March 15, 2021

Fratelli Tutti: A New Vision of Community and Social Friendship: Sheila Curran rsm

Sheila Curran rsm was invited by Doctrine and Life to contribute an article to the January 2021 issue on Pope Francis ‘ most recent encyclical, ‘Fratelli Tutti’. In her article, 'Fratelli Tutti: A New Vision of Community and Social Friendship', Sr Sheila outlines some of the highlights of the encyclical.


On October 3, 2020, Pope Francis released a new encyclical entitled Fratelli Tutti  based on a compilation of his messages, homilies and addresses given over the last seven years of his pontificate. The same methodology as in his encyclical Laudato Si, is used, “see, judge, act”.[1] This document is also addressed to all people of good will offering a “modest contribution to continued reflection, in the hope that in the face of present-day attempts to eliminate or ignore others, we may prove capable of responding with a new vision of fraternity and social friendship”(6).  Pope Francis believes that by acknowledging the dignity of each human person, we can “dream together”(8) “to create a beautiful polyhedral reality in which everyone has a place”(190).  While this idea may seem utopian, it can become a reality with “an exchange of gifts for the common good” (190).  The document is a reflection on political and economic life in 21st century and particularly in the context of the coronavirus  pandemic which “unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities”(7). This is a call to discern the ‘signs of our times’[2], a locus theologicus, which exposes the inequality among peoples and nations.

In this article, I will outline some of what I consider the highlights of the document.

“Dark Clouds” hanging over our world

The first part of the document entails a survey of the contemporary situation which

Pope Francis describes as “dark clouds” that are hanging over our world.  He challenges the concept of “opening up to the world”as it has been co-opted by the neoliberal economic and financial sector to take advantage ‘to invest without obstacles or complications in all countries’ so that “political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers”(12). This has produced inequality with the ever widening gap between rich and poor. In continuing with his critique of neoliberalism, Pope Francis sees consumerism and individualism as the new forms cultural colonisation (14). He addresses some of the ecological concerns raised in Laudato Si, reminding us of the need to look after our world but unfortunately, there are “those with economic powers who demand quick profits.”[3]  Pope Francis uses the term a ‘throwaway world” referring to “persons who are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected…. the poor, people with disabilities, older people and the unborn who can be viewed as “not yet useful” or “no longer needed” (18). Everything gets reduced to a monetary value together with an “obsession with reducing labour costs”(21) leading to precarious working conditions, where workers are denied rights.[4] Despite the claim that poverty has decreased in our world in 21st century, the document looks the “new forms of poverty that are emerging” reminding us that we cannot “measure poverty with the criteria from the past that do not correspond to present-day realities”(21).  Racism is also a form of discarding others. Pope Francis equates it to a “virus that quickly mutates and instead of disappearing, goes into hiding and lurks in waiting”(97).[5]

In addressing the situation of human rights Pope Francis calls for equal rights for all.[6] Human rights demand accountability and transparency but unfortunately, there are many  inequalities.

In today’s world, many forms of injustice persist, fed by reductive anthropological vision and by a profit based economic model that does not hesitate to exploit, discard and even kill human beings. While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated (22).[7]

Women’s rights are often violated and are “frequently less able to defend their rights”(23).  There is human trafficking (24). War and persecution (25). There is a culture of “erecting  walls” (physically or metaphorically)  for self- preservation, so that the outside world ceases to exist ….others are no longer considered human beings possessed of an inalienable dignity, belonging only them”(27).  Migrants and refugees are not welcome (37) or they receive xenophobic reactions as if they were “less worthy, less important, less human.  For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable” (39).  But what does this tell us about equality of rights grounded in innate human dignity? (22).

In paragraph 29 the Pope talks about the build-up of arms and ammunition and the lack of the equitable distribution of natural resources which “result in the deaths of millions of children emaciated from poverty and hunger – there is an unacceptable silence on the international level.” Hunger has been a pandemic long before Covid-19 as “we have grown indifferent to all kinds of wastefulness, starting with the waste of food which is deplorable in the extreme”(18).

Covid-19 is not only a disease to be fought, it also highlights the wider social pathologies. But Covid-19 clearly demonstrates that we are all interconnected, “no one can face life in isolation”.  Unfortunately, the digital world can give a false sense that we are interconnected but Pope Francis rightly states that “digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity”(43).[8]

The parable of the Good Samaritan.

Pope Francis then presents a profound theological reflection on the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) which encapsulates the “judge” part of the document.  The parable answers the basic question Who is my neighbour? But Pope Francis asks the following questions in relation to the parable.

Which of these persons do you identify with in the text?  Which of these characters do you resemble? We need to acknowledge that we are constantly tempted to ignore others especially the weak…..we have become accustomed to looking the other way, passing by, ignoring situations until they affect us directly (64).

Pope Francis tells us we must not continue to be “indifferent to suffering, but recalling the Good Samaritan he says “we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering”(68). It is this indignation that calls us to act to transform our world. The universal dimension to our call to love, transcends all prejudices, all historical and cultural barriers and all petty interests (83).  Francis then goes on to talk about a new kind of politics and it is to this I now turn.

A Better Kind of Politics

In the fifth chapter, titled "A Better Kind of Politics," Pope Francis is very critical of the global market system and of populist and nationalist political movements. To achieve a “global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendships …..a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good” is needed (154). Populism can disregard the world “peoples” which can quickly lead to the eliminations of democracy (157). The recent elections in the USA are example of this. He recognises that elimination of “inequality requires an economic development…that guarantees a sustainable equality”(161). Because the “biggest issue is employment…work is an essential dimension of social life, it gives us a shared responsibility for the development of the world, and ultimately, for our life as a people”(162).  In this chapter Pope Francis is calling for a change of heart, in the way we see things, a change in our attitudes and lifestyle. We need political systems that have a broad vision, “capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling different aspects of the crisis”(177), “capable of thinking long-term for the common good and the future of humanity”(178). 

This change in political thinking is asking us to reflect on what is important.  “We are still far from the globalisation of the most basic of human rights.  World politics needs to make effective the elimination of hunger”(189).  We have witnessed how quickly states moved and financed the research to come up with vaccines for Covid-19.  Imagine if the same effort was employed to eliminate world hunger?  This of course would demand that “we make room for a tender love of the other”…enabling the daily concerns of the poor, the weak and vulnerable who have a ‘right’ to touch our heart so that we care for them (194).

Pope Francis firmly believes that “good politics combines love and hope with a confidence in the reserves of goodness present in human hearts”(196).

Dialogue and No to War

Chapters 6, 7 and 8 of the document look at need for social dialogue, cross cultural dialogue; peace building; forgiveness and inter-religious dialogue.  Pope Francis emphases the need for constructive dialogue “in its rich cultural components”(199) for building a better world.  He critiques social and journalistic media, their lack of analysis and depth and says they can “foster monologues rather than true dialogue” (202).  The real challenge is how to promote an encounter which recognises our differences and divisions but at the same time transcend these to work for the common good.  But in order to engage in social dialogue kindness is needed.  Consumerist individualism has led to a selfishness where “other persons come to be viewed simply as obstacles to our own serene existence; where we end up treating them as annoyances” (222).  This is so true with our attitude to migrants and refugees!  Kindness frees us from cruelty and ought to be cultivated, because “it entails esteem and respect for others” (224).  This is something we all can do.

The same is true when looking at the whole area of other religions Pope Francis has tied “Fratelli Tutti” to the document on human fraternity[9] which he signed last year with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, and he chose a Muslim judge who worked with both religious leaders to officially present “Fratelli Tutti” at the Vatican.[10]

Gender Specific Issues

The gender-specific language both in title “fratelli tutti”: “all brothers” and with the use of the word “fraternity” (55 times), and “fraternal” (18 times ) gives the immediate impression that the document is being addressed to men only. Scholars will point towards the Admonitions of St. Francis, where apparently Pope Francis received the inspiration for this document. However, while this may be the case, it does not take away from the fact that the title and the use of the words “fraternity”  and” fraternal “reinforces stereotypes and  assumptions. I do not understand why Pope Francis chose not to use inclusive language.  After all the encyclical is addressed to all people.  Words are powerful, they influences us.  Unknowingly, they provoke values and meaning. They can also be used to suppress opposing values. 

I noted that despite the over use of the word “fraternity” the language does change in middle of the text.  For example, the term brother is replaced with brother and sister even when using scripture “Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness” (1 Jn 2:10-11) (61). The real challenge is to move beyond non-binary language which reflects the gender diversity among the people of God.

It is equally worrying and disappointing that Pope Francis did not mention any woman who inspired him but cites a number of men (286). Women hardly figure in the text. Yet, in paragraph 23 he refers to “the organisation of societies worldwide that are still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identity as men. We say one thing with words, but our decisions and reality tell another story”. I think our Church needs to take this statement on board. The gender gap is both a cause and a consequence of the type of unthinking that conceives of the church as almost exclusively male.  Pope Francis, needs to realise that we can only love one another if we see and name one another.  Our language has to change and so too must the role of women within our Church. 


Fratelli Tutti offers a critique of neoliberal economics in highlighting capitalism as the root of many of the problems in our world today. Endless economic growth is like a cancer.  We need a sharing of our resources. We need to place Earth and the poor at the centre. Covid-19 has brought pain and suffering to our world but it has also shown us: (i) our planet can heal when we are not polluting our environment by constant travel; (ii) States can move and work together to find a vaccine; (iii) money can be found quickly, e.g. the Covid payment. As a world leader Pope Francis has presented a document that puts forward alternatives such as new social friendship and solidarity. It is up to each of us to take on what we can in our own context to put what this document proposes into practice. Let us take up the challenge.

Messages to: Sheila Curran rsm

[1] The See-Judge-Act method was created by Cardinal Joseph Cardijn who founded the Young Christian Workers’ movement. Pope John XXII formally recognized the See Judge Act method in his encyclical Mater et Magistra published on 15 May 1961.  The method was later developed by the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) and liberation theologians.

[2] A reference to Gaudium et Spes 1 The Pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965. 

[3]  The Amazon Synod and the subsequent document Querida Amazonia reflect extensively on this theme. We know that the extractive industry is causing irreparable  damage to our Earth. Transnational companies that patent seeds from indigenous people’s lands can also be viewed as a new form of colonisation. See Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia of Holy Father Frances to the People of God and to all Persons of

[4]According to TASC, 44% of Irish people are “precariously employed.” See Sinead Pembroke, “Precarious Work Leads to Precarious Lives: the Irish Experience and Policy Responses”, in Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review Vol 108, No 432(Winter 2019), pp. 446-453, Messenger Publications.  
[5] This is so true, examples of racism in USA were brought to our TV with the often cite slogan “Black Lives” matter but closer to home “people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, including Travellers and Roma, people of African descent, migrants and refugees, continue to bear testimony with their own shocking examples of racism and racial discrimination in Ireland. See The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Statement on Eliminating Racial Discrimination in all its Forms in Ireland 29/6/2020 https: //

[6] Human rights is a central theme in the encyclical but it is interesting to note that Vatican has not signed the UN Universal Human Rights Declaration.

[7] The Frontline Defenders Global Analysis for 2019 bears witness to this reality “more than 300 human rights defenders working to protect the environment, free speech, LGBTQ+ rights and indigenous lands in 31 countries were killed in 2019. Two-thirds of the total killings took place in Latin America where impunity from prosecution is the norm:”

[8] Indeed, digital technology is changing the way we work and capitalism has found its way into it. Digital giants such as Google, Facebook, and Instagram appropriate user’s behavioural data as a free resource for their own purposes. For more on this theme see: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshanna Zuboff and Karin Schwandt, Profile Books, 2019.

[9] A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together

[10] Religions must never incite war or hatred.  A greater analysis is needed with a more in-depth look at the our history in order to open authentic paths for dialogue.  It is true that religious leaders, should be “people of dialogue”, to cooperate in building peace not as intermediaries but as authentic mediators”(284). It will be interesting to see how Pope Francis develops this theme in the future.

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