With a powerful plea for fraternity and social friendship across all borders, Pope Francis addressed humanity. In the social encyclical “Fratelli tutti”, published on Sunday in eight languages, he calls for a turning away from selfishness on all levels of society.
Only in this way can the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic and global challenges such as social inequality and migration be overcome.
His letter, which bears the hallmarks of a social utopia, is expressly addressed by the 83-year-old to “all people of good will” regardless of their faith. According to Francis, the text was also inspired by the Egyptian Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, a leading scholar of Islam. As a papal document of principle, the encyclical has a high commitment for 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide.
In the text, which comprises 287 articles, the Pope advocates, following the example of St. Francis, “recognizing, appreciating and loving” other people in a friendly openness, regardless of their origin or social affiliation.
Inspiration from non-Catholics
Anyone who thinks they can solve the global problems after the coronavirus crisis with the old systems is “on the wrong track”. In his own words, the Pope was also inspired by non-Catholics such as the US civil rights activist Martin Luther King, the South African Anglican Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi.
In dealing with conflicts, the Pope urges a strengthening of the United Nations and demands the subordination of national interests to the global common good. Once again he condemns war and armament as a means of politics. He also opposes excessive influence of the economy.
He demands the inclusion of all social groups, including the weakest, in decision-making and development processes. In doing so, he supports an “option for the poor” and the right to cultural identity against global egalitarianism; he condemns this as colonialism.
Support for the refugee movement
On the theme of migration, Francis emphasizes that as long as the conditions for a life in dignity are lacking in the countries of origin, “the right of every person to find a place where he or she can not only meet his or her basic needs and those of his or her family, but also fully realize himself or herself as a person” must be respected.
Every country is “also a country of the foreigner”; the goods of a territory may not be withheld “from a needy person who comes from another place.
On Saturday the Pope had gone to Assisi to sign the encyclical at the tomb of St. Francis (1181/82-1226). The medieval beggar brother is considered a model of radical devotion to all people and creatures. “Fratelli tutti” is his third encyclical and follows on from “Laudato si” of 2015. This letter on the environment and social justice also referred to Francis of Assisi.
The third encyclical of Francis explicitly addresses women with a gender-sensitive title. In the German version it reads “Fratelli tutti – on fraternity and social friendship”.
In the run-up to the encyclical, there had been disagreements about how best to translate the Italian word “fratellanza” (literally: fraternity). Not only from Germany voices were raised calling for a more inclusive variant – with success. Also in the further course of the more than 80 pages long text, “fraternity” replaced “brotherhood” in most places.
In contrast, the title of the Abu Dhabi Document, which the Pope had published in early 2019 with the Cairo Grand Imam Ahmad Mohammad Al-Tayyeb, still said “about the brotherhood of all people”. The word “brotherhood” does not appear once in this text.
With regard to the new encyclical, the papal media director Andrea Tornielli recently declared: “It would be absurd to think that the wording of the title intends to exclude more than half of the addressees. Francis wants to address “all sisters and brothers, all men and women of good will”.
Pope warns against digital media
The Pope dedicates a multi-page section in his circular “on fraternity and social friendship to the new media. In it, he warns of the harmful effects of global digital networking. This alone “is not enough to build bridges,” writes Francis.
It is “not able to unite humanity”. In a further section of the encyclical, he praises the Internet for the possibilities of encounter, but he says that it must be constantly reviewed whether today’s forms of communication “really lead to a generous encounter”.
Under the heading “The deception of communication”, the Pope criticizes that in the digital world “everything becomes a spectacle”. “Life is subjected to constant scrutiny.” Respect for fellow human beings is crumbling, shame boundaries are falling away, social aggressiveness is spreading.
“This happens with an uninhibitedness that could not happen when we meet face to face, because otherwise we would end up tearing each other apart,” said the Pope. In addition, he said, there was a danger that users would be hindered in developing genuine interpersonal relationships.
Virtual proximity as a danger
After all, the virtual proximity on the net is only an apparent one. “It requires physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language and even smell, trembling hands, blushing and sweating, because all this speaks and belongs to human communication.
Instead, networking often leads to “consumerist isolation” and the formation of “destructive hate groups”. These are not, as some would have us believe, platforms for mutual help, but “pure associations against an enemy”. Thus, “people or situations that hurt our sensibility or were unpleasant for us are today simply eliminated in the virtual networks,” Francis says. “In this way we form a virtual circle that isolates us from the environment in which we live.”
— Hector Pascua, Source: religion.orf.at. Picture: herder.at
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