“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved”
– ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (Pope Francis)
In his recent Encyclical Letter ‘Fratelli Tutti’, on the call to fraternity and brotherhood, our Holy Father Pope Francis had written about why he felt this document was necessary in the present moment –
“Issues of human fraternity and social friendship have always been a concern of mine. In recent years, I have spoken of them repeatedly and in different settings. In this Encyclical, I have sought to bring together many of those statements and to situate them in a broader context of reflection.”
Over the last week, the Holy Father has written about the need for education, which “bears within itself a seed of hope: the hope of peace and justice; the hope of beauty and goodness; the hope of social harmony”. He has written about the true nature of fulfilment – “We achieve fulfilment when we break down walls and our hearts are filled with faces and names”. And he has written about the theme of the common humanity – “Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives. Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all”.
The broad sense throughout these quotations is that we stand or fall together – we are one single human family, regardless of location, race, education, religion, colour or anything else we might use as ways of dividing us.
Writing again today, Pope Francis makes this point very clearly and notes the reality of this unity –
“We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence and suffering in one part of the earth are a breeding ground for problems that will end up affecting the entire planet.”
There is a prophetic witness in these words of the Holy Father. They are very much ‘counter-cultural’ – our society does not presently look up to fraternity as an ideal. Instead, the world of today values separation and isolation, nationalism and division.
This is the age of the individual. Our focus is almost exclusively on ourselves, paying only lip-service to the reality of a common humanity where the whole is affected by issues relating to the various parts.
In a strange way, the present pandemic offers us an opportunity to reflect on these thoughts of the Pope, and to come to see them as a call to action and to change, as a reminder that we experience life together as one human family, rather than as a vast collection of individuals.
Earlier today, I read a very interesting article which touched on some of these themes, but which also took them one step further, and this made me think – and agree.
The author of that article, Massimo Borghesi, said that ‘Fratelli Tutti’ “must be read carefully to be properly understood”. He pointed out that one risk is that we see the words of the Holy Father as little more than “a series of pious intentions”. Instead, he said we should note carefully where these words are coming from – the perspective of one who sees that the world “is headed towards war”. Calamitous as this might sound at first reading, his point is a sobering one – and one worth considering.
He went on to discuss a number of the world changes which have taken place since the 1980s, especially the deconstruction of many of the ideas, commitments and institutions which have played a pivotal role in holding together an otherwise-brittle world. Of particular note, he mentioned changes in Europe, tensions between those nations which are most capable of global destruction, and the growing sense of separatism and isolationism which is spreading throughout the world. Added to all of this is the polarisation at every level, which is covering the world in a dark shadow.
His central point was that it is into this present situation, coloured by all the changes mentioned, that the Holy Father is giving us the benefit of his perspective.
This is why the Holy Father calls us to be part of a new culture of encounter – between peoples, nations, religions – so that through dialogue, we might find common paths, recognising our common humanity as one single family. And all of this, accomplished in the recognition of a Truth which is greater than us, and which provides the possibility of that dialogue and fraternity to which the Encyclical calls us. For the Holy Father, our Christian identity is central to this – it is the spoke of the wheel, as it were. The proclamation of the Gospel is the determining factor in all this, and it is the Gospel which demands that we go forward in the way proposed, and which gives meaning to that impetus.
Yes, our world is in an increasingly precarious position, and the state of individualised and polarised humanity – whether in religion, nationalism or politics – leaves a lot to be desired. All of this is certainly true. But more than this, there is hope – there is always hope. And for us as Christians, “we put our hope in the Lord.. in Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” (Ps33:20-21).
All of this brought me back to the message of Fatima and some of the words spoken there by the Blessed Virgin Mary –
“..pray the Rosary every day in honour of Our Lady of the Rosary, in order to obtain peace for the world and the end of the war, because only She can help you..”
In those few words, delivered at Fatima in July 1917, She seemed to summarise all that would come later in the words of Pope Francis and of Massimo Borghesi. She seemed, too, to give us the cure for the evils that would descend upon us. Prayer, reparation, the living of a Sacramental life, and devotion to Her Immaculate Heart – this devotion being the specific way to change some things, whilst preventing other things.
It was clear, too, in Her words that the Lord God is concerned not only for our spiritual health, but also for our temporal well-being. More than this, the two were intrinsically linked – war was a punishment for sin; prayer and reparation had the power to change human history.
Perhaps much of what we are presently experiencing stems from our having stopped our ears, so that we no longer hear or pay attention to that heavenly message from 1917 – a message which is as crucial now as then, if not more so.
Listening to the Holy Father, and to those who rightly understand his words and echo their prophetic call in these days, perhaps we need now to go back to basics, recognising that all we are living through may well be the realisation of some of what was referred to all those years ago at Fatima.