With coronavirus and the election dominating the headlines this fall, you may have, like me, missed the release of a major document in the ecumenical world. On October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis released a new encyclical titled Fratelli tutti (Brothers all, or, Siblings all). Encyclicals carry the highest authority of papal teaching for the church, and this is the third and perhaps final from this pope.
The pandemic struck as Francis was writing. In the introduction he writes that Covid-19 has been “exposing our false securities,” and “anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.”
The title, translated “Siblings all” communicates the global scope of concern. In the first chapter he reflects on the current regression from global cooperation and rise of nationalism. He notes that globalism has been “co-opted by the financial and economic sector,” quoting the words of his predecessor, Pope Benedict: “As society becomes ever more globalized, it makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers.” It makes us “consumers and bystanders.” His critique of capitalism is met with a plea for “promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity.”
It’s a long document, and I just dipped into it, so after chapter 1 I’m taking my notes from a summary of it reported by Christian Century magazine (November 4 edition). Pope Francis reiterates his rejection of nuclear arms and the death penalty which he calls “inadmissible” no matter the case. Building on previous documents of Catholic-Muslim relations, Francis again affirms the “pluralism and diversity of religions.”
In a move that ought to perk the ears of Mennonites and all peace loving folks, Francis rejects the historic Catholic teachings on just war, saying it has been applied wrongly and no longer holds. “It is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war.’”
During this time when we (or at least I!) have been consumed with concerns on the national scale, Fratelli tutti is a much needed reminder that the human family exists as one, and that the concerns of the church, and of God, know no borders. Our allegiance is ultimately to that which brings justice and goodness to not just our nation, and not just humanity, but the whole of creation.
As we finish our Cultivating Beloved Community worship series this Sunday, and as we pray one more time the “Prayer of St. Francis” using sign language, my prayer is that the vision of our current Francis become more a reality in our hearts and world.
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.
- Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis