By Francis X. Rocca
ROME—Pope Francis offered his prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, in a major document written in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Fratelli tutti” (“Brothers, all”), released by the Vatican on Sunday, is only the third time Pope Francis has written an encyclical, one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing. The 43,000-word text echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.
“Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egoistic self-preservation,” the pope writes. “If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as result of the dismantling, year after year, of health-care systems.”
But he writes that the experience of the pandemic also offered hope in the examples of ordinary people—cleaners and supermarket workers as well as doctors, nurses and priests—who risked their lives to keep society going: “They understood that no one is saved alone.”
The social plagues Pope Francis denounces include racism, which he describes as a “virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding and lurks in waiting,” and a culture of radical individualism, which he also likens to a virus.
Pope Francis’ major targets include what he calls the dogma of neoliberal economics and its promises of trickle-down prosperity. “The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom,” he writes. He calls for strengthening the United Nations and other multilateral structures to rein in a globalized economy beyond the power of nation states to regulate.
The pope emphasizes that, according to the Catholic Church’s traditional social teaching, the right to private property is subordinate to the “universal destination of created goods,” a principle he says extends beyond national borders. “Each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere,” he writes.
He offers the biblical figure of the Good Samaritan, who helped a needy stranger neglected by his own neighbors, as his model for social action. “Each day we have to decide whether to be Good Samaritans or indifferent bystanders,” he writes.
Pope Francis denounces unspecified populist politicians who “exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their own personal advantage or continuing grip on power.” He distinguishes these from what he calls popular leaders, unifying and inclusive, exemplified by the grass-roots activists from both rich and developing countries whom he has rallied at gatherings several times in his pontificate.
The encyclical includes severe words about digital culture, which he says “encourages remarkable hostility, insults, abuse, defamation and verbal violence destructive of others, and this with a lack of restraint that could not exist in physical contact without tearing us all apart.”
“Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest terms, even by some political figures,” Pope Francis writes.
The encyclical is inspired by the pope’s February 2019 meeting in Abu Dhabi with Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque, with whom he signed a document pledging interreligious cooperation and denouncing all violence in the name of God. The pope also credits Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Desmond Tutu with helping to inspire the document.
The encyclical’s title sparked controversy when it was announced last month, with critics complaining that it wasn’t gender inclusive. In response, the Vatican chose to leave the title in the original Italian in all translations. The words are drawn from the writings of the pope’s namesake St. Francis of Assisi, and on Saturday, Pope Francis made his first trip outside of Rome since the start of the pandemic to sign the document in a private ceremony at the saint’s tomb in Assisi.
SOURCE : WALL STREET JOURNAL