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Imitating the Good Samaritan Today

Unpacking Pope Francis’ latest encyclical on fraternity and social friendship

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Fratelli Tutti, released Oct. 3, 2020, and subtitled “On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” focuses on a theme, which had been endorsed also by the Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, “God has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and has called them to live together as brothers and sisters” (No. 5).

He does not ignore the positive advances in the areas of science, technology, medicine, industry and welfare, above all in developed countries. Nonetheless, he says, “We wish to emphasize that, together with these historical advances, great and valued as they are, there exists a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility” (No. 29).

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In Invitation

Pope Francis’ third encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship” (OSV, $12.95), reflects on human solidarity and friendship. The document calls for greater connectivity and concern for the world and those who inhabit it. Fratelli Tutti is “an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will.”

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POPE ASSISI ENCYCLICAL
Pope Francis signs his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship” after celebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 3, 2020. CNS photo/Vatican Media

He noted: “As I was writing this letter, the COVID-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality” (No. 7).

This would not be the first time that the fragmentation among human beings has been noted. Accepting the Nobel Peace prize in 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”

Pope Francis, who took his name after Francis of Assisi, who believed in the universal brotherhood of all creation, calls today’s human beings to learn from the ever old and ever new challenge of the Gospel: Who was neighbor to the man who fell among robbers? The one who showed him compassion, God, and do likewise.

The encyclical touches on a wide range of issues. But the challenge of the encyclical is to reread the parable of the good Samaritan and ask ourselves where we fit into the story, mindful that those who look aside are secret allies of the robbers (cf. No. 75). There are four scenes in the parable. The first are the robbers engaged in their deed; second, the injured man left to his own resources on the roadside; third, the religion-linked persons (priest and Levite) passing by on the other side of the road; and fourth, the Jewish outcast, the Samaritan, showing compassion and helping. Who re-enacts these scenes today? And how?

The Robbers

Today’s robbers are the persons and social, economic and political structures of neoliberalism and of populism, who produce victims. The result is the manipulation and deformation of concepts such as democracy, freedom, justice; the loss of the meaning of the social community and history; selfishness and indifference toward the common good; the prevalence of a market logic based on profit and the culture of waste; unemployment, racism, poverty; the disparity of rights and its aberrations such as slavery, trafficking, women subjugated and then forced to abort, organ trafficking (cf. Nos. 10-24).

“There are huge economic interests operating in the digital world, capable of exercising forms of control as subtle as they are invasive, creating mechanisms for the manipulation of consciences and of the democratic process” (No. 45). The pope warns against a “culture of walls” that favors the proliferation of organized crime, fuelled by fear and loneliness (cf. Nos. 27-28). Moreover, today we observe a deterioration of ethics (No. 29) contributed to, in a certain way, by the mass media, which shatter respect for others and eliminate all discretion, creating isolated and self-referential virtual circles, in which freedom is an illusion and dialogue is not constructive (Nos. 42-50).

The Injured Man

Second, the injured man represents all the victims of the causes mentioned above. They find their situation as victims made worse. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of all to the virus and the major social variations that exist in which some countries have hardly any ventilators for an entire population and others have enough, at the least, to cope under normal requirements. The cry of the poor, women, the aged and children reaches to the heavens, with an insufficient response from many.

The Encyclical’s Final Words …
 
Fratelli Tutti concludes with these final words:
Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
so that we may discover anew
that all are important and all are necessary,
different faces of the one humanity
that God so loves. Amen.

“There is no worse form of alienation than to feel uprooted, belonging to no one. A land will be fruitful, and its people bear fruit and give birth to the future, only to the extent that it can foster a sense of belonging among its members, create bonds of integration between generations and different communities, and avoid all that makes us insensitive to others and leads to further alienation” (No. 53).

Every brother or sister in need, when abandoned or ignored by the society in which they live, becomes an existential foreigner, even though born in the same country. They may be citizens with full rights, yet they are treated like foreigners in their own country. “Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting” (No. 97). Many persons with disabilities “feel that they exist without belonging and without participating” (No. 98).

Onlookers

Third, several persons passed by the injured man. It is significant to note that among these were two explicitly linked to the cultic life of Israel. Others who passed by are not mentioned. “They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help” (No. 63).

In today’s situation, among these can be reckoned self-serving politicians, owners of multinationals, persons of technology and science. Many of them see, but do not understand and respond in compassion. “Let us admit that, for all the progress we have made, we are still ‘illiterate’ when it comes to accompanying, caring for and supporting the most frail and vulnerable members of our developed societies. We have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly” (No. 64).

One Person Who Stopped

Fourth, we have one person who stopped, approached the man and cared for him, even spending his own money to provide for his needs and finding an innkeeper to care for him. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: He gave him his time. Certainly, he had plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet, he was able to put all that aside to respond to the call of a helpless man. And this man was a pagan, a heretic, a schismatic and an undesirable — a Samaritan. He less represents all those of goodwill who hear the cry of the poor and respond to it — light one candle rather than curse the darkness.

Principles and Values

Finally, Pope Francis articulates a series of principles and values that rise from the heart of the Christian tradition as well as all other religious traditions and ancient wisdom. Among these is that private property has a social function; the poor have rights, a local heart, as well as universal; politics is not confined to economy and technology, but there is a political charity that seeks to encourage and nourish social friendship and love that moves on consent, to know to dialogue and to pardon.

The pope says: “On numerous occasions, I have spoken of ‘a principle indispensable to the building of friendship in society: namely, that unity is greater than conflict. … This is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides.’ All of us know that ‘when we, as individuals and communities, learn to look beyond ourselves and our particular interests, then understanding and mutual commitment bear fruit … in a setting where conflicts, tensions and even groups once considered inimical can attain a multifaceted unity that gives rise to new life” (No. 245).

Through such a dialogue, Pope Francis envisages peace without war, elimination of the death penalty and a range of other desirable outcomes. Finally, he makes an impassioned appeal “in the name of God, who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace” (No. 285).

FATHER NIHAL ABEYASINGHA writes from Sri Lanka and holds graduate degrees in theology and law and is involved in parishes and teaching.

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Selfishness and Repentance

Pope Francis’ encyclical identifies the structure of selfishness built into the structures of society and calls for repentance. The Tablet expresses it succinctly:

Where there is populism, Pope Francis focuses on people;
where there is nationalism, he calls for reform of the United Nations;
where there is individualism, he pushes for solidarity;
where there is digital trolling, he asks for kindness;
where there is inequality, he urges fairer distribution;
when politicians hate, he recommends dialogue;
when there is ideology, he calls for genuine faith.

— The Tablet, Oct. 10, 2020

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