A single human family
Images of faces, young and old from various parts of the world, flash across the screen during the opening of a haunting video that brings Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti, to life.
Workshop participants read silently some of the overriding messages of the papal letter on “fraternity and social friendship” as the words slowly faded in and out: “We are now divided more than ever, we are alone more than ever. … The Good Samaritan shows us that there are paths of hope. … Human beings have no borders.”
With that introduction, Father Jim Fitz, S.M. ’68, and Allison Leigh ’05 in the rector’s office opened up a discussion about one of the greatest challenges of our times — the need to build a better, more peaceful world in which every person is treated with dignity and respect. As Pope Francis wrote the encyclical, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed a gap in the way the world failed to meet the challenge together.
“The ideas in the document are accessible and remind us of ways we can live in a world that’s polarized,” said Leigh, director of Marianist strategies, during the virtual Call to Solidarity workshop March 16.
Fitz pointed to the encyclical’s second chapter, “A Stranger on the Road,” featuring the parable of the Good Samaritan as a reflection of contemporary indifference to the sufferings of others and a renewed call for kindness and compassion.
In the Biblical story, people walk by a Jewish traveler who was beaten and left injured on the side of the road. Even though there’s no love lost between Jews and Samaritans at that time, a Samaritan stops and helps the injured traveler. He doesn’t turn his back on a stranger who needs his help.
“In this encyclical, Pope Francis is asking us to expand our notion of neighbor, to love our neighbor as ourselves — not just those we’re most comfortable with,” said Fitz, vice president for mission and rector.
“Pope Francis is asking us to expand our notion of neighbor, to love our neighbor as ourselves — not just those we’re most comfortable with.”
The tendency to quickly dismiss another person, “to write someone off as a label,” hinders true dialogue and respect, Leigh said. “Each of us can learn something from others. No one is useless. No one is expendable.”
After a divisive and violent election year, Teri Stemley ’86, assistant to the dean in the School of Engineering, asked a question that likely crossed the minds of most in the Zoom room: “How do you calm people down so you can even have a dialogue?”
“Take a deep breath. Take a pause — and don’t respond with the same level of energy,” advised Leigh.
Fitz, who doesn’t shy away from conversations about the Church’s stance on immigration and other issues that divide people, suggested asking questions, listening deeply, affirming points of agreement — and then responding.
“We have to open ourselves up to dialogue — and we have to learn how to dialogue,” he said.
Pope Francis, who became the first leader of the Catholic Church to visit Iraq earlier this month, said he was inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi as well as prominent non-Catholic humanitarians, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi, in writing the 45,000-word encyclical letter.
At its heart, the document calls for more kindness, greater dialogue between people of different faiths and the acknowledgement of the dignity of all people.
“How important it is to dream together,” the pope writes in the letter’s conclusion. “By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together.
“Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”
To read the encyclical letter Fratelli tutti, click here.