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Fratelli Tutti: The Social Encyclical On Fraternity

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Fratelli Tutti (FT) is the title of the new encyclical of Pope Francis. The title in two Latin words is a quote from a talk of St. Francis of Assisi to his Franciscan brothers: all brothers – Fratelli Tutti. The subtitle is “On Fraternity and Social Friendship.” In this encyclical, Pope Francis speaks as a human being, a brother, a believer in God the Creator and a follower of Christ, the Son of God and of Mary, and the Good Samaritan. The third encyclical of Pope Francis is addressed to all men and women of good will, to believers and unbelievers, and to Christians.  


Fratelli Tutti is a social encyclical and develops therefore the social dimension of human life in community. FTfollows, updates and renews the great documents of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in particular the main papal encyclicals, such as Populorum Progressio (PP), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS), Deus Caritas Est (DCE), and Laudato Si’ (LS). And the documents of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), above all the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (GS). Like all other documents of the magisterium, Fratelli Tutti is grounded on the Sacred Scriptures and Christian Tradition, represented by Fathers of the Church and classical theologians. Pope Francis adds – as in other of his documents – quotes from modern authors, philosophers, writers, poets and artists.  Moreover, the Argentine Pope quotes also from pastoral letters of various regional and national episcopal conferences. This social encyclical was signed by the Pope in Assisi on October 3, 2020, and issued worldwide on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. It has eight chapters divided in 287 numbers, covering 187 pages with 288 footnotes.

Fratelli Tutti is undoubtedly an important and relevant social encyclical, an encyclical letter for the twenty first century. General purpose: to contribute to the development of a global community of fraternity, based on the practice of social friendship, in the service of the common good (FT, n. 154). Basic truth: all human beings are brothers and sisters (FT, no. 128). At the human level, all humans are children of mother earth (St. Francis of Assisi) and at the level of faith, children of God: all men and women are creatures of God called to be his children (cf. FT271). 

The two central concepts of FT are fraternity and social friendship. The term fraternity is well known to all and a constant basic value and virtue of human and Christian life. The concept of social friendship is rather new. It is rooted in and called for by fraternity, and it is directly connected with another traditional idea of the social magisterium after Vatican II: social charity or love (cf. FT 182). Pope Francis describes social friendship as a borderless friendship, universal openness to all because all human beings are citizens of a country and of the world, members of the human family and brothers and sisters of each other (cf. FT 99).

The social program proposed by the Pope with great conviction, enthusiasm and hope seems theoretically very attractive. But – some ask -, is the Pope’s guide towards a just and fraternal world a bit idealistic, utopian or, in the Pope’s own terms, “wildly unrealistic?” It is not: the Argentine Pope concretizes well the ethical values and principles needed in general and in different social, political, economic and cultural situations, and presents dramatically the human faces of so many children, men and women suffering at the personal, familial and social levels terrible social illnesses in our divided world, currently suffering the terrible pandemic caused by the virus Covid-19.


In the first of the eight chapters of FT, Pope Francis presents the social reality of our world, characterized  by clear skies and also by clouds that darken our natural and human environment. In the other seven chapters, the Pope faces hopefully the social reality from a humanist, ethical, and Christian perspective. Through the pages of the encyclical, Pope Francis searches for “a ray of light in the midst of what we are experiencing” (FT 56).

Chapter one entitled Dark clouds over a closed world presents the social reality in our world, its main problems and shattered dreams. Obstacles on the path to a just and fraternal world: radical individualism, inequality and injustice, human trafficking, unemployment, unbridle consumerism, racism, intolerance, narrow nationalism, relativism, fanaticism, violence of different kinds, discrimination, negative globalization and nationalist localization and irresponsible populism, invasive and hostile digital communication, indifference to migrants, refugees, women, the poor and the elderly (FT 64).  Certainly, there are dark clouds that cover the heavens of our secular and materialistic world, but there are too many shining stars that lighten up the heavens of our global village and struggle to dissipate those dark clouds of hatred, violence and inequality. The encyclical Fratelli Tutti inspires and helps us to try hard to achieve it by working all together.   

In chapter two, entitled A stranger on the road, Pope Francis explains Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:25-37; FT, 56) and invites us all to be Good Samaritans and not passersby – like the priest and the Levite of the Parable –, but helpers of the wounded on the roads of life.

In chapter three, the Pope reflects on Envisaging and engendering an open world, and underlines the incomparable value of love and charity as essential characteristic of our human nature and Christian faith respectively. This basic love - and charity - is the soul of human and Christian social commitment that inclines us to approach all others as members of the same human family and as brothers and sisters.

Chapter four develops the idea of A heart open to the whole world (title of the chapter) and emphasizes the fundamental fact that we all belong to a concrete family and are members of the universal human family. Here the Pope tackles the grave problem of migrants in our world and asks for a global response. He keenly describes the concepts of globalization and localization to emphasize that negative globalism and local narcissism are obstacles to fraternity and social friendship: both concepts – unfortunately, social realities in our world - need to be harmonized and thus become mutually enriching (cf. TF 141-146).

In chapter five, entitled A better kind of politics, Pope Francis criticizes the corruption of politics and underlines that politic is a lofty vocation dedicated to the service of the common good. He points out the ethical values and principles that are to be practiced by politicians (and by all): human dignity and rights, justice, truth, freedom, dialogue, solidarity and subsidiarity, fraternity, communion, compassion and tenderness. These are ways that lead to the common good and social peace (cf. FT 182). The pandemic caused by the virus Covid-19 has opened our eyes to see our tremendous fragility and vulnerability, and to see also that that the economy of free market cannot solve all our problems, and that the basic truth to be respected by all is human dignity (cf. FT 168).  

Chapter six, entitled Dialogue and friendship in society underlines social dialogue for a new culture: the ethics of a new culture that integrates creatively country citizenship and world citizenship.

Chapter seven, with the title Paths of renewed encounter, focuses on peace: on social peace and world peace. Authentic global peace is composed of three essential elements: truth, justice and mercy (FT 227). Pope Francis is deeply concerned with what he calls the cultivation of “a penitential memory,” which implies reconciliation and forgiveness. In the last part of chapter seven, the Pope reflects on two false answers to social peace: war and the death penalty (cf. FT 255). The Pope condemns, moreover, the so called “deterrence” – directed to persuade others through fear - as a path to world peace (cf. FT 262), and also a life sentence, which is “a secret death penalty” (FT 268).

Chapter eight is on Religions at the service of fraternity in our world. Here the author of Fratelli Tutti calls for unity among all religions, which are generally – and should always be - instruments to peace, and to fight all kinds of violence. Pope Francis invites all believers to treat each other as brothers and sisters and to be artisans of peace in the world, and “to act together for the common good and the promotion of the poor” (FT 282). To Christians, Pope Francis urges to contribute to the fraternity that our God the Father asks from us.  Believers in God One and Triune believe that the good Lord gives us the graces we need to act as brothers and sisters (cf. FT 203).  The Church, the community of disciples, works for universal fraternity by accompanying life, sustaining hope, working for unity, building bridges, breaking down walls, sowing seeds of fraternal reconciliation. For believers in Jesus Crist, the Gospel is the wellspring of fraternity.


Through the pages of Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis invites us all to walk in hope - in a renewed hope. We all long for a flourishing, fulfilled and happy life that is found “in truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love” (FT 55). The global society needs changea change of heart, of attitudes and lifestyle. We all – sisters and brothers - are part of the solution, and each one of us has something to contribute to create a beautiful polyhedral reality in which everyone has a place. 

Finally, the Pope invites us all to renew our hope in a united and fraternal world, to dream a world where we all consider and treat every other as my brother or my sister. Pope Francis closes his rich encyclical Fratelli Tutti with these hopeful words: May God inspire that dream in each one of us.  

Our summary of the great social encyclical of Pope Francis Fratelli Tutti is incomplete, brief and a bit cold. It is – we hope – a sort of aperitif before the main course, which is reading the whole encyclical. We cordially invite our brothers and sisters who have not yet read this papal letter to do so. It is worthwhile.

By Fr. Fausto Gómez, OP.