By Andrea Tornielli
“We completely agree with Pope Francis’ invitation to “abandon indifference or even the cynicism that governs our ecological, political, economic and social life in general, including our self-centered form of unity, and to dream of our world as a united human family.”
With these words, Patriarch Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, on a visit to Rome, commented on Pope Francis’s Encyclical Fratelli tutti in a conversation with the Vatican media.
Q: Your Holiness, what was your reaction to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli tutti?
PB: Even before we learned about our brother Pope Francis’ Encyclical Fratelli tutti, we were certain that it would be another example of his unshakeable interest in man, “beloved by God”, through the manifestation of solidarity with all “the weary and burdened” and the needy, and that it would contain concrete proposals to face the great challenges of the moment, inspired by the inexhaustible source of Christian tradition, and emerging from his heart full of love.
Our expectations were fully met after completing the analysis of this very interesting Encyclical, which is not simply a compendium or summary of previous Encyclicals or other texts of Pope Francis, but the crowning and happy conclusion of all social doctrine.
We completely agree with His Holiness’ invitation and challenge to abandon indifference or even the cynicism that governs our ecological, political, economic and social life in general, including our self-centered form of unity, and to dream of our world as a united human family, in which we are all brothers and sisters without exception. In this spirit we express the hope and hope that the Encyclical Fratelli tutti will prove to be a source of inspiration and fruitful dialogue through the taking of decisive initiatives and cross-cutting actions on an inter-Christian, inter-religious and pan-human level.
Q: The first chapter of the Encyclical speaks of the “shadows” that persist in the world. What are those that worry you the most? And what hope do we gain from looking at the world through the Gospel?
PB: With his acute humanistic, social and spiritual sense, Pope Francis identifies and names the “shadows” in the modern world. We speak of “modern sins”, although we like to emphasize that original sin did not occur in our times and in our age. We do not idealize the past at all. Rightly, however, we are disturbed by the fact that modern technical and scientific developments have strengthened the “hubris” of man. The achievements of science do not respond to our fundamental existential quests, nor have they eliminated them. We also note that scientific knowledge does not penetrate the depths of the human soul. We know it, but act as if we do not.
Q: The Pope also speaks of the persistent gap between the few who possess much and the many who possess little or nothing…
PB: Economic development has not reduced the gap between the rich and the poor. Rather, it has prioritized profit, to the detriment of the protection of the weak, and contributes to the exacerbation of environmental problems. And politics has become the servant of the economy. Human rights and international law are elaborated and serve purposes alien to justice, freedom and peace. The problem of refugees, terrorism, state violence, humiliation of human dignity, modern forms of slavery and the Covid-19 epidemic are now putting politics before new responsibilities and erasing its pragmatic logic.
Q: What is Christianity’s proposal in the face of this situation?
PB: The proposal of the life of the Church’s is the turning point towards “one thing is necessary”, and this is love, openness to the other and the culture of solidarity of people. Before the modern arrogant “man-god” we preach the “God-Man”. In the face of “economicism”, we give way to the ecological economy and economic activity based on social justice. To the policy of the “law of the strongest,” we oppose the principle of respect for the inalienable rights of citizens and international law. In the face of the ecological crisis, we are called to respect creation, simplicity and awareness of our responsibility to give the next generation an intact natural environment. Our effort to address these problems is indispensable, but we know that he who works through us is the God who is the friend of men.
Q: Why is the image of the Good Samaritan relevant today?
PB: Christ connects, in particular, the “first and great commandment” of love for God with the “second commandment similar to the first” commandment of love of neighbor (Mt. 22:36 – 40). And He adds: “On these two commandments all the Law and the Prophets depend”. And John the theologian is very clear: “He who does not love, has not known God” (Jn. 4, 8). The parable of the Good Samaritan is close to the parable of the Judgment (Mt. 25, 31 – 46), it is (Lk. 10, 25 – 37) the biblical text, which reveals to us the whole truth of the commandment of love. In this parable, the Priest and the Levite represent religion, which is closed in itself, it is only concerned with keeping the “law” unchanged, ignoring and pharisaically neglecting the “most serious prescriptions of the law” (Mt. 23, 23), love and support for one’s neighbor. The Good Samaritan turns out to be the foreign philanthropist close to the one who has been beaten by bandits and wounded. To the initial question of the doctor of the law “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29), Christ answers with a question: “Which one of these three seems to you to have been the neighbor of the one who ran into the bandits? (Lk. 10, 36).” Here man is not allowed to ask questions, but he is asked and called to act. It is always necessary to bring out the neighbor, the brother, before and in the face of the distant, the foreigner and the enemy. It should be noted that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, according to the question of the doctor of the law who tests Christ “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25), in response to it, real love for one’s neighbor has a clear soteriological reference. This is also the message of the passage on Judgment.
Q: On what basis can we all consider ourselves brothers and sisters, and why is it important to discover ourselves as such for the good of humanity?
PB: The Christians of the nascent Church called each other “brothers”. This spiritual and Christ-centered fraternity is deeper than natural kinship. For Christians, however, brothers and sisters are not only members of the Church, but all peoples. The Word of God has taken on human nature and united everything in itself. Just as all human beings are God’s creation, so all have been included in the plan of salvation. The love of the believer has no boundaries and limits. In fact, it embraces the whole of creation, it is “the burning of the heart for the whole of creation” (Isaac the Syrian). Love for the brethren is always incomparable. It is not an abstract feeling of sympathy towards humanity, which usually ignores the neighbor. The dimension of personal communion and fraternity distinguishes Christian love and fraternity from abstract humanism.
Q: The Pope in his Encyclical strongly condemns war and the death penalty. How would you comment on that chapter of Fratelli tutti?
PB: This theme was referred to by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, June 2016), among others, as follows: “The Church of Christ condemns war in general, recognizing it as the result of the presence of evil and sin.” (The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World, D, 1). On the lips of every Christian, there must be the slogan “No more war!” And the attitude of a society towards the death penalty is an indicator of its cultural orientation and consideration of human dignity. The worthy system of European constitutional culture, of which one of the fundamental pillars is the idea of love, as an expression of its Christian beliefs, requires us to consider that every man must be given the possibility of repentance and improvement, even if he has been condemned for the worst crime. It is therefore a logical and moral consequence that even he who condemns war should reject the death penalty.