On the vigil of the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis issued an encyclical letter entitled “Fratelli Tutti.” These words come from Saint Francis. The Holy Father reminds us that wherever Saint Francis went, “he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis builds upon this theme in an encyclical of over 90 pages. Rather than give a comprehensive summary, I will offer a few nuggets that stood out to me upon reviewing the document.
A “throwaway” culture
From the very beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has challenged our throwaway culture, which sees our fellow brothers and sisters as disposable:
Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly….” (Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 18)
When we see human life as disposable, this can translate into the sin of racism:
In addition, a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think. (Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 20)
Pope Francis reminds us that pandemics and other world calamities can draw us together as a human family. The risk is that, after the crisis has passed, we return to treating each other poorly. He prays that we will not succumb to such a future as we respond to COVID-19:
Once this health crisis passes, … God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of “them” and “those”, but only “us”. (Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 35)
While offering a sober assessment of the world in which we live, he brings forth a note of hope:
I invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart… Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… (Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 55)
There is plenty to absorb in the encyclical, but my primary takeaway is that God calls us to be intentional in loving and honoring every human life. We are motivated by God’s love for us and our love for God. The pope’s message reminds us that we must care for and respect one another, regardless of the color of our skin, or country of origin. We must especially embrace those who are unable to care for themselves, like the unborn and the elderly.
As Catholics, we need to be committed to work together to build a future that truly values every human life. The pope’s message also touches upon matters of global action. As individual Catholics, we may not have all the levers to effect global change. Yet we can all start with ourselves, and then ask the Lord how we can be a channel of His love and mercy to a hurting world. With hearts renewed, we ask the Lord to inspire us to become beacons of hope and light to others. As stated in my episcopal motto, “We proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5)
Jesus, I Trust in You!
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us…
The Most Reverend Robert J. McClory
Diocese of Gary