· Vatican City ·

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich on ‘Fratelli Tutti’

This is the Gospel

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13 November 2020

“You know me, director, and you know how I shy away from rhetoric. But if I have to specify an adjective that shows my state of mind in reading Fratelli Tutti, the only word that comes to mind is ‘enthusiastic’”.  This is how Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of the Commission of Episcopal Conferences of the European Community, began a conversation on the new papal Encyclical, which he offers us despite his many commitments. “I would have preferred to subscribe to your invitation to write an organic commentary on Pope Francis’ beautiful text, but the situation of the pandemic is, here in Luxembourg just as in the rest of Europe, extremely serious, and pastoral commitments are mounting: if the sheep are not gathered, it is the shepherd in this moment who must search for the flock”.

“I am enthusiastic”, he said at the outset, “because in this Letter we taste the flavour of the Gospel. There is nothing more and nothing less than the Gospel. There is nothing other than what Christ tells us in the Gospel. Fratelli Tutti means first and foremost that ours is a community religion: we are never alone before God. Jesus taught us to pray the “Our Father” in the first person plural. But, especially here in Europe, it is now common to pray the ‘my Father’, to indulge a very personal piety, to consider God as  ‘my’ God. This is not simply incorrect; it is not Christian. Jesus is very explicit in this sense: I am with you when “two or three” are gathered in  my name. The essential nature of the very Incarnation is in fraternal sharing. God became man and brother in order to share himself. From this point of view I find prophetic tones in the Letter, with respect to the rising individualism in the post-modern era. And also with respect to the renewal of the Church, which is largely overcoming  a tendency toward individualism which unfortunately also persists within her.

Pope Francis invites us to a new globalization: that of love and fraternity. I am deeply touched by the reference to the Good Samaritan, and by the necessary modernizing of the parable: today I am, I must be, a neighbour to the refugees in Lesvos, be they Christians or Muslims; I am a neighbour to the millions of people suffering from the pandemic everywhere in the world. From the perspective of fraternity, new fields open out  to us, new possibilities to our being Christians. And on the contrary, certain options that are intrinsically opposed to being Christian close, first and foremost populist and nationalistic ideologies. Every “closed” system poses risks. And this also applies to theology and the Church: to always flee from identity-based closures. Openness and change are the paradigm of Christianity; since the time of the Apostles. It is the very presence of Christ in the Church that allows the propensity toward openness. I’ve said it before: the Gospel is in this Letter, and the Gospel always comes first. In this sense I can say that in the Encyclical there is the entire pre-existing Doctrine of the Church, but in Francis’ language, which is a language that makes it fragrant, that is able to speak to the heart”.

Particularly in the first two chapters there are various references to Europe. What impression have they made on you, Your Eminence?

I found it really beautiful that it speaks of Europeans. They are people who have come to know and experience the concept of fraternity. The same concept expressed in lay terms was at the basis of the European project, just as the founding fathers intended. A united Europe is a project of fraternity. The Pope says that if it did not exist, it would have to be invented. It is a model for the world. Nowhere else in the world is it given that nations renounce portions of their sovereignty in order to transfer it to a common project. But this project is in grave difficulty today. The transfer of sovereignty is opposed to ‘sovreignism’. That is, fraternity is opposed to egotism. Look at the situation of the displaced: compromise cannot be found, and if it is found, it is certainly to the detriment of the refugees who pay the price for European indecision and selfishness. No, this is not our history. It is not the best history of Europe, of that united Europe that we want. And this also applies to religions that appear on the European theatre: overcoming the temptations of closure, and with them the generalizations, isolating separatism, and violence. To always recognize that the Other is a wealth. To always see the good that is also always there in the Other. To speak of what unites us, not of what divides us.

We have the duty to make an appeal to everyone’s conscience. It is not (only) an issue of politics. But above all of conscience. The Union needs values, but I do not see a great circulation of ideals at this time. The Union survives on compromises; it does not live on ideals. We have to return to the original ideal of a common Home. The one dreamt of and built by the founding fathers. Which undoubtedly needs updating (for example also in relation to the coexistence of different religious beliefs), but which in its foundations is still valid.

I would like to add one last thing. I see Fratelli Tutti as the continuation and the consequence of Laudato Si’. We live as brothers and sisters in a common home. Only if we are brothers and sisters can we protect our common home. Being brothers and sisters, then, means contributing to the protection of creation with our brothers and sisters of Amazonia and with those of  generations to come. There is a consequential nexus between the two Encyclicals which will be further explored. I have no doubt that both documents are the bases on which to build a new humanism for all men and women of good will.

By Andrea Monda