· Vatican City ·

Fratelli Tutti
A reflection on the Holy Father’s Encyclical

To Recover Authentic Values

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19 March 2021

“Fratelli Tutti”, like the recent Document on Human Fraternity recently signed in Abu Dhabi, sets out the enlightened magisterial indication that the Holy Father wished to address to believers to recognize themselves as children of the one Father and to non-believers to feel they are creatures of a God, Creator of Heaven and Earth!

The Pope opened his reflection by making clear that human life is a fact that does not originate in ourselves, but was given to us by an Other, One who transcends the existence of each individual.

“As believers, we are convinced that, without openness to the Father of all, there will be no solid and stable reasons for an appeal to fraternity. We are certain that ‘only with this awareness that we are not orphans, but children, can we live in peace with one another’”, (FT, n. 272).

We are brothers and sisters endowed with the same human dignity, regardless of race, language, people, nation, culture or religion. This is the challenge Pope Francis has launched to the contemporary world: to consider universal fraternity as the anthropological basis of the dignity of the human person, and that this is the fundamental fact on which to build dialogue for peace. “For a real and lasting peace will only be possible ‘on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family”, (ibid., n. 127).

Fraternity is basic to Pope Bergoglio’s Pontificate. The whole of humanity, upon receiving life, discovers it is bound by the bond of fraternity, which manifests itself as the principle that “entails awareness that we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion” (Laudato Si’, n. 220).

Each person, strong in his or her human dignity, is called to enjoy the same social equality, and therefore respect of his/her inalienable right to life, a life worthy of being called such; including the right to education, work, health, and respect for otherness.

In today’s society it is therefore urgent to create a network of social relations between families, teachers and cultural communicators (cf. FT, n. 114), in order to train the young people of this generation in fraternity and friendship (ibid., n. 2) as well as in solidarity, service, the appreciation of otherness as a starting point to strengthen one’s own identity. It is necessary to teach the lofty values that give life joy and meaning, and view the relationship with the other as a necessary resource to fulfil the project that dwells in the Heart of God: the salvation of humanity.

In his Encyclical Letter Pope Francis illuminates the human path to social Fraternity through meditation on the parable that the Evangelist Luke tells of the “Good Samaritan” (Lk 10:25-37), with particular attention to the two questions that the Doctor of the Law addresses to Jesus: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”. Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?”. He replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself”. He said to him, “‘You have answered right; do this, and you will live’. But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus: ‘And who is my neighbour?’”.

In the political, social and religious context in which the parable was framed, the Samaritans and the Jews were rivals, but this did not prevent the “Good Samaritan” from approaching a Jew whom brigands had severely beaten. The Samaritan heroically managed to overcome himself, and surpass those barriers imposed by human limitations that would not have allowed him to assist one who was in obvious need. The Samaritan had indeed to overcome a geographic barrier to look after a man; a “son” of a rival region. He had to overcome the cultural, political, social and religious barrier. However, the “Good Samaritan” paid no heed to these restrictions, and moved by a healthy feeling of compassion approached that wounded man and took care of him. He offered him his care, time, freely without any economic stipulation. He spent his resources to take care of his needs.

In our highly individualistic culture, the “Good Samaritan’s” conduct is a valid invitation to look at one another with different eyes. The Samaritan was not afraid to offer that man, the three realities so dear to human selfishness: care, time and money. The very restrictive noun, his name, that merely denoted his origin (Samaria), has been enhanced by the term “good”. It not only radically extols his nature, but effectively benefits those who emulate it.

The Good Samaritan was not bound by the rules of the market that slavishly impose the law, “that time is money”. Thus, he was free to devote his time to a stranger, who was injured and mistreated by his fellow men, showing that it is possible to surmount the practical parameters human beings impose. This alone enables the heart to act freely!

By means of this parable, an illuminating icon (cf. FT, n. 67), Pope Francis has illustrated the fundamental Gospel values aimed at redeeming humanity from the globalizing individualism that encloses it in selfish interests, unable to see the needs of others.

Furthermore, the Holy Father has drawn from this parable the indispensable values for establishing human and not only Christian solidarity and co-existence, such as: the value of human dignity, shown by the compassion of the Samaritan, the acceptance of the other, the “gratuitousness that makes it possible for us to welcome the stranger” (ibid., n. 139) which does not begrudge the time offered to others and the money spent on treatment, the tenderness of those who know how to be close (ibid., n. 194). “Kindness facilitates the quest for consensus; it opens new paths where hostility and conflict would burn all bridges” (n. 224), hospitality as a “specific way of rising to the challenge and the gift present in an encounter with those outside one’s own circle” (ibid., n. 90), the immeasurable value of human life as such.

The Samaritan’s action, in Christian ethics, is qualified as excellent, in that he was moved exclusively by Charity (cf. nn. 165, 185) towards a stranger. The Samaritan knew that unselfish love overcomes all obstacles to offer the best of oneself to the other, regardless of who that person may be and without expecting any reward. This is the tender Love of the Heart of God, it is the most true, most concrete and pure feeling that God has towards humanity. Only by exercising Charity towards one’s neighbour, will man have the opportunity to nurture the same feelings as God’s and thus share in his plan of salvation for humanity.

As a consecrated woman in an international Institute, I often wonder how I can actually live this true love within our religious communities, recognizing that the other sister has every right to be respected and loved by me despite the differences that distinguish us.

In the light of this enlightened Encyclical Letter that Pope Francis has given to our hearts, I realize that overcoming the barrier of diversity is a challenge we must have the courage to face within our religious communities too, so as to bear witness to the world that the Gospel must be lived to be credible. In fact, the other person even if different from me does not constitute a threat, because this very diversity is a gift that enriches me and offers me the opportunity to recognize my life as a gift, an unrepeatable gift of God to humanity.

The geometric figure of the polyhedron (EG, n. 236) presented by Pope Francis, “can represent a society where differences coexist, complementing, enriching and reciprocally illuminating one another” (FT, n. 215). The co-existence of human diversity, motivated by mutual charity, allows man of every time and of every race to see in the other not a stranger, not someone different, but a brother, who as such enjoys my same origin; and whose very diversity will become a source of mutual enrichment and enlightenment in conducting the history of human existence wisely and equitably.

True Charity will thus transform diversity into beautiful fundamental relationships and generate healthy and authentic human coexistence! “We were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love” (n. 68).

It is very urgent in our day, marked by individualism and relations that tend more and more to end in “virtual” gestures, to recover authentic interpersonal relationships, where love becomes a concrete action and not only the most inflated word in the human vocabulary. This is why the Pope insists that, there is a need for “physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language, and even the smell, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration, that speak to us are a part of human communication” (ibid., n. 43). All this is essential for the sound, healthy identity of the human person. Only by giving due value to the human person will one realize the need to establish fundamental and correct relations between oneself and those close to one, thus reaching the point of conferring on every human being serene social coexistence. “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with myself, with others, with God and with the earth” (Laudato Si’, n. 70).

It is an arduous but possible journey, a journey that allows us to touch the roots of our being Christian and grants us the awareness that as such we will always be disciples, even when we become Apostles, because it is vital to remain at the school of the Heart of Christ, the Teacher par excellence, who teaches the authentic values that govern the existence of those who walk the path together in this epoch and who share the space on this planet Earth, that groans in pain at the violent blows inflicted by her “children” who live there.

Come, Holy Spirit! Show us your beauty reflected in all peoples of the earth, to reveal that all are important, that all are necessary, that they are different faces of the same humanity loved by God. Amen.

Sr Miriam Cunha Sobrinha
Superior General Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus