Editorial: The world of ‘us’

  • October 9, 2020

It has been 794 years since St. Francis of Assisi left this Earth, but you can find his fingerprints all over the Pope’s latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti .

Certainly, some of the areas of concern in this 45,000-word document would be pretty unfamiliar to the original Franciscan — like the Internet and COVID-19 — but the influence is unmistakable.

“In his simple and direct way, St. 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,” the Pope writes in the opening paragraph of the document addressing “fraternity and social friendship.”

From there, Pope Francis skilfully dissects the issues of the modern world, applying layers of theological teaching, common sense and even prayerful yearning. It both scolds and soothes, pushing us to take a hard look at how we should embrace the notion of fraternity in an individual and global sense. It is evident he is not out to solve the world’s problems overnight, but he is certainly intent on making us pay attention to them.

In Chapter One of eight, appropriately titled “Dark clouds over a closed world,” the Pope pulls no punches, touching on many of the issues on which he has focused in previous documents: racism, trafficking, social justice, human rights, religious freedom, care for the elderly, poverty, war, immigration … there is an unrelenting list of topics in which we have sinned against one another.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic could not be ignored. It struck at the same time this encyclical was being created and has put an exclamation point on his belief that the world’s economic and political systems are fragile; that only by working together can social sicknesses be conquered.

“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,” he writes. “God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those,’ but only ‘us.’”

Like Laudato Si’ , this encyclical is meant for action. Pope Francis knows prayer and reflection alone will not change the world and he spends much of the document laying out the blueprint for the fraternity we all seek. There is no one that escapes responsibility in building a world that lives up the Creator’s intention.

It’s not an easy job, but Pope Francis knows it starts with a vision. As he writes: “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers 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.”

It’s the same wish St. Francis had nearly 800 years ago. Is the world ready to make it come true?

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