Becoming universal brothers and sisters at the service of fraternity

In the eighth and final chapter of his encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All), the Bishop of Rome lets us in on the personalities who inspired his reflection on universal fraternity.

Dec 06, 2020

By Anil Netto
In the eighth and final chapter of his encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All), the Bishop of Rome lets us in on the personalities who inspired his reflection on universal fraternity.

In the chapter Religions at the Service of Fraternity in our World, Francis says not only was he inspired by St Francis of Assisi, he also mentions people of other denominations and faiths: Martin Luther King Jr, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.

But then he points to out a less well-known figure, Blessed Charles de Foucauld, who drew from his “intense experience of God” in a journey of transformation towards becoming “a brother to all”.

Abandoned in the depths of the African desert, Charles was moved towards a total surrender to God. He felt compelled to be a brother to every human being, “the universal brother”. But he also realised that it was only by identifying with the poor and the least that he could truly be “the brother of all”.

Charles, who lived among the Tuareg Muslims in a small village in Saharan Algeria, offers the Church a model of living as a minority in a Muslim-majority land. “I want all the inhabitants, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. They are starting to call my house ‘the fraternity’ and that gives me real joy.”

May God inspire that dream (to become brothers and sisters of all) in each one of us, urges Francis.

But before that, we have to acknowledge the “transcendent truth” — for if we don’t, “the force of power takes over, and each person tends to make full use of the means at his  disposal in order to impose his own interests or his own opinion, with no regard for the rights of others”, Francis writes, recalling the words of St John Paul II.

This is what totalitarianism is about – “the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person” is the visible image of the invisible God. Therefore, the human person, by his or her very nature, is “the subject of rights that no one may violate – no individual, group, class, nation or state. Not even the majority of the social body may violate these rights, by going against the minority.”

Without the principles arising from the transcendent truth, the human conscience grows desensitised and people are distanced from religious values. We then find individualism, materialistic philosophies and worldly values replacing transcendental principles.

The Church cannot restrict itself to the private sphere even if it respects the autonomy of private life. Life itself has a political dimension, which compels us to work for the common good and promote integral human development. The Church has a public role – and not just in charitable and educational activities. It must work for “the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity”.

The Church presents the beauty of the invitation to universal love, and so all things  human are its concern. In the power of the risen Lord, the Church desires to give birth to a new world, “where all of us are brothers and sisters, where there is room for all those whom our societies discard, where justice and peace are resplendent”.

In countries where Christians are in a minority, we ask that “we be guaranteed freedom, even as we ourselves promote that freedom for non-Christians in places where they are a minority”.

There are so many things we share in common with people of other faiths, it is possible to find serene, peaceful coexistence, “accepting our differences and rejoicing that, as children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters”.

And so a journey of peace is possible between religions, if we start with the way God sees things.

This does not mean watering down our faiths or convictions, for the deeper and richer our own identity is, the more we will be able to enrich others through our own contributions. So we have to go back to the source of our faith: worship of God and love for our neighbour, “lest some of our teachings, taken out of context, end up feeding forms of contempt, hatred, xenophobia or negation of others”. 

Religious leaders, for their part, are called to be “true ‘people of dialogue’, to cooperate in building peace not as intermediaries but as authentic mediators”.

Francis recalls his meeting with the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, where they declared that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility or extremism”.

Both agreed this would be a deviation from religious teachings. Such deviations result from “a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups which, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women.”

Francis and Al-Tayyeb declared that God, the Almighty, “has no need to be defended by anyone” and would not want his name to be used to terrorise people.

Both leaders co-signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together in Abu Dhabi in February 2019, and the Bishop of Rome makes several references to this document in his Fratelli Tutti encyclical.

And so, in the quest for universal fraternity, the example of Blessed Charles should inspire us as well. He gave his life living in fraternity with the humble Tuareg Muslims and people of all faiths.

In his last words in a letter to a cousin, Charles wrote: “When we can suffer and love, we can do much, it’s the most that we can do in this world: We feel our suffering, but we don’t always feel that we love and that’s an additional suffering! But we know that we want to love and to want to love is to love.”

Total Comments:0