by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi last week, his namesake, Pope Francis, went to the saint’s town and signed his third encyclical entitled “Fratelli Tutti” (“Fraternity and Social Friendship”).
Religious media of all sorts have inundated us with outlines, analyses and commentaries on the letter. (By way of contrast, on Monday, the Washington Post and the New York Times each consigned a short report of the event to the 12th page[!] of their respective newspapers.)
All of us will strive to read and absorb the meaning of this extensive document with its eight chapters totaling 43,000 words. Even the titles of each chapter suggest extensive reflection, much more suited to quiet spiritual reading than a casual one. Fratelli Tutti is a monumental papal document unique among the other treatises that make up the entire body of Catholic Social Teaching.
In this short commentary we’ll first take a step back from the text of the encyclical and look at its historical significance. [I’m indebted here to Marie Dennis, former Co-president and now Senior Advisor to Pax Christi International. These are mostly her reflections.]
In this moment of the universal experience that is Covid 19, Fratelli Tutti stands with Laudato Si’ as one of two complementary pillars that support an epochal vision/opportunity which Pope Francis holds out to the world. He has been speaking almost daily about this crucial point in history when the human race has before it the possibility of an entirely new way of being. Laudato Si’, as we know, has called humanity to recognize and live out our intimate relationship with God’s creation and the obligations that flow from that reality. Fratelli Tutti concentrates on our common humanity and its consequences.
Together they present the human family with a blueprint for a post-Covid 19 world. Each is a call to an entirely “new normal” for responding to God’s gratuitous gift of life on Planet Earth. The Holy Father insists that the “old normal” which for too long has gripped humanity, until Covid-19 stopped everything, failed utterly to fulfill God’s dream for Creation. Something entirely new must happen.
Here let me offer a personal thought about a part of Pope Francis’s social analysis articulated in the first chapter of the encyclical. While his words are not country- or culture-specific, they could have been entitled: “A Reflection for the Citizens of the United States in Voting for Your Preferred Leadership”. They describe exactly what is at stake for our country on November 3rd.
“In some countries, a concept of popular and national unity influenced by various ideologies is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests…” (No. 11)
“The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism.” (No. 13)
“Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve peoples’ lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others.” (No. 15)
To conclude, the Pope’s vision, articulated in “Care for our Common Home” and “Fraternity and Social Friendship”, can seem like a “voice crying in the wilderness” of a dominant “modern” society which strives for a return to its former way of life as soon as possible – the “old normal”. And indifference to this voice may be the case at least for the foreseeable future; do the privileged actually have it within us to envision and create such a new normal? But it can come about if communities like Pax Christi around the globe cross religious, cultural differences and mentalities to press for a new way of living – a “new normal”.
Whatever their immediate impact Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti are like the Good News of the Gospel – mustard seeds sown in the ground of human consciousness, which, as Jesus predicted, ultimately flourish into a worldwide blueprint for humanity.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.