On Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship

[An Attempt to Understand Key Concepts of Pope Francis’ Latest Encyclical in their Relevance for Establishing Harmony and Peace in Mindanao and in the World.]

To the Co-Convenors of the Bishops’-Ulama Conference,

Most Rev. Fernando Capalla, DD, Most Rev. Hilario Gomez, Jr.,  Aleem Abu Cali, OLP, Brothers and Sisters in Mindanao representing the Bangsamoro, the Indigenous peoples, and the other communities of Mindanao, greetings of welcome, respect, love and peace!

It is a great privilege for me to address you on the occasion of this Mindanao Week of Peace.  From various religious traditions we come together this year under the theme: Dialogue Towards Harmony.  With the approval of the Bangasamoro Organic Law we rejoice in the advances that have been made through the establishment of the BARMM in implementation of the Comprehensive Agreement Bangsamoro.   At the same time we know that our shared dream of establishing lasting peace and harmony in Mindanao is still a work in progress.  For instance, while we recognize the positive contributions towards peace of newly formed Mindanao youth groups like the Salaam, we also note that other youth are still pulled towards separatist terror groups, calling forth violent encounters with the military.  While we rejoice in youth taking on the responsibilities of public service and of the common good in the BARMM, we also note that many college graduates, even those directed towards responding to pressing concerns in Mindanao, have difficulty seeing beyond the demands of their families or the consumerist demands that bombard them in their cellphones.  While we laud the firm intent of the Bangsamoro leadership to govern according to the imperatives of morality and integrity,  we also note the continued activity of political constellations impelled by disruptive self interest and divisive tribal or dynastic values.  While we rejoice in the recognition by the BARMM of its responsibility for the indigenous peoples within the Bangsamoro territory, we are saddened by the displacement of IP families in Maguindanao. 

In this context the importance of the theme of the Mindanao Week of Peace (MWOP),  Dialogue Towards Harmony, is evident.  We can already recall the historical Document for Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azahar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb on Feb 4, 2019, whose central message was a shared declaration of “the culture of dialogue as the path; mutual collaboration as the code of conduct, and reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”  In Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, On Fraternity and Social Friendship, Francis integrates the insights and declarations of this Document largely verbatim (cf. 285). 

For this Ignatian Conversation on the occasion of the MWOP, I would like to simply introduce this latest encyclical of Pope Francis which he signed on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi last October 4 at the culmination of the yearly Season of Creation.  The encyclical is a voluminous work bringing together many disparate themes touching on our troubled world.  Nothing that I do here can substitute for your own reading of the text.  It can easily be downloaded from the internet, and is now available in print by the Paulines Publishing House.[1] In an effort to introduce and understand the gist of the encyclical I would like to focus on five topics or concepts: an anti social or anti human dynamic in the world for which human beings are responsible, fraternity, social friendship, good politics, dialogue, and perhaps, conversion to fraternity.[2]

An Anti-Social Dynamic in Our World Today

Let us begin with a review of what Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ calls the  technocratic paradigm that uses science and technology developed especially over the last 200 years.[3]  This gives man suddenly an ominous self-created power and dominion over created things.  Here created things are no longer appreciated from the viewpoint or purposes of the Creator, but are abstract spaces [neutral realities]  over which man exercises his power and dominion to manipulate, transform, or destroy limitlessly in order to feed the ever-increasing, ever more unbridled consumer needs of men and women.  The behavior plunders the earth to generate the products that those who are able can and – under the coercion of the dynamic of this paradigm – must consume, rewarding those who own and manipulate the technology, its managers, its cooperators, its technicians, with the benefits of profits, earnings and therefore of consumption.  Here, freedom appears to increase the more one is free to consume.  Even as in consuming, the paradigm generates more appetite to consume in quality and quantity;  innovation then feeds the technocratic paradigm and bestows on the masters of the paradigm more power and dominion to subject more of creation to consumption.  Those however who do not participate in this process, the process ejects, discards, possibly not intentionally, but nonetheless really, and so painfully.  These are those who are not owners, not engineers, not professional managers, not empowered by education, those irrelevant to the technocratic paradigm.  These are the weak, the old and the unwanted unborn.  {…..}  The technocratic paradigm creates a vicious cycle using more and more sophisticated science and technology to feed increased consumption in  order to create more consumption, using science and technology to more and more gravely plunder the earth to feed the consumption, creating a society of consumers and non-consumers, useful people and useless people, the useless people being discarded.  Germans describe a vicious cycle as a Teufelskreis, a cycle of the devil. 

In Fratelli Tutti’s section entitled Dark Clouds over a Closed World Pope Francisdescribes anti-social realities in our world, none of which can be separated from their underpinning in the globalized technocratic paradigm.  He speaks of the global economy that “unifies the world” but divides persons and nations (12), allowing a world which once gamely rejected war forever to regress again and again into war and even into the threat of catastrophic nuclear war (11).  The technocratic paradigm conditions  a “cultural colonization” under this paradigm that empties great words such as “democracy”, “freedom,” and “justice of their meaning (14) for “democracy” is determined by the manipulation of the haves, “freedom” is understood in the terms of the freedom to consume on the basis of what one has, and “justice” is based on who have the money to make the laws that ultimately protect rights to consumption.  Political life is described as domination and control exercised by the spread of despair and discouragement without any long-term plans to improve people’s lives (15) or any shared vision (17) or of an economy based on integral human development (21).  Here, victory consists in eliminating one’s opponents (16) so that one might continue to enjoy life in a throw-away world where “parts of the human family can be sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence” (18).   In such a world then human rights are not equal for all (22), the wealthy, educated and powerful have more human rights to life, recognition, respect, and fulfillment than do the poor.  Men have more rights than women.  Slavery continues to exist in persons treated as objects (23).  In this world, war, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution, evils in themselves, are judged, depending on how convenient they may be for economic interests.   It is a world war, Francis decries, fought piecemeal (25).  Particularly heartless in today’s world is the manner in which refugees fleeing from difficult humanitarian situations or simply seeking better ways to provide for their families are rejected by wealthier nations  (129-138).  Similarly heartless vis-à-vis the genius of local cultures, is when people seek “the better humanity” of the globe with unresolved resentments against their own peoples (145).

In this world infected by the technocratic paradigm where people are killed by violence, excluded from one’s borders, rejected because of nationality or race, or thrown away by the economy’s productive machinery, Francis introduces his concepts of Fraternity and Social Friendship.  He is inspired by Francis of Assisi who called for “a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance” (1).  He wishes to make a “modest contribution to continued reflection” on the universal scope of fraternal love.  He hopes that in this manner we may prove capable of responding with the new vision of fraternity and social friendship that will not remain on the level of words (6).

Fraternity

Created by a loving God we are “brother and sister to the sun, the sea and the world, yet even closer in fraternity to those of our own flesh” (2).  In this fraternity, all are connected as sisters and brothers.  As human persons, all belong to one “single human family” (8).  No one is excluded.  All possess an inviolable human dignity.  No one is excepted.  This is the real fraternity as created naturally by God.  It is the fraternity willed in created nature by God, even as he created man and women free.  Fraternity is thus not an abstract concept of humanity, but created man making him- or herself in history, each individual realizing him- or herself in contributing to the realization of fraternity, that is, universal humanity.   In a world in which this fraternity is denied in practice, its reality is a self-fulfilling aspiration, a shared, self-fulfilling dream, a shared self-realizing obligation, despite the tendency in man to selfishness – “concupiscence” –  that shatters this dream (166).   This is an obligation the human being fulfills in exercising the power he has to fulfill it.  It cannot remain merely conceptual, merely “on the level of words”.  It involves self- and humanity-changing action that allows all “to live together in harmony and peace, without all of us having to be the same” (100).

Social Friendship

When St. Francis of Assisi called for “a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him” expressing “the essence of a fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives” (1), he [St. Francis] was calling for what Pope Francis calls social friendship.  It is “a love capable of transcending borders” (99).  It is first and foremost love.  As humans, we cannot remain isolated.  “Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives.  Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to all.” (94)  It impels us towards true human communion (95). “Genuine social friendship within a society makes true universal openness possible” (99)  It acknowledges “the worth of every human person, always and everywhere” (106) and that each “has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally,” “a fundamental right that cannot be denied by any country” (107).

Social friendship, therefore, promotes fraternity.  I give only some of the examples Pope Francis discusses.  It consciously cultivates fraternity, promotes it through “political will, through education in fraternity, through dialogue, through recognition of values of reciprocity and mutual enrichment” (103).  It is freedom directed above all to the love of all (103).  It is the equality of all achieved in the historical cultivation of fraternity (104).  It is the hard work and craftsmanship demanded to attain social peace (217).  It is relating to the truth not to lead towards revenge, but rather to reconciliation and forgiveness (227).  It is astute negotiation crafted above all by peoples (232).  It is getting people to tread the path to peace:  to work together, side by side, in pursuing goals that benefit everyone and serve the common good (228).  It is mediating reconciliation among belligerent parties (233).  It is working for equality and integral development as a condition for peace (235).  In the end, Francis says:  There is no end to the building of a country’s [or the world’s] social peace; rather, it is “an open-ended endeavor, a never-ending task that demands the commitment of everyone and challenges us to work tirelessly to build the unity of the nation [or world].” At its center:  the human person and respect for the common good (232).

The main point of Pope Francis’ elaborate retelling of the story of the Good Samaritan (56-86) is to present a man who exercised social friendship.  Robbers had left a person to die by the wayside.  He was robbed and then discarded.  Two religious persons, one a Levite, the other a Pharisee, see him, but pass him by.  Only the Samaritan, the despised outsider, had the humanity to interrupt his journey in order to help the victim.  Only he had the social friendship to be a neighbor to the victim.  The victim was a stranger.  Yet the Samaritan recognized in him a brother, came to his aid, brought him to an inn to be cared for, and used his personal resources to make sure he was attended to.  He did not ask for any return.  Yet it was he who in embracing this victim was most human.

The Anti-Social paradigm

In Fratelli Tutti, the victim left to die is humanity itself.  Perhaps in the light of Pope Francis’ invitation to reflect on fraternity and social friendship as a way of responding to eliminating or ignoring disadvantaged people, we might reflect on the following cases. 

First, the resurgent large-scale open-pit Tampakan mines, principally in South Cotabato.  The argument for the mine is economic, a parade example of the vicious circularity of the technocratic paradigm.  Science and technology enhance the human appetite for products of the mine, either raw or finished.  The productive engine exploits the earth.  As productive engines develop with increasing demand, the earth is not only used.  It is abused.  The planned Tampakan mine will abuse the earth with a gaping 500-ha.-large  open pit with a depth of 800 meters.  This is a deadly wound in a fragile archipelagic landscape.  Its excavation will produce a toxic mountain whose discharges will poison six rivers, threatening the rice fields of Mindanao and the livelihood of 20,000 farmers. It will kill old growth forests and destroy rich biodiversity.  It will also displace some 800 B’laan famiies.  But as the project matures and destroys the environment, not only the cultural wealth of the IPs is compromised, but the food supply of the people of Mindanao, if not of the country. Because the satisfaction of consumer needs only creates new and more demanding consumer needs, the technocratic cycle is repeated.  But not without excluding those who are irrelevant to the operation of the mine, including increasingly affected Mindanao residents of this generation and future generations who have a right to eat, a right to drink freshwater, a right to enjoy their common home in the ecological integrity that God endowed it with.  What operates here is the opposite of social friendship: a human-made humanity-destructive anti-social paradigm fueled by the technocratic paradigm.

Second, it is similar when one considers the effects of consumption-driven use of persuasion psychology integrated with the artificial-intelligence-driven technology of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and the like.   The human users that think they are using the social media products for free become the social media products sold to consumption-driving companies that exploit you for profit.[4]  The social media companies compete for your attention, your time, and your life on the screen in order to be able to sell your personal data to companies.  Without your knowing it you are part of the business model of the social media companies that use artificial intelligence and big data analysis and technology to connive with producers to monitor, predict, manipulate and exploit all your needs, even creating new needs that you ”really need” to satisfy your hunger and increase their earnings.  This includes the manipulation of the self-concept of young and vulnerable users (or of older and naïve users) who grow in self worth less and less from relating to real family, friends, and human beings, and more and more with a virtual community of likers and dis-likers that is in the end impossible to moderate or monitor, driving many of our youth to self-doubt, insecurity, depression and, as we all know, often suicide.  The technocratic paradigm made more compelling by persuasion psychology continues to drive the consumption that destroys the environment and discards people in order to order to create more and more consumption.  The evil here is that in the end what is consumed, robbed and left by the wayside to die is humanity itself.  Social media thrives on an anti-social paradigm.  Pope Francis recommends social friendship to recover real fraternity.

Third, we must consider the anti-social paradigm at work in politicians who exploit “the people” to gain power or to keep power.  It is often manipulative and cynical because it presents no clear roadmap to lead the people, among them the impoverished, exploited, manipulated, and excluded, to genuine fraternity.  Such manipulators do not hesitate in the name of “the people” to foment or exploit conflicts in order to maintain themselves in power.  “The people” do not represent all human persons and the common good, but is just a tool to divide the people into those included in the politician’s interests and those excluded, othered, and when convenient targeted in conflict.  Conflicts, especially those which cost precious lives and call forth more conflict, are profitable from the viewpoint of those who produce, control and sell arms.  “Why wage peace when waging war is much more profitable?” the technocratic paradigm asks.  Why organize efficient security forces when there are more power and profit in allowing the traditions of rido in Mindanao to continue?  Why travel the straight and moral path when the perilous path is more profitable?  Meanwhile, the traffickers in arms also traffic in illegal drugs and in people; for the profits of increasing sales, they rob and batter humanity and leave it on the wayside to die.  Here, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar insist, true religion is not involved.  True religion does not engage in terror and war.  True religion is not subject to the manipulation of individualists.  It is not anti-social.  True religion, in the name of Allah, in the name of God, in reverence and gratitude to the Creator, acts in social friendship to recognize and promote fraternity.  The Good Samaritan stops to lift up dying humanity – even here in Mindanao. 

Good Politics

For Francis, politics must be based on love, the type of love that is realistic, has insight into the relationship between the people’s needs and real institutions and “calls for an effective process of change that embraces everything:  institutions, law, technology,…etc” (165).  Also, for a “change of heart, attitude and lifestyles” to reject an “individualistic and uncritical culture subservient to unregulated economic interests and societal institutions at the service of those who already enjoy too much power. (166)” 

In talking about the politics we need, Francis stresses, “politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy” (177).  This is reference to the technocratic paradigm.  He stresses, “economics without politics cannot be justified, since this would make it impossible to favor other ways of dealing with the present crisis” i.e., the present anti-social crisis exacerbated by the technocratic paradigm.

Against petty politics based on immediate interests, Francis says the politics we need involves “true statecraft” that “is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good” … “a common project for the human family, now and in the future” (178).

For Francis, because it seeks the common good, politics, far from being dirty, is a “lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity” (180).  This can range from “small gestures of mutual care” (181) to the reform of the United Nations Organization to give it “real teeth” in protecting the dignity and rights of the poor or their organization against powerful states and even more powerful international economic and financial interests (170-175) in advancement of the “truly universal common good” (174).

Dialogue

The truly universal common good is fraternity.  And the way to get there is through social friendship, which includes good politics.  It also includes dialogue, the dialogue advanced earlier in the Document on Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together that I mentioned at the outset of this presentation. 

Francis describes dialogue in different lights:  Dialogue is approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another and to find common ground.  It does not make headlines, but helps the world.  In a country, dialogue is that which allows it to flourish in its many cultural components (199).  Dialogue is engagement, not parallel monologues on social media (200).  It is a respectful process aimed at achieving agreement on a level deeper than media’s potpourri of facts and opinions (201).  It is concern for the common good, and not for the imposition of power or of one’s opinions (202).  Authentic social dialogue involves the ability to respect the other’s point of view and to admit that it may include legitimate convictions and concerns. … In the true spirit of dialogue, we grow in our ability to grasp the significance of what others say and do, even if we cannot accept it as our own conviction  Dialogue appreciates that “differences are creative; they create tension and in the resolution of tension lies humanity’s progress” (203).

Conclusion

This has gone longer than I expected, and I thank you for your patience.  For an understanding of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, I have tried fundamentally to present his concepts of Fraternity and Social Friendship.  I linked it to the technocratic paradigm. And linked this to what may be described as an anti-social paradigm which together harm and kill human beings and imperil both the future of humanity and of the planet.  I ended by showing how Francis insists we human beings in social love or social friendship must take power in order to defeat this vicious anti-social, anti-human, dynamic that is at work in our economic system often without our being aware of it.  The anti-social dynamic must be defeated through good politics, among the highest forms of love, and through dialogue.   Only in this manner can we achieve the harmony we envision in this Mindanao Week of Peace.  I think, however, this is not just a matter of willful decision.  It is a matter of conversion from consumerism, individualism and proclivity to sin through the indispensable help of God.  In the name of peace, in the name of our future, in the name of our common home, in the name of our Creator, may we in social friendship advance fraternity through good politics and dialogue. Why?  Because Fratelli Tutti, we are brothers and sisters all. 


[1] Fratelli Tutti, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Fraternity and Social Friendship.  Pasay City: Paulines Publishing House, 2020.

[2] Comments of theologians in America Magazine focus on other important themes:  discernment, rejection of retributive violence, right to private property not  absolute, the inability of the market to solve all problems, the value of politics for what it may bring and not for what it is, the right to be different,  Francis’ skepticism concerning a “just war” today, loving an oppressor does not mean allowing the oppression to continue.

Cf: https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/10/07/catholic-theologians-takeaways-fratelli-tutti-pope-francis

[3] cf. Laudato Si’, Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father FRANCIS on Care for Our Common Home (Pasay City: Paulines Publishing House, 2015), esp. Chapter Three, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis.  I attempt to summarize thoughts taken from these chapters.  I recommend the Netflix documentary:  Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. 

[4] See the Netflix documentary: The Social Dilemma

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
This entry was posted in Address, Justice and Peace, Points for Prayer and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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