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The architecture of peace: Pope Francis on

Pope Francis’s latest encyclical holds out the hope that, “in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others,” we may yet “prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain at the level of words.” (Alessandra Benedetti — Corbis / Getty Images).

Anna Rowlands, William Cavanaugh, Rosemary Hancock, Andrea Riccardi, Charles Camosy, Neil Ormerod, & John Rees, The architecture of peace: Pope Francis on social friendship and the hope for universal fraternity, ABC News, 18 October 2020

[Editor’s note:] On 3 October 2020, amid a global pandemic and on the eve of an historically divisive US presidential election, Pope Francis published his second encyclical, Fratelli tutti, on the theme of “fraternity and social friendship.” A collection of Catholic theologians, historians, and political theorists offer reflections on different aspects of the Pope’s encyclical, and the challenge it holds out for our times.

“To create processes of encounter …”

Anna Rowlands

The encyclical letter Fratelli tutti is about love and attention — the kind of attention and tenderness that brings a broken and bleeding world back to health. It is a social meditation on the Good Samaritan, who recognises love and attention as the preeminent law, and models for us creative social friendship.

Pope Francis asks us to gaze at the world similarly, such that we come to see the basic, indispensable relation of all things and people, near and far. In the simplicity of its call, Fratelli tutti is a devastating challenge to our ecological, political, economic, and social life. But above all, it is a proclamation of an ineradicable, joyful truth, presented as a well-spring for a fatigued world.

This letter is not a coolly detached critique. Its spiritual discipline sees the humanising task this way: to be truly human is to be willing to look at the world in its beauty and its pain, to listen deeply through human encounters to the griefs and the joys of one’s age, and to take these into oneself, to carry them as one’s own.

The notion that all created life shares its origin in God the Father, and that in Christ we become sisters and brothers, bonded in dignity, care, and friendship, is one of the oldest social teachings of Christianity. The names at the heart of this letter are those of the scriptures: we are brothers, sisters, neighbours, friends. The early Christians shaped their views of money, community, and politics based on this vision. That a theme so ancient is articulated with such urgency now is because Pope Francis fears a detachment from the view that we are all responsible for all, all related to all, all entitled to a just share of what has been given for the good of all. It is not a mockable fantasy to believe this. Francis writes with grief about the cultural cynicism and impoverishment limiting our social imaginations. It is not absurd to acknowledge kinship beyond borders, to crave cultures where social bonds are respected and encounter and dialogue are practiced.

Fratelli tutti makes clear that universal fraternity and social friendship must be practised together. Failure to do this abounds. Globalisation proclaims universal values but fails to practice encounter and attention — especially to difference and the most vulnerable. Digital communications trade on our hunger for connection but distort it, producing a febrile bondedness built on binaries of likes and dislikes, and commodified by powerful interests. Populism appeals to the desire for stability, rootedness, and rewarding work, but allows hostility to distort these desires. Liberalism imagines freedom in terms of the self-interested individual and discounts our deeply inter-connected lives. We forget what enables societies to endure and renew. These are our false materialisms.

This letter has its roots in a specific interfaith encounter. It is unashamed about its religious character and call. A transcendent truth is not a burden, but a gift securing the roots of our action. It can reduce the anxiety we feel about taking risks together for the transformation of our world. Faith is our wellspring. It is part of how we can name and move beyond the grieving indifference of our age.

For this reason, the encyclical is clear about the weight of responsibility borne by religious communities. Religious groups are caught up in the digital and market cultures that harm us. Inexcusably, religious leaders have been slow to condemn unjust practices, past and present. Religion too stands in need of repentance and renewal. Fratelli tutti exhorts religions to be models of dialogue, brokers of peace, and bearers of the message of transcendent love to a hungry, cynical, and uprooted world.

Echoing Laudato si’ and the Abu Dhabi statement, the encyclical restates the absolute dignity of the human person, over which no political preference, no “law” of the market can take precedence. Here Pope Francis highlights the treatment of migrants. He notes the biblical commands to welcome the stranger, the benefits that come with encounters between cultures, and the invitation to sheer gratuitous love. But he also extends earlier social teaching on the universal destination of goods, making clear that nations are entitled to their land, wealth, and property insofar as this enables all humankind to access the means for survival and fulfilment. A nation bears obligations to the whole human family and not merely towards its own citizens. Dignity, solidarity, and the universal destination of material goods are the hallmarks of this teaching.

Pope Francis warns against closed forms of populism, but he upholds the importance of seeing ourselves as “a people.” Following St. Augustine, he reminds us that to become “a people” is based on encountering each other in dialogue, face-to-face and side-by-side. Together we negotiate the enduring common loves we wish to live by. This is a dynamic, unfinished process of social peacebuilding — one that is the fruit of a genuine search for, and exchange of, truths. A culture is only healthy to the extent that it remains open to others. This renewal of political cultures happens only with, not for, the most marginalised. The role of grassroots movements is key to this participation.

The naming of God as our kin, and ourselves as kin and kind in this image, is love-language. There are other ways of naming God. But the message Pope Francis wishes us to hear for this moment is that we are made fully human by what draws us beyond ourselves. What makes this possible is a divine love, open to all, that births, bonds, bridges, and endlessly renews. This love cannot be erased or disposed of, and it is the basis of Pope Francis’s call to us with St. Francis’s words of loving attention: “Fratelli tutti …”

Anna Rowlands is the St. Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Practice in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. She was a participant in the six-member panel that presented Pope Francis’s encyclical on Sunday, 4 October, in the Vatican’s new Synod Hall.

“The supreme law of fraternal love”

William T. Cavanaugh

A friend of mine told me that upon reading Fratelli tutti he wondered how a document that is so full of obvious truisms could be so radical at the same time. Pope Francis’s latest encyclical breaks little new ground, but the ground upon which we all stand has shifted to such an extent that talk of “fraternal love” sounds both outdated and revolutionary. Part of the reason that “fraternal love” sounds outdated is the use of gender-specific language — would it have killed the Vatican to be more inclusive? But the encyclical also sounds utopian when set against the divisiveness and hopelessness we are currently experiencing.

Fratelli tutti is a beautiful meditation on what life together as a human family can be, at a time when politics appeals to the worst in us. Donald Trump must, of course, shoulder a significant portion of the blame, but the deeper problem will not be solved when he finally leaves office. Policy adjustments by government technocrats can help, but will not solve the problem that only love can address.

We can only love one another if we can see one another. The kinds of friendship and encounter that Francis discusses are precluded by the ways we are segregated from those different from us. Pope Francis is calling us to create different kinds of spaces — economic, political, and social — where we can encounter one another face-to-face, where we can regard each other as children of the same God, and begin the difficult journey of love.

William Cavanaugh is Professor of Catholic Studies and Director of the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology. He is the author of The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern ConflictMigrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church, and Field Hospital: The Church’s Engagement with a Wounded World. Professor Cavanaugh’s full response to Pope Francis’s encyclical (from which this is an extract) is forthcoming in Commonweal magazine.

“For the good of all …”

Rosemary Hancock

Fratelli tutti and Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Laudato si’, are in many ways two sides of the same coin: both take aim at a political economy that prioritises growth and profit at the expense of all else — human and environmental. Whereas the focus in Laudato si’ was on the harms done to the natural world (and through those harms, to humans themselves), in Fratelli tutti Francis focuses on the crisis of human solidarity and community, spending significant time on the human costs of neoliberal capitalism. From calling out the “obsession with reducing labour costs with no concern for its grave consequences,” to the intensification of inequality despite economic growth, this latest encyclical contains a strong — and quite radical — critique of our current political economy.

For example, Francis returns to his claim first made in Laudato si’ that there is no “absolute right” to private property, and that property must ultimately serve a “social purpose”: in his latest encyclical, he insists that any right to private property is “accompanied by the primary and prior principle of the subordination of all private property to the universal destination of the earth’s goods, and thus the right of all to their use.” If taken seriously, the implications for all forms of capital are immense. The primary purpose of business can no longer be the creation and accumulation of wealth, but must instead be directed to “the good of all” — including, Francis argues, the earth.

Taken together, Laudato si’ and Fratelli tutti speak to a pressing political moment and growing global movement. From the United States, to the UK and Australia, calls for economic transformation have emerged under the name of (or have been inspired by the idea of) a “green new deal” which places the economy in service to society and tackles the immense challenges of climate change. As with these political movements, Francis argues that we can no longer hope that simply refining or improving our “existing systems and regulations” is enough. Rather, he calls for wholesale transformation — that we “rethink our styles of life, our relationships, [and] the organization of our societies” and “aspire to a world that provides land, housing, and work for all.”

Rosemary Hancock is the Co-Convener of the Religion and Global Ethics Research Focus Area within the Institute for Ethics and Society, at the University of Notre Dame Australia. She is the author of Islamic Environmentalism: Activism in the United States and Great Britain.

“War is a failure of politics and of humanity”

Andrea Riccardi

As Amin Maalouf, a writer of fine sensibility, observed: “If in the past we were ephemeral in an unchanging world, today we are disoriented beings …” This is the disorientation suffered by many sons and daughters of globalisation. Fratelli tutti lays out a simple and essential path for all those who have lost their bearings — fraternity. Across the pages of Pope Francis’s encyclical, fraternity competes with war. But is fraternity not too fragile to confront war, a ruthless machine of death and destruction?

A sense of resignation to war has taken hold in the history of humankind as a natural fact, and it arises surely from a sense of irrelevance. Many believe that the responsibility always lies with the leading countries, or with politicians, not with the common people. What can we do? There is a growing fatalism, disguised as realism. We have surrendered to the war option, believing humanitarian justifications of a defensive or preventive slant, or trusting manipulated information. For too long, we — governments, institutions, individuals — have accepted war as a constant companion of our time. It has become a cultural and political fact. Consider how the peace movement has faded away over the past few years.

“War is not a ghost from the past,” said the Pope, alarmingly, “but a constant threat.” It is the present, and it risks becoming the future. The burning presence of war is evident everywhere, from the Mediterranean to Africa and elsewhere. For many, its “their wars” — they do not concern us. They only concern us if refugees reach our shores and borders. However, pieces of wars combine to form an explosive climate, overflowing and involving everyone: the fire can spread. In today’s global world, it is an illusion to think about isolating a conflict; however, we live as if this were possible.

The encyclical embraces the world with its gaze, in the light of fraternity. What is far away concerns us. Fraternity is never short-sighted. It is evangelical and human, but also more realistic than many so-called realistic ideologies and policies.

The Pope emphatically expresses the Church’s analysis of humanity’s experience: “Every war leaves our world worse than it was before.” It disfigures the face of humanity. Two World Wars are testament to that. The current conflicts scream it. War has never made the world a better place. This is the truth of history. Nevertheless, the encyclical states, “There is a growing loss of the sense of history.” Its memory is lost in the selfishness and excesses of the present day and in exacerbated confrontations. Nationalism and populism exalt the value of a specific group against others. Meanwhile, those great words, the beacons that illuminate humankind, have lost all meaning: fraternity, peace, democracy, unity.

We believed that the world had learned the lesson after many wars and failures. We believed in the enthusiasm of a world at peace after 1989. However, we have regressed from the conquest of peace and some degree of integration among states. We tend to discredit the structures of dialogue that prevent conflicts. Thus, the world shall become unable to prevent war. It will let conflicts continue, becoming entrenched for years, if not decades, and revealing the powerlessness of the international community.

In light of the “fraternal” vision of a global, realistic, and far-sighted world as proposed by the encyclical, it is possible to understand the tragedy of war, both near and far, with its burden of suffering: destruction of the human and natural environment, death, refugees, legacies of suffering and hatred, terrorism, weapons of all kinds, cruelty. The words of the Pope awaken us from the collective numbness generated by the logics of conflict; he writes: “War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.”

War cannot be contained; it gives rise to all forms of poverty. It is a harmful school for the young and pollutes the future. It can look like a solution to the desperate on the peripheries of humanity. War that is fought piecemeal shows the arrogant fragmentation of the global world, which considers projects with great goals for the development of our entire human family to be madness. The world rejects growth projects due to the egotism of underlying interests — thus, it rejects the great dream of peace.

The encyclical shows us that we are all guardians of peace. Institutions have the task to reawaken the “architecture of peace.” However, we, normal people, cannot remain on the sidelines. The art of peace is everybody’s task: we must engage every day in daring and creative rebellion against war. If many can make war, all can be artisans of peace. Hence the role of religions. The Pope refers to the dialogue among religions and the encounter with Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb when they stated: “Religions must never incite war …” If they do, they abuse and abandon their true role.

As I read Fratelli tutti, I see not only a condemnation of war, but also the hope that peace is possible. I remembered the invitation of Pope John Paul II when he said, together with other religious leaders in Assisi, on a glorious day back in 1986: “Peace awaits its prophets … its builders … peace is a workshop, open to all and not just to specialists, savants and strategists … it comes about in a thousand little acts in daily life.” The artisans of peace are men and women of fraternity.

Pope Francis proposes true dreams to a world that has switched off the beacons of the great values and ideals. I recall just one — not the least one of them, but the one everything else depends upon: peace. Let me conclude by quoting a great Italian, don Luigi Sturzo, who in 1929 said, “we must believe that … war, as a juridical means to protect law, shall be abolished, as were legally abolished polygamy, slavery, serfdom, and family revenge.” After the dark clouds of the pandemic, this encyclical opens up a horizon of hope — to become brothers and sisters. This is a dream to live and fight for.

Andrea Riccardi is Professor of Contemporary History at La Terza University in Rome, and the founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio. He participated in the six-member panel that presented Pope Francis’s encyclical on Sunday, 4 October, in the Vatican’s new Synod Hall.

“Innate human dignity”

Charles Camosy

I love Pope Francis. But sometimes those we love disappoint us. His handling of the sex abuse crises — something for which Francis has personally expressed regret — was one of those times. And now, with a second encyclical (written totally by him) published, I must express another major disappointment.

I have regularly defended the Holy Father on abortion. When he made remarks early in his pontificate about how it is not necessary to talk about abortion all the time, for instance, I noted that the very next day he gave a speech in which he described prenatal children as bearing the face of Christ. When he’s speaking informally, Francis is as strong as any pope that has ever lived on the issue of abortion. Calling abortion a “white-gloved” crime on the order of Nazism’s eugenics program is in a different category of castigation to anything that Benedict XVI or St. John Paul II has said or written.

But it is time to admit that, in his magisterial teaching at least, Francis has been weak. If hundreds of millions of children bearing the face of Christ are being killed around the world, does this really merit only a single passing reference in a lengthy encyclical with extended reflections on what is true if every human being possesses inalienable dignity?

Francis rightly invokes income inequality, trafficking of child and adult (sex) slaves, and general mistreatment of women — including forced abortions. But the prenatal child herself (again, someone who bears the face of Christ in a special way as the least among us, and who is under unspeakable threats of deadly violence), remarkably, is absent from an extended section lamenting insufficiently universal human rights.

Christ commanded us to let the little children come to Him. The magisterial teaching of Vicar of Christ must therefore provide a proportionate response to massive injustice present in the contemporary slaughter of abortion. And fans of Pope Francis must admit that — at this point, at least — his own magisterial teaching has not met the gravity of the moment.

Charles Camosy is Associate Professor of Theological and Social Ethics at Fordham University. His most recent book is Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People.

“I will give everyone the possibility of sharing this planet with me …”

Neil Ormerod

Like many Catholic theologians I was eager to read the latest encyclical from Pope Francis. He has been less prolific than his predecessors, with only one previous encyclical in his own name, Laudato si’, and one published jointly under the names of Benedict XVI and himself. Laudato si’ was a ground-breaking clarion call to Catholics, and all people of goodwill, to take seriously the environmental hole we have dug for ourselves before it is too late. It is a modern-day Rerum Novarum, setting a new agenda in Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

Fratelli tutti, at least on my first reading, is more like a number of intervening encyclicals on CST — a grab bag of issues that have long occupied the Church’s attention, but for all their ecclesial authority remain largely hidden from the Catholic laity who remain ignorant of its content. This is not to say there are not significant contemporary resonances in the document. It is not difficult to make such connections when the Pope is talking about the rise of xenophobia, the maltreatment of immigrants, the dangers of building walls, media spin, the effects of social media on our public discourse, and, of course, the impact of the present pandemic.

Some of these comments seem almost designed to influence the current United States elections, though their applicability is far beyond this. His condemnation of the death penalty — in line with the prior teachings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI — will cause ripples in the United States where a Catholic Attorney General, William Barr, is presently reinstating the federal death penalty.

The heart and soul of the document is undoubtedly the second chapter, in which Pope Francis gives us a profound (and long: some 14,000 words) reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is perhaps the most digestible section of the encyclical, though it makes for uncomfortable reading in its searing examination of the conscience of the reader. Indeed, it has always puzzled me how a church that has this parable in its foundational documents can so consistently fail to recognise the strangers on the roadside in the clergy sexual abuse crisis, and simply walk on the other side of the road.

Professor Neil Ormerod is Executive Officer (Research Analytics) at the Sydney College of Divinity. He is a retired Professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University.

“In this world that races ahead, yet lacks a shared roadmap …”

John Rees

The encyclical letters Fratelli tutti (2020) and Laudato si’ (2015) together constitute a grand strategic statement, contributing to a “shared roadmap” for humanity in response to the global crises of social polarisation and environmental destruction.

In Fratelli tutti, we encounter an engagement with politics that aims to be “far-sighted” and oriented toward the “long-term common good.” The pressing problems of “closed” populist nativism and the “monochrome” promises of neoliberal economics are countered by a universal political ethic grounded “in the nature of human beings and society.” Such an ethic — sanctioning a global structure that is neither unipolar nor multipolar, but anthropolar — applies an integrated understanding of state sovereignty, cultural identity, human rights, liberal economics, and international institutions, within an overarching emphasis on charity.

As befits a letter of guidance written for Christians worldwide, this “abstract and institutional” focus on “political love” is first set within a prismatic reading of sacred texts. Biblical traditions of radical hospitality are interpreted with political force as a direct counter to global ideologies of border control and the perpetual suspicion of outsiders. Francis quotes Benedict XVI in advocating for a politics of charity that finds expression in “macrorelationships: social, economic and political.” Such a view resonates with what Bishop Erik Varden has elsewhere described as “a societal order resting on the structural administration of mercy.”

Questions will arise as to whether and how such an order can be achieved. The attainment of a universal dialogue mutually recognising the particular beauty of its participants partly defines the challenge of successful power brokerage beyond mere realpolitik. At a minimum, and not insignificantly, Fratelli tutti will influence the strategic trajectories of Catholic international diplomacy toward this universal end, as Laudato si’ did before it.

John Rees is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Notre Dame Australia, where he is jointly appointed in the Institute for Ethics and Society and School of Arts and Sciences. Professor Rees is a Fulbright Scholar who will be hosted by the University of Wyoming in 2021.