April 2021 Special Article
This essay is the revised version of a talk I gave at the Forum on Fratelli
Tutti on 28 February 2021. This Forum was organised by the Catholic
Archdiocese of Singapore to mark its bi-centennial.
On October 4, 2020, Pope Francis issued Fratelli Tutti in the wake of the unrelenting march of the coronavirus pandemic and to a world fragmented by social, economic and political conflicts. In Fratelli Tutti 1 we find a clear, courageous and hopeful prophetic voice in the spiritual and moral wilderness that is our world, calling people of good will and of every tongue and tribe to come together in solidarity and fraternal love. This is Pope Francis’ third encyclical and his second social encyclical.2 Although it is in many ways different from Francis’ first social encyclical, Laudato Si’, issued on 24 May 2015, Fratelli Tutti reiterates many of the major themes that he has focused on throughout his pontificate. More significantly, this encyclical is in concert with the social encyclicals issued by previous popes – especially Francis’ immediate predecessors Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI – stretching all the way to Rerum Novarum, the first social encyclical issued by Pope Leo XIII in 1891.
If Laudato Si’ was in some ways inspired by the efforts of Bartholomew I of Constantinople (affectionately called the ‘Green Patriarch’ because of his profound concerns for ecological issues), Fratelli Tutti builds on the themes articulated in the ‘Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’3 which the pontiff signed with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi in 2019. But it was the saint whose name he has chosen as his papal name – St Francis of Assisi – who was the real inspiration behind the two social encyclicals. This is evident in the way the pope began both letters. Laudato Si’ starts with a quotation from the beautiful canticle by St Francis called the Canticle of the Sun (also known as Laudes Creaturarum, ‘Praise of the Creatures’). And ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is the way St Francis customarily ‘addressed his brothers and sisters and proposed to them a way of life marked by the flavour of the Gospel’ (1).
In this brief presentation, I would like to reflect on some of the themes found in this powerful encyclical. I begin with Pope Francis’ diagnosis of our world and the temper of our times. Then, I discuss his call to solidarity and social friendship and examine a perhaps neglected theme which Francis has appropriately highlighted, namely, the universal destination of goods. Before concluding my presentation, I explore two important topics in the encyclical: populism and the death penalty.
1 Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20201003_enciclica-fratelli-tutti.html.
2 Lumen fidei (19 June 2013), Laudato si’ (24 May 2015), Fratelli Tutti (3 October 2020).
3 ‘A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2019/outside/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_documentofratellanza-umana.html.
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Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor at Trinity Theological College (Singapore) and Theological and Research Advisor of the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.