What are the great ideals but also the concretely practicable ways for those who want to build a more just and fraternal world in their daily relationships, in society, in politics, in institutions? With this Encyclical, signed on 3 October 2020, in Assisi, on the vigil of the feast of St. Francis, the Pope intends to recall that we are “all brothers”. It is a “social encyclical”, in the manner of the “Admonitions” that St. Francis used “to address all his brothers and sisters and offer them a form of life with the flavor of the Gospel”.
Global problems require global actions, no to the «culture of walls»
In the first chapter, “the shadows of a closed world”, the document focuses on the many distortions of the contemporary era: the manipulation and deformation of concepts such as democracy, freedom, justice; the loss of the sense of society and of history; selfishness and disinterest for the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and a throwaway culture; unemployment, racism, poverty; the inequality of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjected and then forced to abort, organ trafficking (10-24), all global problems that require global action, underlines the Pope, sounding the alarm also against a “culture of walls” which favours the proliferation of mafias, fuelled by fear and loneliness (27-28). Furthermore, today there is a deterioration of ethics (29) to which the mass media contribute, in a certain way, which destroy respect for the other and eliminate all modesty, creating isolated and self-referential virtual circles, in which freedom is an illusion and dialogue is not constructive (42-50).
Love builds bridges: the example of the Good Samaritan
Love builds bridges and we “are made for love” (88), the Pope ads, exhorting Christians in particular to recognize Christ in the face of everyone excluded (85). The principle of the capacity to love according to “a universal dimension” (83) is also taken up in the third chapter. “Thinking and generating an open world”: in it, Francis exhorts us to “go out of ourselves” to find growth of being “(88), opening ourselves to our neighbor according to the dynamism of charity that makes us tend towards” universal communion “(95). Basically, the spiritual stature of human life is defined by love which “is always in first place” and leads us to seek the best for the life of the other, far from any selfishness (92-93).
Rights have no borders; ethics of international relations are needed
A fraternal society, therefore, will be one that promotes education in dialogue to defeat “the virus of radical individualism” (105) and to allow everyone to give their best. Starting with the protection of the family and respect for its “primary and essential educational mission” (114). The Pope proposes two “tools” to achieve this type of society: benevolence, that is, the concrete desire for the good of the other (112), and solidarity, which takes care of frailties and is expressed in service to people and not to ideologies, fighting against poverty and inequality (115). In this perspective, the Pontiff also calls to think of “an ethics of international relations” (126), because every country also belongs to the foreigner and the goods of the territory cannot be denied to those in need and come from another place. . The natural right to private property will therefore be secondary to the principle of the universal destination of created goods (120). The Encyclical also makes a specific emphasis on the question of foreign debt: without prejudice to the principle that it must be paid, it is nevertheless hoped that this does not compromise the growth and subsistence of the poorest countries (126).
Migrants: global governance for long-term projects
The second and the entire fourth chapter, on the other hand, is partly dedicated to the theme of migration, “a heart open to the whole world”: with their “torn lives” (37), fleeing wars, persecutions, natural disasters, unscrupulous traffickers, torn from their communities of origin, migrants must be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated. Specifically, the Pope indicates some “indispensable answers” especially for those fleeing “serious humanitarian crises”: increasing and simplifying the granting of visas; open humanitarian corridors; ensure housing, security and essential services; offer job and training opportunities; encourage family reunification; protect minors; guarantee religious freedom and promote social inclusion.
From the Pope also the invitation to establish, in society, the concept of “full citizenship”, renouncing the discriminatory use of the term “minorities” (129-131). What is needed above all is a global governance, an international collaboration for migration that launches long-term projects, going beyond individual emergencies (132), in the name of a solidarity development of all peoples based on the principle of gratuitousness. In this way, countries will be able to think as “a human family” (139-141). The other who is different from us is a gift and an enrichment for all, Francis writes, because differences represent a possibility for growth (133-135). A healthy culture is a welcoming culture that knows how to open up to others, without giving up on itself, offering them something authentic. As in a polyhedron, the whole is more than the single parts, but each of them is respected in its value (145-146).
Politics, one of the most precious forms of charity
Pope Francis criticizes “populism” which ignores the legitimacy of the notion of ‘people’, attracting consensus to exploit it in its own service and fomenting selfishness to increase its popularity (159). The best policy is that which protects work, an “indispensable dimension of social life” and seeks to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to develop their abilities (162). The best help for the poor, explains the Pontiff, is not only money, which is a temporary remedy, but also to allow him a dignified life through work.
Furthermore, the task of politics is to find a solution to everything that attacks fundamental human rights, such as social exclusion; trafficking in organs, tissues, weapons and drugs; sexual exploitation; slave labour; terrorism and organized crime. The Pope’s appeal to definitively eliminate trafficking, “shame for humanity”, and hunger, as it is “criminal” because food is “an inalienable right” (188-189).
The market alone does not solve everything. ONU reform is needed
“The market alone does not solve everything”: the “massacres” caused by financial speculations have demonstrated this (168). Thus, popular movements take on particular importance: true “social poets” and “torrents of moral energy”, they must be involved in social, political and economic participation, subject to greater coordination.
In all this, the task of the United Nations should be to give substance to the concept of “family of nations” by working for the common good, the eradication of poverty and the protection of human rights. Tirelessly resorting to “negotiation, good offices and arbitration” – states the pontifical document – the UN must promote the strength of law over the law of force, favouring multilateral agreements that better protect even the weakest states (173-175 ).
The miracle of kindness
From the sixth chapter, “dialogue and social friendship”, the concept of life also emerges as the “art of encounter” with everyone, even with the peripheries of the world and with the original peoples, because “something can be learned from everyone and no one is useless “(215).
The Pope’s call to the “miracle of kindness” is particular, an attitude to be recovered because it is “a star in the darkness” and a “liberation from the cruelty, anxiety and distracted urgency” that prevail in contemporary times. A kind person, writes Francis, creates a healthy coexistence and opens the way where exasperation destroys bridges (222-224).
The artisanship of peace and the importance of forgiveness
In the seventh chapter, “Paths of a new encounter”, the Pope emphasizes that peace is linked to truth, justice and mercy. Far from the desire for revenge, it is “proactive” and aims at forming a society based on service to others and on the pursuit of reconciliation and mutual development (227-229). In a society, everyone must feel “at home”. For this reason, peace is a “craft” that involves and concerns everyone and in which each one must do his part.
Linked to peace is forgiveness: we must love everyone, without exception – reads the Encyclical – but loving an oppressor means helping him to change and not allowing him to continue to oppress his neighbour. In the other hand: those who suffer injustice must vigorously defend their rights in order to safeguard their dignity, a gift of God (241-242).
No more war, humanity’s failure!
Part of the seventh chapter then focuses on war: it is not “a ghost of the past”, but “a constant threat” and represents the “denial of all rights”, “the failure of politics and humanity” , “The shameful surrender to the forces of evil” and their “abyss”. Moreover, due to the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that affect many innocent civilians, today we can no longer think, as in the past, of a possible “just war”, but we must strongly reaffirm “never again war!”. And considering that we are experiencing “a third world war in pieces”, because all conflicts are interconnected, the total elimination of nuclear weapons is “a moral and humanitarian imperative”.
Rather, with the money that is invested in armaments, a World Fund is established to eliminate hunger (255-262).
Death penalty is inadmissible; abolish it all over the world
The death penalty is inadmissible and must be abolished all over the world. “The murderer does not lose his personal dignity – writes the Pope – God is his guarantor”. Hence, two exhortations: not to see punishment as revenge, but as part of a process of healing and social reintegration, and to improve the conditions of prisons, while respecting the human dignity of prisoners, also considering that life imprisonment “is a hidden death penalty “(263-269). The need to respect “the sacredness of life” (283) is reaffirmed where today “certain parts of humanity seem expendable”, such as the unborn, the poor, the disabled, the elderly (18).
Guaranteeing religious freedom, a fundamental human right
In the eighth and final chapter, the Pontiff dwells on “religions at the service of brotherhood in the world” and reiterates that violence has no basis in religious convictions, but in their deformations. “Hideous” acts such as terrorist ones, therefore, are not due to religion, but to erroneous interpretations of religious texts, as well as to policies of hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression. Terrorism should not be supported either with money, nor with weapons, nor with media coverage because it is an international crime against world security and peace and as such, it must be condemned (282-283). At the same time, the Pope emphasizes that a path of peace between religions is possible and that it is therefore necessary to guarantee religious freedom, a fundamental human right for all believers (279).
The Encyclical makes a reflection, in particular, on the role of the Church: it does not relegate its mission to the private sector, it is not on the margins of society and, while it does not engage in politics, it does not renounce the political dimension of existence. Attention to the common good and concern for integral human development, in fact, concern humanity and all that is human concerns the Church, according to evangelical principles (276-278).
Finally, recalling religious leaders to their role as “authentic mediators” who spend themselves in building peace, Francis cites the “Document on human brotherhood for world peace and coexistence”, which he himself signed on 4 February 2019 in Abu Dhabi , together with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyib: from this milestone of interreligious dialogue, the Pontiff takes up the appeal that, in the name of human brotherhood, dialogue is adopted as the way, common collaboration as conduct and mutual knowledge as a method and criterion (285).
Blessed Charles de Foucauld, «the universal brother»
The Encyclical concludes with the memory of Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and above all Blessed Charles de Foucauld, a model for all of what it means to identify with the least in order to become “the universal brother” (286-287) . The last lines of the document are entrusted to two prayers: one “to the Creator” and the other “ecumenical Christian”, so that “a spirit of brothers” may lodge in the hearts of men.