Building fraternal love and solidarity in a troubled world

The Bishop of Rome has released a new encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All) on “fraternity and social friendship”.

Oct 10, 2020

By Anil Netto
The Bishop of Rome has released a new encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti (Brothers and Sisters All) on “fraternity and social friendship”.

The letter was released in Assisi, at the tomb of St Francis, on Oct 3, the eve of his feastday. Just as the Bishop of Rome drew inspiration from St Francis for his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, he draws inspiration from this saint of fraternal love, simplicity and joy in his latest letter.

This shows us how significant St Francis is to the Church and the world. Francis put the authentic spirit of the Gospel of Jesus into practice in his lifetime eight centuries ago. Remarkably, his lifestyle of interconnectedness with humanity and creation has grown even more relevant to the world during these troubled times.

As the Bishop of Rome noted: “Wherever he (St Francis) 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 bishop also drew encouragement for his letter from the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, whom he met in Abu Dhabi, who declared “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters.”

But despite living in a highly connected world, we are still fragmented and unable to resolve problems that affect all humanity. The encyclical letter puts forward a vision of fraternity and social friendship based on an invitation to dialogue. It speaks of the need for a rebirth of the universal aspiration to fraternity and the importance of dreaming together as a community and as a single human family.

The letter is divided into eight chapters. This week, we focus on Chapter One titled Dark  Clouds, which looks at trends that hinder universal fraternity.

Part of the problem is that we have lost a sense of historical consciousness of major trends. In the past, especially after World War Two, humanity was building a more integrated world. Think of the European Union, the ASEAN community and efforts at integration in South America.

But of late we have regressed as ancient conflicts re-emerge and an “extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” surfaces. “The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values.” And so, extremism and divisive politicking have become political tools under the guise of “defending national interests.”

Not surprisingly, political life is no longer about healthy debates on how to improve people’s lives and promote the common good. Instead, what we see are “slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.”

We also live in a “throwaway” world. “Wealth has increased, but together with inequality, with the result that ‘new forms of poverty are emerging’.”

Injustice prevails, fuelled by a profit-driven economic model that exploits, discards and even  kills human beings. “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.”

Not only are we discarding objects and products we no longer find useful or of value, we are also discarding or isolating the vulnerable — the unborn, the elderly, people with disabilities. Meanwhile, racism hidden in the darker recesses of society re-emerges in a world of conflict and fear.

And so new walls are erected for self-preservation —  “walls in the heart, walls on the land” which prevent us from reaching out to other people. Various kinds of “mafia” may then prey on the loneliness, fear and insecurity of those who feel abandoned or left behind.

The pandemic has also revealed that humanity is often lacking at the fringes and borders – especially over the way we treat migrants and refugees. In some host countries, the letter points out, “migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively.”

We saw this happening here during the recent lockdowns, when negative sentiment against migrants was whipped up and targeted the migrants in our midst during a time of political upheaval.

But the pandemic also forced us to rediscover  our shared humanity and prompted us to reach out to those in need, the Bishop of Rome asserts. “Once more we realise that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” We become more aware we are part of one another, that we are all brothers and sisters.

The digital age, however, poses challenges. We may be highly connected, but often that connectivity is the illusion. There is a kind of bonding among like-minded individuals against perceived enemies, often expressed in terms of hostility.

“This has now given free rein to ideologies. Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures.”

The digital lifestyle allows us to create what we want and exclude all that we cannot control or know instantly and superficially. “This process, by its intrinsic logic, blocks the kind of serene reflection that could lead us to a shared wisdom.”

The digital information we receive is also often lacking in the wisdom that interpersonal encounters can provide. “Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate,” the letter exhorts.

And so, during these worrying times, we are called to hope and to appreciate those around us who are putting their lives on the line for others. We can see how our lives are interwoven. We can see how ordinary people practising exemplary solidarity have shaped our shared history.

Such hope, the Bishop of Rome reminds us, “speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, 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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