COVID-19 has led us all to wonder. We wonder when it will end, how it will end, what we can do to help bring it to an end. We also wonder what our world and our lives will be like when it is all over. Do we want to go back to life the way it was before? Certainly, there are a great many things we would like to have back again – most of all an end to worry and anxiety. Nevertheless, there are many things we would like to be different. We don’t want our post COVID-19 world to be simply a photocopy of life before the pandemic.
Pope Francis has recently published an encyclical letter along those lines. What needs to change in our world? He chose as the title of his letter a phrase from St Francis of Assisi in which he described all people as brother and sisters Fratelli Tutti. The Pope believes that what the world needs most of all is fraternity, that we may grow as sisters and brothers inspired by mutual respect and love.
The Pope uses the phrase ‘dark clouds over a closed world’ to describe our world today. There is a great deal of division and bitterness in our contemporary world, Nations, groups of all kinds and even many individuals find it so much easier to list what separates other nations, groups and individuals rather than what unites us. The dignity of every man and woman is so often lost sight of in a world where fear of the stranger abounds, borders are valued, the creation of wealth triumphs human rights and an endless stream of information usurps wisdom.
A beautiful reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan forms the heart of the papal letter. Only the stranger stopped to help the man left for dead by robbers. The others just kept walking thereby making themselves allies of the attackers. Pope Francis invites us to enter into the story and ask ourselves which character we resemble; the victim, the aggressors, the indifferent or the foreigner who stopped to help. This is not an easy question especially for those who believe in borders and division.
The letter calls for an open world where the dignity of every person is valued. To be fully human we need to move beyond ourselves, our families, communities, social groups and nations. The fact that a person was born in a place with fewer resources does not dimmish his/her dignity. Our common humanity and dignity supersede race, gender, age, nationality, material wealth, language and formal education. Diversity brings mutual enrichment. A healthy openness to the other nourishes rather than never threatens our own identity.
Politics plays a key role in the development on a world where the dignity of each person is recognised and valued. The politics that we need to make wonderful things happen is the politics of love. Individuals can do a great deal, but many things depend on how society is structured. An individual can help a person to cross a river, but building a bridge requires political action. Politics needs to draw us together as a people, unite us and combine ‘love with hope and with confidence in the reserves of goodness present in human hearts’.
Dialogue is what keeps families, communities and ultimately humanity together. ‘Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground’ is what is needed. The Pope calls on us to ‘arm our children with the weapons of dialogue’. The letter also reminds us that kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit which makes life more bearable as we share each other’s problems, needs and fears. Kindness is about esteem and respect for each other which once it becomes a culture within society transforms lifestyles and relationships and facilitates consensus.
A world where fraternity reigns is a world without war since every war ‘leaves our world worse off than it was before’. War is always a failure and consumes resources needed to nourish humanity. Equally other forms of violence such as the death penalty are a denial of human dignity.
People of faith have a particular duty to work for fraternity and have a distinct and valuable contribution to make. A society built on dialogue and mutual respect is open to hearing, engaging with and cherishing every voice and tradition.
The letter concludes with a prayer:
May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.
The English language version of the Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti can be found on the Vatican website www.vatican.va
Radharc na nOileán Pastoral Area
Kildysart, Co Clare.