the service of fraternity

In the final chapter, the Pope focuses on “Religions at the service of fraternity in our world” and emphasizes that terrorism is not due to religion but to erroneous interpretations of religious texts, as well as “policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression” (282-283).

A journey of peace among religions is possible and that it is therefore necessary to guarantee religious freedom, a fundamental human right for all believers (279).

The Encyclical reflects, in particular, on the role of the Church: she does not “restrict her mission to the private sphere”, it states.

While not engaging in politics she does not, however, renounce the political dimension of life itself, attention to the common good and concern for integral human development, according to evangelical principals (276-278).

(The author has a PhD, MPhil and double MSc. His research interests encompasses a variety of topics)