Dark Clouds Over a Closed World

Columban Fr Warren Kinne offers some reflection on the first chapter of the Encyclical Letter, Fratelli Tutti of the Holy Father Francis on fraternity and social friendship.

Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis

Pope Francis, in this opening chapter of the encyclical, talks about the dark clouds that cover our world. He gives a depressing and exhaustive list of current problems including our pandemic, modern forms of slavery, issues at borders for refugees, war and conflict, the absence of an overarching story to integrate our view of life. 

This absence in our contemporary world of a shared world view – of a story that makes sense for all of us and the world in which is live – is for me certainly a key issue facing us. There was a time when people did, by and large, share a view of the world through culture and religion, but now this view is fragmented. Our historical consciousness began in our family growing up with a mother and father and siblings. For most of human history, this happened inside a village with its monolithic culture and religion. For me, it was inside an extended family that shared faith and social status, and inside a school and church with values and a story that we all inhabited.

But since that time Australian culture has become more focused on individuals and their rights and personal aspirations. At the same time, there has been a perceived widening gap between science and religion. As time has gone by, all have not felt included in the story as witnessed for example by the current debate here on the meaning of Australia Day. What is the significance of eleven boats with convicts and soldiers arriving from a far country into Sydney cove in 1788? How do we include everyone in that story? Some of us have a human history here that predates this event by 60 odd thousand years and this inside an even larger universe story of 13.8 billion years. Should we choose another date such as the commemoration of the Federation in 1901? We all tend to see the situation differently, but I hope for a return to an overarching story that includes all people and a story of the universe that makes sense to a religious as well as a scientific mind. 

Not everyone feels included in the “plan” for the development of the nation. There is inequality in wealth and opportunity; questions to do with a respect for all of life that includes the elderly and the unborn; the migrant and the indigenous; and of course concern for the environment which is our common home. While there is undoubted “progress” on some fronts such as technological capability – globalization and progress are without a shared roadmap in line with what the Pope and the Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb envisaged.

This chapter has a section on the absence of human dignity on the borders. Here the Pope is talking about the right to migrate. He seeks the right balance between the twofold moral responsibility to protect the rights of citizens and to assure assistance and acceptance to migrants1. He reaffirms the right not to emigrate, that is, to remain in one’s homeland2. But for this to happen we need a better distribution of the world’s resources and the absence of conflicts. In any case, a “culture of walls”3 that does not accept the shared patrimony of our common home reigns supreme. 

We also have an “illusion of communication” where there is scarcely a right to privacy and where digital communications blocks out the development of authentic interpersonal relationships. It is the opposite of the slow and gradual cultivation of friendship4 that is the usual way that relationships are formed. 

Despite the litany of ills we face, Pope finishes this chapter with a message of hope. The pandemic has surely taught us that no one is saved alone but that we are saved together. The notion of “every man for himself” will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that could prove worse than any pandemic5. All of us long for life to the full, but the common good in the experience of COVID-19, for example, is based on the cooperation of doctors, nurses, storekeepers, cleaning personal - all working together for this6. I think of my own niece in the NHS in the UK working as a nurse on a ward doing 13-hour shifts, with chaffed hands from incessant disinfectant usage and with death and dying all around her. We are certainly not “saved alone”.  

While the chapter is a relentless listing of the ills of society, an answer is always there in Francis’ exposition. He is filled with hope that we can rise above ourselves and together create a better future – a future that includes everyone and that breaks down the walls between us.

Columban Fr Warren Kinne lives and works on the Gold Coast.

[1] Cf. paragraph 40 
[2] Cf. paragraph 38
[3] Cf. paragraph 27-28
[4] Cf. paragraph 43
[5] Cf. paragraph 36
[6] Cf. paragraph 54

All references link to paragraphs from Chapter 1 of Fratelli Tutti

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