When I first arrived in San Francisco, one of our brothers told me a joke about Pope Francis. “He has a heart of a Franciscan and a mind of a Jesuit,” said the brother. “Thank goodness it’s not the other way around.”
I am always comforted reading the works of Pope Francis. Whether it be his weekly Angelus addresses, an apostolic exhortation, or his latest book, Pope Francis speaks to me as if he were a local parish priest. As someone whose catholicism extends beyond denominational divides, it is a great blessing to have such holy and inspiring figures like Pope Francis, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomeos leading God’s people in the 21st Century.
One can imagine my excitement then when I first heard the news of an upcoming encyclical by Pope Francis. Not only was it set to be released on the Feast of St. Francis, but its title, like the Pope’s previous encyclical, Laudato si’, was taken from the writings of St. Francis as well. In Laudato si’, the primary theme is humanity’s relationship to the planet. It is a must-read for any person, regardless of denomination, who seeks a more harmonious relationship between humans and creation. “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently,” writes the Pope in Laudato si’. “We realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others….Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us” (Laudato si’ §159). Our care for our common home is, I would argue, the most pressing issue our generation faces in the 21st Century. Those institutions, traditions, and cultures we value and have come to rely on cannot exist in a world ravaged by our refusal to care for the planet.
Appropriately, Fratelli Tutti picks up where Laudato si’ left off. Pope Francis writes, “This saint of fraternal love, simplicity, and joy [i.e. Saint Francis], who inspired me to write the Encyclical Laudato si’, prompts me once more to devote this new Encyclical to fraternity and social friendship” (Fratelli Tutti §2). Just as St Francis felt himself a brother to the Sun, the moon, the wind, and the water, writes the Pope, “he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh. (§2).
Like other papal encyclicals, Pope Francis seems to accurately gauge the times we are living in while also providing an inspirational vision for the future. Just as Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum (1891) addressed the need for industrial societies in the late 19th century to care for the dignity of laborers, or Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris (1963) addressed a world on edge during the Cold War, Fratelli Tutti is a document for our time. In it, Pope Francis critiques the rising tide of populism in the Western world, especially in the United States and Western Europe. Pope Francis provides an overview of some of the more disparaging trends he sees in the world today. “Ancient conflicts thought long buried are breaking out anew, while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise” (§11). Although imperfect and rightly deserving of some criticism, institutions like the United Nations or the European Union, the Pope reminds us, have helped prevent the outbreak of a Third World War. As growing populist movements threaten that stability, the future of those institutions are in jeopardy. Each successive generation must do the hard work of building up cultures and communities where all persons are respected. We cannot continue down our present course of a “cool, comfortable and globalized indifference” (§30) to the problems of the world. As COVID has reminded us, we are all on the same boat. We are all in this together.
Those who read Fratelli Tutti in hopes of finding brand new teachings or lessons will be disappointed. Very little of this work by Pope Francis’ work seemed new or revelatory to me. Anyone following the Pope would have probably heard many of the major themes or ideas expressed in Fratelli Tutti. However, it should be read by everyone who finds themself interested in bringing diverse peoples and community communities together. I predict Fratelli Tutti along with Laudato si’ will become the defining works of Pope Francis’ pontificate. Pope Francis’ latest encyclical calls us to remember Christ’s words to his disciples on the night before he was handed over to death. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).
Brother James Nathaniel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org