“Fratelli tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship” is destined to be a defining document and body of teaching for the pontificate of Pope Francis. With this powerful encyclical letter, addressed to all people of goodwill, the Holy Father again reminds us why he is considered a preeminent moral teacher — and in an extraordinarily critical and fraught moment in human history.
“Fratelli tutti” represents a synthesis of the social teaching of Pope Francis. The encyclical draws deeply from previous writings, particularly “Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” and his addresses, especially those directed to the international community. His framework is Christian, but his approach is also deliberately ecumenical and interfaith. For example, he draws on his collaboration with the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb (see “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” Abu Dhabi, 2019) and references Jewish sources.
The pope begins by identifying the challenges that result from the fragmentation and division afflicting humanity on personal, national, and international levels. These include violence and the prospect of war and civil unrest, racism, the degradation of the environment, the “discarding” of the poor and vulnerable, the crises prompted by the migration of desperate peoples, economies that benefit privileged groups, and a stridency and coarseness that mark our public discourse and private communications and disable possibilities for real human connection. The title of this first chapter captures the mood: “Dark Clouds over a Closed World.”
He then offers a penetrating reflection on the Parable of the Good Samaritan in the second chapter, “The Stranger on the Road,” which engages every one of us and the global community in a self-examination of conscience: “Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders.”
In his third chapter, “Envisaging and Engendering an Open World,” he begins a constructive project that occupies the remainder of the encyclical by reimagining a new and hopeful way of living together, one that is ultimately rooted in love and respect for the dignity of all people. He ends this chapter with these powerful words: “…if we accept the great principle that there are inalienable rights born of our human dignity, we can rise to the challenge of envisaging a new humanity. We can aspire to a world that provides land, housing, and work for all. This is the true path of peace, not the senseless and myopic strategy of sowing mistrust and fear of outside threats. For a real and lasting peace can only be built ‘on the basis of a global ethic of solidarity and cooperation in the service of a future shaped by interdependence and shared responsibility in the whole human family’” [“Address on Nuclear Weapons,” 2019].
This new and hopeful vision involves an openness to and interest in those who are different, leading to the enrichment that comes in the exchange of gifts (Chapter 4), a better kind of politics (Chapter 5), and a culture of dialogue and friendship. The vision he describes is in sharp contrast to a prevalent way of doing political business: revenge for past losses, the use of force, and a view of economic profit as paramount (Chapter 6).
At the very end, Pope Francis invokes the saint who prompted his reflections and the title of the encyclical, Saint Francis. But, true to the pope’s desire to engage the global community in this critical conversation, he associates himself with faithful people beyond the Catholic world who witnessed to fraternity and social friendship: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others.
Let us take up this conversation as brothers and sisters.