October 15, 2020 — Pope Francis’ new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” offers a visionary roadmap toward a more just world. We asked our staff in the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology what we can learn from this rich document.
What is your favorite sentence from the encyclical and why?
Fr. Ted Penton, SJ: “In [the preparation of this encyclical], I have felt particularly encouraged by the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, with whom I met in Abu Dhabi, where we declared that ‘God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters’.”
It is truly historic that the pope and the Grand Imam have such a close relationship, and that the pope cites him as an influence in the drafting of this encyclical, marking a new high point in Catholic-Islamic friendship. In a time when so much looks dark, this growth in mutual understanding between the world’s two largest faith communities is a significant point of light. Pope Francis refers repeatedly to the Grand Imam throughout the encyclical, reminding us in the clearest possible way that God does not see us primarily according to our religion, our nationality or any other category, but looks on us all as equally beloved sons and daughters.
Cecilia Calvo: “For many Christians, this journey of fraternity also has a Mother, whose name is Mary. Having received this universal motherhood at the foot of the cross (cf. Jn 19:26), she cares not only for Jesus but also for ‘the rest of her children’ (cf. Rev 12:17). In the power of the risen Lord, she wants 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.” (FT 278)
Pope Francis invites us on a journey of fraternity and love for our brothers and sisters. This reference to Mary as our mother on this journey of fraternity touches me. As Mary loves Jesus and as a mother loves her child, so we are called to love one another. It is possible for us to give birth to a new world. One that is rooted in compassion, justice and peace.
Caitlin-Marie Ward: “No one will every openly deny that [migrants] are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human.”
I really admire the way Pope Francis is so honest and straightforward. He never lets people lie to themselves. People try to say it’s about national security, public health, any excuse to hide what they know to be wrong — that they believe migrants are less human than native-born citizens. Such honesty is refreshing and also empowering to me as an advocate of migrants’ rights.
Fr. Travis Russell, SJ: “True wisdom demands an encounter with reality.”
I’ve always been a big believer in the “roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty” theology. It’s not very sophisticated, but it’s the surest way I know to find Jesus. Want wisdom? Get yourself messy. It’s that simple.
Pope Francis puts forward the idea of political love. As we approach the U.S. presidential election, how can we exercise this political love in our lives?
Fr. Penton: First and foremost, through listening humbly to one another. The polarization in both our political and religious culture has led to far too many people telling us what we must, or must not, think, support or do, thereby impeding genuine dialogue. Love requires us to approach others where they are and trust that they will meet us where we are, even if these may be very different places. This does not mean leaving aside our principles or commitments, but it does mean sharing them in a respectful way and being open to hearing differing views when those are expressed in good faith.
Cecilia Calvo: As we approach the U.S. presidential election, each of us can reflect on and reimagine the world we want. We live in a time of great division and social unrest that is rooted in many unjust social, economic and political structures. We need a rebirth of our politics and political leaders. For as Pope Francis reminds us in “Fratelli Tutti,” we need a politics rooted in compassion and charity that seeks the common good, places human dignity at the center, unites us and builds community, and demonstrates a preferential love for those in greatest need. This November, we can choose the candidate we believe can lead us on this renewed path of political love, charity and justice.
Caitlin-Marie Ward: During this election season (and beyond), we can practice political love by supporting candidates and policies that are aimed at developing “long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good.” We need to get back to this original purpose of government and reject the current trend of using government to pursue limited political goals or punish our enemies, including the opposing political party.
Fr. Russell: I always go straight for the top: Pray for my enemies. As a Jesuit, you’d think that is a relatively short list — it’s not! But if I can’t pray for my enemies, how am I ever going to love them? Then once I think I’ve got that licked, St. Ignatius’ words get me. “Love,” he said, “is shown more in deeds than in words.” So then I have to pick up the phone and call my enemy. That’s a good place to start. Call someone you disagree with.
What ideas challenged you?
Fr. Penton: All of them! The vision is beautiful, but it’s very challenging to live out.
Cecilia Calvo: One idea that challenged me in Pope Francis’ encyclical is the concept of authentic reconciliation. As Pope Francis states, “Authentic reconciliation does not flee from conflict, but is achieved in conflict, resolving it through dialogue and open, honest and patient negotiation.” (FT 244) In a world where we have many differences, divisions and pain from past injustices, it can be very difficult to talk to one another and hear each other. Yet, if we desire to achieve true peace and healing, we must have an open heart and engage one another through honest dialogue.
Caitlin-Marie Ward: The idea of dialogue challenges me. There have been such hateful policies put forward under the current administration, I wouldn’t even know where to begin in trying to have a dialogue with someone that supports them. My instinct is to simply ignore them, dismiss them as a “lost cause.”
Fr. Russell: To think of someone besides myself. This is the hardest challenge of all. In “Fratelli Tutti,” Francis urges us to move beyond our comfort zones and encounter the other. How does one do that during a pandemic? I don’t know. But it’s necessary.
Why should “Fratelli Tutti” vault to the top of my reading list?
Fr. Penton: What could be a more important theme in this time of division than our universal brotherhood and sisterhood? Pope Francis clearly acknowledges the dark clouds that hang over us, but instead of attacking or demonizing others he presents a beautiful vision for working together to build a worldwide community that respects the dignity of all, leaving out no one.
Cecilia Calvo: We are living during a time of much uncertainty. The pandemic has cast a light on our common fragility and on the unjust structures and systems that place all of us and especially the most vulnerable at risk. During this time, we need to plant seeds of hope that are rooted in our faith and our common humanity. Pope Francis in “Fratelli Tutti” is asking us to turn away from this throwaway culture and culture of indifference and instead to embrace “a culture of encounter capable of transcending our differences and divisions,” a culture where everyone is included and no one is expendable. (FT 215) This is a message and call to action that our world desperately needs.
Caitlin-Marie Ward: “Fratelli Tutti” provides a clear-eyed view of our political, social and economic world. It isn’t preachy but is honest in the way it forces us to confront the truth of our thoughts, feelings and actions. It isn’t partisan either, hence, we could all learn from the Pope’s words. If we are to have hope in a better tomorrow, then “Fratelli Tutti” must be at the top of everyone’s reading lists.
Fr. Russell: Because it takes the Gospel seriously. Though, unless you’re a real papal encyclical junkie, I suggest taking your time. Pray with it. Let it move your heart. There’s lots of good stuff. But a word of caution: It’s 92 pages! Good golly, does Francis need an editor.