A Shared Fraternity

Pope Francis signing the Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti
United in Doing Good

By Fr. Shay Cullen

The latest letter of Pope Francis, the Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Brothers and Sisters All, should touch every heart, stimulate all minds, awaken consciences, warm our emotions and motivate us all to do good and make this a happier, more just and better world.

Can we humans ever unite as one humanity to change the world and reach out to our downtrodden and poor? Can we work together to lift the wounded, the excluded, the marginalized and the rejected in our neighborhood, community, town or city? That is the challenge posed by the letter of Pope Francis.

a colorful tapestryThe letter is one of enlightenment, encouragement, hope and love. It is a mighty challenge for us to be true believers and followers of Jesus of Nazareth. It brings us back to the human and Christian values that establish the dignity of humankind. It is a call to embrace and live out daily the values and principles that Jesus taught and lived and died for. It is the heart of Christian faith, a personal relationship with Jesus of Nazareth and a shared fraternity with each other as brothers and sisters in our one human family.

As members of this universal family, we will embrace unselfish concern, love and service for one another. Jesus gave Himself no titles, but others did. They called Him Rabbi, Teacher, Master, and Son of God. What Jesus called Himself was “a member of humanity,” a “son of humankind,” as every one of us are members of the human family. 

In this, Jesus was revolutionary and Pope Francis is repeating what Jesus taught: that we must love all others irrespective of whether they are members of our special group or not. All persons are to be our neighbors. He calls us to put aside group loyalty, to leave elite fraternities, to cast away membership in sects, clubs and dynasties, upper and lower classes, tribal bonds, nationality, social status and prestige. We are to abandon all the bias and prejudices that go with such select, closed groups that exclude and fear outsiders. We must leave our group and join all others in a single family based on equality, justice, truth and service for others.

If personal family ties would cause us to reject, exclude or oppress others and separate us from the values of Jesus, we must cut such family ties. A shocking challenge for anyone who would be His true disciple even to the point where we must love even our enemy. “Do good to those who hate you,” He said. It seems impossible, yet that is the idea that Jesus taught, that we are all one humanity in one world. He lived and died for all of us.

As members of God’s single-family, we share a common humanity, dignity, justice and respect. This is what Pope Francis is reminding us, that as human beings we must be caring and responsible for each other irrespective of skin color, citizenship, religion, gender, status or situation in life.

We must also be caring for the planet, the environment, all living creatures. The universality of the loving fraternity that Jesus taught demands we love one another and do to others as we would want them to do to us. This is the heart of the Christian message.

The world today with its many problems of injustice, racism, inequality, crime and corruption, is a world in the darkness of evil. Yet the hope and love that Jesus of Nazareth shared with us can save humanity from self-destruction, hatred, violence and nuclear war and even save us from extinction.

It is by sharing life in a universal community and working together helping the poor and the oppressed that change will come. By standing and speaking out against violence, killings, child abuse and evil, we will make Jesus and His spirit present and change the world. We just need to persuade enough people to choose to do it.

In his Encyclical, Pope Francis takes the story that Jesus told to illustrate the welcome and acceptance and the help we should have for the outsider, for the stranger, the migrant, the excluded. These are the people who are treated with rejection, apathy and indifference by the elite institutionalized clergy and uncaring politicians.

As Pope Francis interprets it in today’s world, suffering humanity has been beaten and robbed by the uncaring powerful robbers and left to die on the roadside. The victim was a stranger, an unknown. A member of the clergy and then a member of the ruling elite walk by on the other side of the road. They ignore the wounded, dying person. A man comes along, perhaps a trader with a donkey. He is different. He is like an untouchable, an unclean, rejected person, being from Samaria. He does not walk past. He is moved with compassion and concern. He hurries to help the victim, cleans and treats his wounds and takes the victim on his donkey to the nearest inn. There, a humble, kind innkeeper agrees to care for the victim. The trader pays him and promises to return and pay more as needed.

“Who among the three was a true neighbor to the dying man and saved him?” Jesus asked. “The one who helped him” was the answer He received. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said. (Luke 10:25-37) The message is clear. When asked to state the way to eternal life, the man in the Gospel answered: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, life and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This story, as repeated by Pope Francis, teaches that we are challenged to share with and to help, without discrimination, everyone: strangers, migrants, refugees, the poor, the hungry, the wounded, people of any color and all suffering humanity.

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen has been a missionary in the Philippines since 1969 and is the founder of PREDA (People’s Recovery, Empowerment, Development Assistance Foundation).