On October 4th, 2020, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis released his new encyclical entitled Fratelli Tutti. An encyclical is a “circular letter” that popes use to speak with the whole Church. They are rather rare — this is Pope Francis’ third since being elected pope in 2013 — so they are important because they gather a pope’s insights and guidance on a certain set of issues facing the world at a particular moment.
The general set of issues that Fratelli Tutti addresses has to do with building a more just and fraternal world. In fact, the title refers to a quote from St. Francis of Assisi and translates to “brothers and sisters all.” It’s a long document (read a more extensive summary from the Vatican here), but it’s a statement we need to hear right now because Pope Francis is calling us to a new way of living together:
‘How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.’ Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers 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. (#8)
Here are five key takeaways from this document of relevance for us today.
Strangers are neighbors
Pope Francis invites us to consider each fellow human being as a neighbor — someone to be encountered and loved for their own sake — despite physical distance or cultural difference. While individualism runs rampant in much of society, Francis seeks a world where we are one human family. We must overcome “globalized indifference” and avoid “isolation and withdrawal” (#30) in order to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. Strangers are really our neighbors in “one great family, where all of us can feel at home” (#62).
Difference should not be feared
Differences in race, social status, ethnicity, gender, and political thought abound in our society today. Difference can be exacerbated as we hide behind social media or build “a culture of walls” (#27) that hold us bondage to old ways of thinking and narrow our understanding of the world (#147). Pope Francis imagines “a love capable of transcending borders” (#99) and asserts a commitment to serving the vulnerable — the poor, the disabled, the elderly, the enslaved, the migrant, the unborn, the environment, and those whose rights have been violated (#115).
You are not what you buy or post
The pope repeatedly reminds us to resist a “throwaway culture” — life is not about getting rich or how many hearts we receive on an Instagram post. Rather, he appeals to our inherent human dignity, to who we are at our deepest core, with the richness of our gifts and areas of growth, and as sisters and brothers striving toward something greater than ourselves. It is important to find our unique voice in the midst of the “frenzy of texting” (#49) and the emphasis on consumerism.
Politics requires listening
Listening is essential to engender dignity in politics. Pope Francis points out the need for remembering, forgiveness, and reconciliation in societies that have been divided by conflict. He upholds the principle of the common good to move beyond “the satisfaction of short-term partisan interests” (#218). He continues to promote concepts of encounter, love, and social friendship in the political sphere.
Everything is connected
In his second encyclical, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis defined his notion of “integral ecology” — the idea that everything is connected, including the well-being of humans and the well-being of Earth, our common home. His new document, Fratelli Tutti, echoes this sentiment and is particularly poignant in the midst of a world-wide pandemic. The pope points out the work of those on the frontlines during this crisis (doctors, nurses, cleaning personnel, and other essential workers) and how they understand “that no one is saved alone” (#51). This statement invites us all to dream together and to have hope for a future of greater peace, love, and justice.