All Brothers, or, in Portuguese, All You Are Brothers, is the title of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, published last October 4th. It is a social teaching document of the Catholic Church, through which the Pope reflects on some current social issues that afflict humanity. And it does it starting from the heart of the Gospel, where love of God and love of neighbor are inseparably linked.
It is a Christian belief that humanity, despite its differences, is a large family of brothers, who have God as their father and Jesus Christ as their brother and teacher. This is, as it were, a staple clause of Christian teaching, which also underlies all the Church’s social, economic and political discourse.
Francisco starts from the current dramatic situations experienced by humanity, highlighting the fragmentation of solidarity consciousness and the ever greater affirmation of an individualistic culture and lifestyle. Points to the lack of consistent projects to achieve the local and universal common good; refers to the exclusion of large groups of unwanted and discarded people; regrets that human rights are becoming less and less universal and more and more focused on affirming particularistic interests; it speaks of the distortion of the dreams of globalization, progress and development, as well as the dignity denied to so many human beings, communication “without wisdom, aggressive and shameless” and the loss of hope. And it does not fail to refer to the ecological and environmental crisis, which threatens the destruction of our common home and the future of life.
What to do in the face of this? Pope Francis invites us to rethink the world in a more open way, pointing to the essential values of love and brotherhood. One cannot continue to think and plan the world for the privileged, where so many brothers are left on the sidelines, who have the same dignity as everyone. Nor is it enough to continue to theoretically affirm the principles of freedom, fraternity and equality: if these beautiful principles are guided by an individualistic practice, they will end up producing the opposite of what, theoretically, they mean. They should be encouraged by the strength of solidarity and the very affirmation of rights, in order not to be distorted, it must give priority to universal rights, without borders or discrimination.
In a more purposeful chapter, the pope addresses the building of a less closed world and the need for “hearts open to the whole world”. Humanity has created borders of all kinds, dug trenches and built walls with an understandable concern to protect itself against the undue invasion of the space of its own freedom and against all forms of aggression. But when this concern is motivated by the rejection of the other, by the safeguarding of one’s own privileges and by the unwillingness to share, the world becomes less and less fraternal and more aggressive. The pontiff speaks of openness to the other, of gratuity and the exchange of gifts, in which the local and the universal need not be in opposite poles, but can be mutually enriching. Whoever closes himself to the other impoverishes and narrows his own horizons.
Reflection on the current political landscape becomes inevitable and the pope spares no criticism of populisms and liberalisms, which are at the root of many of the serious current problems of local and international coexistence. And it points to the need for an “international power” capable of adequately moderating the political issues and conflicts of the entire human community. It is a difficult reflection and the simple approach to this theme causes chills in certain environments of contemporary thought, jealous defenders of absolute local powers. Francis returns to the theme of political charity, a recurring theme in the social teaching of the Church: true politics requires altruism and genuine love for one’s neighbor. It is not a question of utopian idealism, as witnesses of true social and political charity are lacking.
Francis also sought in ancient Greek philosophy two elements for a renewed social and political coexistence: social friendship and dialogue. Social friendship leads to respect and treat each citizen well, valuing their contribution to the building of social life. Dialogue is the art of overcoming ruptures and distances, in order to weave understanding and approximation.
This may sound strange to anyone who bets on the dialectic of conflict, or absolute liberalism for building social relations.
However, the principles of struggle and absolute liberalism have already shown what they are capable of producing: the triumph of the strongest over the weak, the empire of the law of the jungle, violence, pain and blood. Why not invest in dialogue, in the search for consensus guided by truth and in social friendship, capable of giving rise to a new culture and new politics, impregnated with altruism, kindness and fraternity? Why not believe in a true cultural revolution, to make coexistence more fraternal, truly human?
Cardinal-Archbishop of São Paulo