By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
On Tuesday, Christians were presented an opportunity to delve deeper into the spirit of Pope Francis’ latest Encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, through a webinar hosted by the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations (WUCWO).
The online formation session, guided by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, was streamed live via the Facebook account of the women’s organization. Participation was open not only WUCWO member organizations around the world, but also to the general public.
At its peak, the participants numbered around 55, with people from different continents actively following the session.
Inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi
One distinctive trait of Fratelli Tutti, Cardinal Tagle explained, is that it forms a triad with two other encyclicals – all three unified by the memory of Saint Francis of Assisi. The first, Evangelii Gaudium, is inspired by the request Saint Francis received from God to rebuild the Church. Pope Francis, echoed this by creating the idea of a vision in which the Church in the 21st century is "re-built" through the joy of the Gospel. The second, Laudato sí, outlines our shared r,esponsibility for our common home. The third, Fratelli tutti, invites us to social friendship and to be brothers and sisters to one another.
A methodology that is a spiritual vision
Cardinal Tagle highlighted that the Pope adopts a methodology in Fratelli tutti that involves: first, reading and analysing the situation, the signs and trends of the present world; next, the interpretation of the present times in the light of faith, with discernment and judgment; and third, responding – going beyond seeing and analysing to construct a world that is a better place to live in. The last step leads to ecclesiology – a vision of the Church at the service of our brothers and sister.
“Some would say that this is not just a method but a spiritual vision” Cardinal Tagle added.
Looking at the world today
Cardinal Tagle highlighted that the Encyclical calls us to take notice of the current signs in the world today, especially a lack of brotherhood and sisterhood. It also calls us to be honest in declaring that these signs are “often hidden” and “clothed beautifully in order to hide the destruction that is happening in the human family.”
“We should be attentive to how the poor, the forgotten, the neglected are all the more suffering in this throwaway culture,” which happens within a mentality and context of “being closed” to others.
These signs are visible, he said, “from the perspective of the poor” including the migrants, women, the girl child, victims of human trafficking, among others.
The Cardinal noted that a fundamental part of the Pope’s vision of a world open to brotherhood and sisterhood is universal love,and said that only through it can we make social friendship possible.
“Universal love is openness to the other as opposed to being closed in on oneself – on my group, on my family, on my culture on my community… Love is a form of seeking union with others. Love sees the value of the others; love celebrates the worth of the others… Love sees what is best for others.”
It is different from mere romanticism or idealism, Cardinal Tagle affirmed: “This is how God loves! This is how God has manifested Himself! This is how Jesus loves and even died for all! This is how the Spirit blows! God who is love is total, full openness.
This, he added, is also illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan which the Pope refers to in Fratelli tutti. The openness of the Samaritan led him to come close to the stranger left on the roadside and treat him like a brother. The Samaritan also invited others - the innkeeper – to become an instrument of universal love by taking care of the injured stranger.
The importance of responding
Cardinal Tagle warned that universal love without genuine response risks remaining a mere concept or a slogan.
Response, he continued, keeps the tension between the specific concrete person and the common dignity of all human beings. Because “you cannot enter the dignity of all human beings without entering into concrete, specific human beings.”
He noted that the Pope speaks of social friendship – applying it to local cultures which should be developed and appreciated but must be open to universal solidarity which does not eliminate the uniqueness of every culture.
Cardinal Tagle went on to note that social friendship can be made concrete in dealing with private property for example, pointing out that property should never be absolutized at the expense of the common good. He also noted that social friendship can inspire national politics and political charity in international relations, guiding countries against the trap of populism and the misuse of the people to promote narrow ideologies and agendas that create division.
In addition, the Holy Father also speaks of forgiveness, referring to the experience of mothers who always forgive erring children. Cardinal Tagle pointed out that forgiveness – though a grace - should not deny justice or forget the horrors inflicted on others, but rather refuse to remain closed in hatred and vindictiveness even towards the greatest criminal.
The call to all, Cardinal Tagle said, is to find our place as Christians in fraternity and sorority through our friendly relationships with peoples of other religions or other faiths. This is done through dialogue and a “culture of encounter” in openness and loving.
Cardinal Tagle proposed some steps to inspire concrete responses to the appeals in Fratelli tutti.
He highlighted the importance of the formation of the character of the human, Christian heart at both the individual and collective level. He noted that the Encyclical inspires us to confront the biases that hinder us from being open.
Secondly, the Cardinal said that since cultures are inspired by human beings, we, as human beings, should invest in the transformation of policies, institutions and cultures that have been accepted as normal.
Thirdly, addressing the WUCWO directly, he suggested collecting the stories of women – of women who have suffered but refused to close their hearts and doors – stories of universal sisterhood that affirm the validity of the Encyclical with narratives that go beyond theories.
Concluding, the Cardinal invited all to look to Jesus and his ministry and earthly life, inspiring ourselves from how he related with “outsiders” whom he “treated like brothers and sisters” – Zaccheus, Matthew, the Syrophoenician woman, the woman from Samaria at the well and the promise of paradise to the thief hanging by Jesus' side on the cross.