It’s been over a month now, since Pope Francis signed his encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, and released his powerful words for all of us to read. As a person who has always been interested in, and committed to social justice it has been music to my ears and food for my soul.
The encyclical begins by pointing out many ills of our modern society. These include issues such as inequality, xenophobia, social aggression, lack of respect for one another and economies where profits have become more important than the people they are meant to serve. Our culture is in a poor state and much of the rest of the encyclical is spent with messages of hope about ways which we can change our world by reaching out to our neighbour.
When we ask ourselves, “Who is my neighbour?” Pope Francis refers us back to the story of the Good Samaritan when Jesus was asked that very question. It is a story that we all know, and yet we are challenged to reexamine. The encyclical provides a thorough look at the four main characters in the story- the wounded man, the robbers, the disinterested passersby and the Samaritan. Do we see ourselves following the example of the Samaritan or are we the indifferent bystanders when we see others in need? Or have we been wounded or are we the robbers?
The challenge we face now is how to build a better world. One of the major themes of the encyclical is communication and connection. In a world where communication has never been faster and easier, Pope Francis argues that the quality of communication has deteriorated. It has become easier than ever to put up walls, both physically and in our hearts, to keep out others who are different from ourselves.
So now we are challenged to leave the comforts of the people we know (and are like ourselves) and work to encounter and understand those who are different. In other words, build bridges. We are asked to improve our communication so that we learn to really listen to one another, especially those who have opinions, attitudes, cultures and lifestyles different from our own. We are called to find the dignity in all people and improve the way we listen to one another. Only then can we have genuine dialogue which others. From migrants to the elderly, from the poor and to the lonely, we must learn to see everyone as our neighbour.
This question about who is our neighbor is especially difficult when someone comes from a place far away. Human migration is a major issue in our world today with nearly 80 million people on the move. We can’t watch the news without seeing the heartbreaking stories. Pope Francis identifies the various reasons people leave their homes including war, persecution, famine and natural catastrophes, as well as generally seeking better opportunities for their lives. Wouldn’t we all want that for our families? Yet, migrating persons are not treated with dignity or respect and face hostilities when they try to move to a safer country. Are they our neighbour? Yes, in fact they are, and we are asked to welcome and protect them when they arrive.
Protection of human rights is another major theme in the encyclical. Catholic Social Teaching has long promoted preferential treatment for the poor and the most in need. Yet, today the gap between the rich and poor has grown significantly. We need to pursue goals that benefit everyone and ask questions about our economy where profits can be more valued than people. We are called to work to build a more dignified world where we strive to eliminate hunger, poverty, violence and war so that the rights of all people can be upheld.
There are legitimate concerns about how people can overcome past injustices to move to a more peaceful situation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the only way. The message of forgiveness is at the heart of Christianity and we are reminded again to strive to find the dignity in every person. This is true for nations as well as groups and individuals.
War and the death penalty are extreme situations which need to be reconsidered. They are not answers to the problems that they are trying to solve. We are called to commit ourselves to work tirelessly for solutions. Dialogue, patience and understanding are required to use work through differences for more effective outcomes.
This encyclical calls us to collaborate across social, political and religious divides and to work for common solutions. Larger social structures need to change to help to address these complex problems without cynicism. How can it be right that here in the UK we battle with food waste, while so many people across the globe are starving?
Pope Francis has boldly written down this vision challenging us to care for each other as brothers and sisters, recognising the our common humanity and treating everyone with dignity. Justice and Peace Scotland just so happens to have a very similar vision for our church. If you are moved by the call of Pope Francis and the call to moving beyond just words, there are many resources on our website to help you to act.
So which character from the Good Samaritan are you? Will you cross that road to help the person in need?
Chair of the National Commission for Justice and Peace for the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland
The National Commission for Justice and Peace advises the Scottish Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in matters relating to social justice, international peace and human rights, and promotes action in these areas.