"What are the great ideals but also the tangible ways to advance, for those who wish to build a more just and fraternal world in their ordinary relationships, in social life, politics and institutions?", asks Isabella Piro in her article for Vatican News “Fratelli tutti”: short summary of Pope Francis's Social Encyclical. This is mainly question that Fratelli tutti is intended to answer.
The Encyclical aims to promote a universal aspiration toward fraternity and social friendship. “No one can face life in isolation”; the time has come to “dream, then, as a single human family” in which we are all “brothers and sisters”, says the Pope (n.8). Fratelli tutti, hence, proclaims that love is "the kind of attention that brings a broken and bleeding world back to health," commented Anna Rowlands, during the ceremony of the encyclical presentation.
She was not the only one to praise Pope Francis for this message of concord in the midst of discord. "As a young Muslim scholar of Shari'a, Islam and its sciences, I find myself - with much love and enthusiasm - in agreement with the Pope. All his proposals put forward in a spirit of concern for the rebirth of human fraternity,” said Judge Mohamed Mahmoud Abdel Salam. “The Encyclical shows us that we are all guardians of peace," (Andrea Riccardi), actually the it calls “Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World" saying, "The effort to seek God with a sincere heart, provided it is never sullied by ideological or self-serving aims, helps us recognize one another as travelling companions, truly brothers and sisters"(Chapter 8).
The encyclical, however, is a social meditation on the Good Samaritan and we should read it in the context of the central concern of Pope Francis for the poor and the Christian journey of their commitment for them.
While the concern of social justice, in the Catholic Church started with Pope Leon XIII, the centrality of the poor came back during the Second Vatican Council (VC2) and was shaped through some specific signs. Three weeks before the closing of the VC2, in the Catacombs of Domitilla, near Rome, 42 bishops signed a commitment called The Pact of the Catacombs pledging to live like the poorest of their parishioners. A few days after, Pope Paul the Sixth, entered on foot in St. Peter's Basilica renouncing the gestatorial chair and during the ceremony laid on the altar the tiara, a crown that claimed representing the Pope’s threefold authority. Father Pedro Arrupe, the superior general of the Jesuits at that time, in 1968 framed the phrase preferential option for the poor that later was picked up by the Catholic bishops of Latin America, and was to be fully embraced by the Theology of Liberation.
It took no time at all for the expression to face criticism. Most of all because there is no option on what is essential. There is no option for Life: it is essential for human beings. No option for love among Christian, love being essential. For a society, there is no option for justice: justice in social life is essential not an option and the cry of the poor for justice has to be heard.
It was a call to go back to biblical texts, where a preference for powerless individuals, living on the margins of society, is clear and strongly expressed in the first beatitude in both its versions, the original one as reported by Luke's Gospel - Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours-, and as it is edited by Matthew, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The biblical perspective was anew open wide. Living in poverty is a choice of faith, a gift of blessing and there is no option for the poor where first an option for poverty is not in the way. Being poor is neither a crime nor a curse, nor a destiny. People are not poor. It is greed and the social injustice that impoverish them.
Catholic action for justice should not be an option for the poor but a commitment to empower them and give them the opportunities to build their own life in dignity. Poor are persons with will and consciousness, gifts and strengths, as well as weaknesses and faults. In this twentieth century, with our instincts and desires, our images, our amount of things presented as impossible to do without, all we are mostly dependent on, the liberal culture with its unbridled search for pleasure and the latest craze preventing us to approach in freedom the poor and poverty issues. It is their right and duty to assume their responsibility facing their problems.
Therefore, the option for the poor has become the options with the poor in order to overcome the main obstacle to a social justice, that is the innumerable social, economic, and political inequalities. Pope Francis put it clearly, "While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling,” (To Vatican ambassadors). "Economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom”, to support their family, educate their children, praise God and “develop one's own human potential.” (Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron for the G8 Meeting).
Fratelli tutti, through Fraternity and Social Friendship, is insofar the latest and best formulation of social justice and Christian concern for the poor stating that love and attention are the preeminent law, and models for creative social friendship and justice.
Actually, as a social meditation on the Good Samaritan, the encyclical answers the question: Who is my neighbor?, saying, "In the society of Jesus’ time, usually it meant those nearest us. It was felt that help should be given primarily to those of one’s own group and race. For some Jews of that time, Samaritans were looked down upon, considered impure. They were not among those to be helped. Jesus, himself a Jew, completely transforms this approach. He asks us not to decide who is close enough to be our neighbor, but rather that we ourselves become neighbors to all." (No 80)
A universal solidarity is in focus, reminding us that this was even the call of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the coming Messiah. To the people searching for forgiveness, he asked a commitment of solidarity: if you have two coats, give one to the person who has none; if you have food, do the same. Collect no more than your fixed rate. Don’t take anything by force.
Pope Francis at the end of this encyclical quotes Charles de Foucauld. He chose to be on the side of the poor "abandoned in the depths of the African desert." His desire was to feel a brother to every human being, becoming truly a "brother of all”, “the universal brother”. "Yet only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all," conclude the Pope.
The call of VC2 for a social justice having the poor as the central focus made its journey. From an option for the poor, passing through an option with the poor has become an option for society to be changed through the poor, so that the earth would become the common house of all of us, Fratelli tutti.