On Saturday 3 October 2020, Pope Francis released his new encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti. This comes five years after his ground-breaking letter on integral ecology and care for the earth, Laudato Si’.
Once again the Pope draws on inspiration from his namesake St Francis of Assisi, whose feast day of 4 October coincides with the publication of the new encyclical. The opening paragraph makes clear the primacy of love for our neighbour; no matter who she or he may be, no matter where they come from, or how far away they may be. This value, fraternity and social friendship, is the underpinning logic of the entire document:
“FRATELLI TUTTI. With these words, Saint Francis of Assisi addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel. Of the counsels Francis offered, I would like to select the one in which he calls for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother “as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him”. In his simple and direct way, Saint Francis expressed the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.” (Fratelli Tutti 1)
The Holy Father immediately reflects on St Francis’ openness of heart and love for his neighbour that inspired the saint’s journey to Egypt to visit Sultan Malik-el-Kamil in search of peace during the Crusades: “There is an episode in the life of Saint Francis that shows his openness of heart, which knew no bounds and transcended differences of origin, nationality, colour or religion.” (Fratelli Tutti 3) The Catholicity of St Francis, that is the universality of love and brotherhood to which we are called, is what Pope Francis brings to our attention.
Grounded in this most fundamental Christian value of brotherhood and love of neighbour, Pope Francis does not shy away from challenging the prevalent political, economic and socio-cultural system. In the first chapter “Dark clouds over a closed world”, as in Laudato Si’, he shines a spotlight on the current norms and trends that miss the mark, and that are damaging, rather than life-giving.
In the second chapter, “A stranger on the road”, Francis reflects on the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example not only of the duty to love thy neighbour, but the failure of society to respond to our brothers and sisters in need. In the third chapter, “Envisaging and engendering an open world”, Francis calls on us to look beyond ourselves, and to find “a fuller existence in another” (Fratelli Tutti 88)
In chapter four, “A Heart Open to the Whole World”, Francis deals with the real world implications of living our universal brotherhood: “If the conviction that all human beings are brothers and sisters is not to remain an abstract idea but to find concrete embodiment” (Fratelli Tutti 128). In this chapter he deals with the range of issues that come from borders and migration and globalisation. In chapter five “A Better Kind of Politics”, the Pope suggests lines of approach for the type of politics needed for “The development of a global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations” (Fratelli Tutti 154). He examines populism and liberalism, the role of power in politics, and the possibility of a politics of love.
In chapter six “Dialogue and Friendship in Society”, he outlines approaches for greater understanding and participation based on meaningful encounter with one another. This in turn is followed by chapter seven “Paths of New Encounter” which outlines concrete proposals for an architecture of engagement, and finally chapter eight, “Religions at the Service of Fraternity in our World”, explores the role of faith in shaping and nurturing this new approach.
Throughout, Pope Francis directly challenges the treatment of migrants referring to “an absence of human dignity on the borders”. He states:
“Certain populist political regimes, as well as certain liberal economic approaches, maintain that an influx of migrants is to be prevented at all costs. […] Many migrants have fled from war, persecution and natural catastrophes. Others, rightly, “are seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. They dream of a better future and they want to create the conditions for achieving it”. […] Then too, “in some host countries, migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves, and it needs to be addressed decisively”. Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person. Hence they ought to be “agents in their own redemption”. No one will ever openly deny that they are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love. […] I realize that some people are hesitant and fearful with regard to migrants. I consider this part of our natural instinct of self-defence. Yet it is also true that an individual and a people are only fruitful and productive if they are able to develop a creative openness to others. I ask everyone to move beyond those primal reactions because “there is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other”. (Fratelli Tutti 37-41)
In this way, the Holy Father calls on us to put love before fear, to place the duty to our faith before our politics, and to live up to our responsibility to seek ways to “find the right balance between [our] twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of citizens and to assure assistance and acceptance to migrants”. (Fratelli Tutti 40)
Together Laudato Si’ and Fratelli Tutti form what is probably the most important and indeed radical analysis of our present system; not from a conservative, or liberal, or socialist, or green perspective, but from the perspective of a Christian vision of life with love at the centre. As Kevin Hargaden, director of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, rather nicely put it in a tweet a few days later: “I’ve got my quibbles but it’s fair to speculate that an old Argentinian man dropped what will possibly be the most influential political manifesto of this century so far, freely available online, already translated”.
To read the encyclical please visit the Vatican website at:
Also “Fratelli tutti”: long summary of Pope Francis’s Social Encyclical: