By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Msgr Kevin Irwin believes that Pope Francis’s new Encyclical Fratelli tutti is speaking out of a deep concern that humanity is becoming more and more isolated from each other. The Pope’s focus, therefore, on fraternity and social friendship, speak to the heart of this concern.
“We are together”
Fraternity and social friendship go hand in hand, Msgr Irwin explains. The isolation that Pope Francis is addressing is manifested “in terms of countries and borders, in terms of economy and equality, in terms of development.”
Pope Francis’s point is “we are together”, and social friendship is the way to break down the barriers creating the isolation.
“If we take each other seriously, then we should be brothers and sisters and friends, and not just anonymous beings.”
Good Samaritans to each other
The Encyclical, Msgr Irwin says, “overturns the perspective of we and they. The perspective is all of us together, and we are to be Good Samaritans to each other.” The question that then presents itself is “How can we live that together?”
This is what makes the Encyclical profound. To understand its message fully requires that each person slow down, read it, pray with it and reflect on it. Msgr Irwin also suggests that “people begin working in study groups”, discussing it together. People can begin, he says, “to look at inequality in their own countries”. He also suggests dialogue with local Bishops to learn how they plan to move forward on specific topics such as poverty and the death penalty.
New words for past teaching
Although the terminology “fraternity and social friendship” may be new with Pope Francis, Msgr Irwin assures us that Pope Francis refers substantially both to Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in the Encyclical.
While “the phrase itself is his own, and it has always been a concern of his… overall, it is terminology for a number of things in the Document which his predecessors have already spoken about: economy, the death penalty, etc.”.
It was Pope John XXIII who first addressed an Encyclical to “all people of goodwill” with Pacem in terris. Msgr Irwin says it was a “breakthrough…because he [Pope John XXIII] knew that it would be an important document and he opened it up to the world for the first time”.
Pope Francis has done the same thing with Laudato si’, and now with Fratelli tutti. Therefore, these documents are not “in-house” but are meant “for the whole world to dialogue and discuss and hopefully begin to implement.”
Pope Francis’s hope and invitation with Laudato si’ was that it would spark dialogue across the religious and national spectrum. This dialogue is “just beginning to work”, Msgr Irwin acknowledges.
The purpose of Fratelli tutti is to create a new “normal”. With Fratelli tutti, “at this particular moment, in terms of Covid, I think he’s trying to say, ‘We can’t just keep doing this.’ There will be a new ‘normal’. But I think the Pope is asking for a new ‘difference’. It’s got to be different. We can’t keep doing this, and oppressing, and 9 out of 10 people going to bed at night hungry. This is not the way to live.”
Msgr Kevin Irwin is Ordinary Research Professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C.