An invitation to a fraternity which exceeds all barriers
by Father Andrzej Choromaski,
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Fratelli tutti (All Brothers) is the title of the recent encyclical of Pope Francis signed on 3 October 2020 at the tomb of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church and beyond. Indeed, the encyclical reflects on a brotherhood that extends not only to Christians but to all human beings regardless of religious creed. Pope Francis states that besides Francis of Assisi, he has been inspired by numerous non-Catholics including Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, and non-Christians such as Mahatma Gandhi (cf. n.286). As a particularly important inspiration for the document he recalls his meeting in Abu Dhabi 4 February 2019 with Ahmad al-Tayyeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, during which they signed the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, stating that “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters”. In the language of the encyclical this universal brotherhood or fraternity denotes not only, and not even so much, a positive emotion or a feeling towards others as, rather, a positive attitude and tangible social action in order to build together a world which is a home for all human beings, especially those marginalised by social, economic and political inequalities today. This is why Fratelli tutti makes a distinction between authentic fraternity and mere sociality.
Referring to the present situation, the Pope states that the unexpected eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed not only our false securities but also the fragmentation of our world and the inability of various countries to work together in response to the global crisis despite our “hyper-connectivity” (cf. n.7). Yet at the same time, the pandemic has “momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all. Once more we realised that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together” (n.32). Indeed, as the encyclical states, “[L]ife exists where there is bonding, communion, fraternity; and life is stronger than death when it is built on true relationships and bonds of fidelity. On the contrary, there is no life when we claim to be self-sufficient and live as islands: in these attitudes, death prevails” (n.87).
The fraternity to which the encyclical aspires expands even further than the human family and includes the earth itself – our “common home” (n. 8) – for which we are all responsible. “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (n.120). In the name of this universal destiny of the earth and its resources we are all called to become ‘friends’ and ‘custodians’ of our common home. The new encyclical continues the ecological approach developed in Pope Francis’ previous encyclical, Laudato si’ (Praise Be to You), on care for our common home, published five years ago, in which Pope Francis recognized a particular source of inspiration in His All Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch, “who has spoken forcefully of our need to care for creation” (n.5). Without caring together and responsibly for our mother-earth which sustains all of us we cannot pretend to be friends to each other.
In the context of this universal fraternity and our common responsibility for the earth, a special mission belongs to those who are “baptised into one body” and who bear the name of Christians. Not only they are called “to strengthen unity within the Church, a unity enriched by differences reconciled by the working of the Spirit”, but also to give a prophetic “common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity” (n. 280).
It certainly is not a mere coincidence that the Holy Father decided to conclude his encyclical with “An Ecumenical Christian Prayer”, that is offered as a source of inspiration for all those who invoke with faith and confidence the name of Jesus Christ:
“O God, Trinity of love,
from the profound communion of your divine life,
pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
in his family of Nazareth,
and in the early Christian community.
Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
discovering Christ in each human being,
recognizing him crucified
in the sufferings of the abandoned
and forgotten of our world,
and risen in each brother or sister
who makes a new start.
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.”