Pope Francis, in his new encyclical “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship,” explores what it means to be a good neighbor. Reflecting on the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the pope explains the importance of caring for others to build healthy relationships within families and communities, and then in our cities, nations and world.
The ultimate goal of the encyclical is to promote peace and well-being for all. To do this “we need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead” (No. 8). In this way we can build dreams together.
Pope Francis writes that the encyclical is “an invitation to dialogue among all people of goodwill” who live on the earth together as “a single family dwelling in a common home” (Nos. 6, 17).
Two central themes appear throughout the encyclical. The first is that all people deserve to be shown dignity and respect because they are human beings, not because of anything they do, who they are or what their social status is. If we treat others with dignity and respect, the pope argues, we can expect interdependence and creativity to thrive.
The second central theme is that we are defined by how we treat those in the greatest need: people who are poor, homeless, elderly, immigrants, those who live with disabilities, those who are ill, and those who have no voice.
To accomplish these themes Pope Francis encourages us to create a culture of encounter, one where dialogue is prominent and where we develop an attitude that seeks to resolve conflicts and care for others through kindness.
“Fratelli Tutti” defines dialogue as a process that requires us to be present to others, speak openly and honestly, and then listen carefully. In this way we come to know and understand one another and find common ground.
While much of “Fratelli Tutti” is addressed to governments and society as a whole, it notes that we as individual Christians and our parish communities have an obligation to “take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies,” a responsibility to “bear the pain of other people’s troubles rather than fomenting greater hatred and resentment” (No. 77).
Here are a few suggestions to implement this teaching:
— Read the encyclical as a group and discuss it. It is written in an easy-to-read style that encourages conversation and discussion. You don’t need an expert to “teach” it. Rather, use it as a vehicle to promote dialogue and conversation that brings different voices to the table where all will be heard and given respectful consideration.
— Start locally. What are the greatest needs of the people in your community? Find ways to give voice to the voiceless and empower the powerless. Pope Francis calls these actions “acts of charity” (No. 186).
— Take a stand against “narrow and violent racism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different” (No. 86). There is no room in our faith for such attitudes and behaviors, but it is up to us to call it out when we see or hear it.
— Use your resources to support those in need. Think of a hand up rather than a handout. The goal is to call forth the gifts in others that may be stifled or silenced, and to bring those gifts to the wider community. Get people working together side by side in pursuing goals that benefit everyone. Identify problems clearly, appreciate different solutions.
In the reflection on the good Samaritan, Pope Francis challenges us to “seek out others and embrace the world as it is, without fear,” renouncing “pettiness and resentment” so that we can be “present to those in need of help” (Nos. 78, 81) To do this our action must foster openness and union with others through charity. As St. John Paul II said repeatedly, “Be not afraid.”
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(Daniel S. Mulhall is catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.)