Fr Alex Zanotelli MCCJ

Pope Francis analyses in the first chapter “War, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution, and many other affronts to human dignity.” (FT 25) He does not talk so much about the ecological crisis, a theme addressed in Laudato Si’. Instead, he places great emphasis on this world of ours that clams up. “We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life. Indeed, there are markets where individuals become mere consumers or bystanders”(FT 12). But because of this, there is an ever-increasing “temptation to build a culture of walls, to raise walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land, in order to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people” (FT 27). This underlies a clear ideology: “every man for himself will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic” (FT 36). And the result of all this can be seen today in the phenomenon of migration: “migration causes fear and alarm, often fomented and exploited for political purposes. This can lead to a xenophobic mentality, as people close in on themselves”(FT 39). And unfortunately this also spreads in the churches. “For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love” (FT 39). These are just some aspects of Pope Francis’ profound analysis of today’s world. It is clear that we are faced with a wounded humanity. The Pope reads this situation of wounded humanity in the light of a biblical icon: the parable of the Samaritan, a man is moved to see a man wounded by robbers, takes care of him and brings him to a hotel, while a priest and a Levite pass by on the road and do not stop. “if we extend our gaze to the history of our own lives and that of the entire world, all of us are, or have been, like each of the characters in the parable. All of us have in ourselves something of the wounded man, something of the robber, something of the passers-by, and something of the Good Samaritan”(FT 69). In short, in the face of the wounded man of today, there are only four possibilities for all of us: we have something of the wounded man, or something of the robbers, or something of those who pass by at a distance without stopping to help, or something of the Good Samaritan. We in the West should recognise ourselves as robbers and as those who are indifferent to the pain of the world. But we cannot admit this. In fact, we often think we are the good Samaritans. But the reality is different, at least in the face of the immense cry of the impoverished that rises up to us. Of course, even among us Westerners there are many good people who are moved and lend a hand to those who suffer. Unfortunately, this often remains an individual charity, but that “political charity”, as Pope Francis calls it, is missing (FT 186). It is easy for us to extend charity to those who suffer from hunger, but we find it difficult to commit ourselves to changing the structures that produce hunger. Yet we have before us economic-financial-militarized structures that kill through hunger, war, and poison the environment in which we live. And we don’t even realise it. In fact, we are part of an economic-financial system that allows 10% of the population to consume, at great speed, 90% of the goods we produce. Two thousand super-rich people have more wealth than 4.5 billion human beings. And 3.8 billion people have to make do with 1% of the world’s wealth. This means misery, hunger, death for billions of people. In fact, two billion suffer from food insecurity and seven hundred million from hunger. And they kill at least twenty million people because of hunger, while the rich countries throw away one billion four hundred million tons of good food. All this produces millions and millions of migrants and refugees that the rich world does not want to accept (see Europe, USA, Australia). And to defend itself against the impoverished, this system must arm itself to the teeth. Last year we spent $1,917 billion a minute worldwide. And Italy invested 27 billion dollars in weapons, or 70 million dollars a day. Not to mention the weapons we produce and sell. All these weapons are used in wars from which millions of people are forced to flee (just think of the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan).

And this whole economic-financial-militarised system is weighing heavily on the eco-system, causing the serious environmental crisis we are facing. This system produces energy by burning fossil fuels that emit billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, creating the greenhouse effect. Scientists give us ten years to save ourselves. From this environmental crisis millions of people are fleeing to more habitable places that do not welcome them. It is the System that is suffocating both the poor and the Planet, and both are crying out in pain. In the face of this reality we must first of all recognise ourselves in the figure of the robbers because it is we rich people who are responsible for the millions of unfortunate people in history and for the destruction of the Planet. (We cannot forget that 1% of the world’s population is responsible for 50% of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere that kill eight million people every year). We (the rich) can and should also identify with the priest and the Levite who pass by the half-dead man at a distance and do nothing. Is it possible that we, the well-to-do, are not moved, as the Good Samaritan was, by the suffering and death of millions and millions of people and by the harm we do to the Planet? In his homily at Lampedusa, Pope Francis asked us: “Have you ever cried when you saw a boat sinking?” Only then will we truly take on the enormous and excruciating pain of these impoverished people fleeing and give them a hand as the ‘Bad’ Samaritan did (for the Jews, the Samaritans were bad by definition). And it is not enough – Pope Francis insists – our ‘individual love’, we also need our political love. This is the cultural revolution that Pope Francis asks of all men and women, whatever their ideology or faith: to move from a “society of associates” to a “community of brothers”. Fratelli tutti is “an encyclical on love,” Raniero La Valle comments, “because moving from members to children means moving from the pursuit of profit to love without reason.” Unfortunately, our societies have become a mode of production: the capitalist mode of production. In this System we are used, as long as we serve and then we are discarded. What Pope Francis is asking of humanity is a cultural revolution: to change the paradigm of humanity by becoming a community of brothers. It is the dream that all may sit down at the common table in equal dignity and deep respect for their differences (indeed finding themselves rich in their differences!) and sharing the goods of the Earth, our common home. The current globalisation is the negation of this vision. “If a certain kind of globalization claims to make everyone uniform – says Pope Francis – to level everyone out, that globalization destroys the rich gifts and uniqueness of each person and each people” (Ft 100).

This globalisation is now more liberal than ever. In his encyclical Evangelii Gaudium, Francis was already very harsh: “This economy kills”. And in Fratelli tutti he is even harsher on this economic-financial system: “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. (…) The story did not end the way it was meant to, and the dogmatic formulae of prevailing economic theory proved not to be infallible. The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom. It has also shown that, in addition to recovering a sound political life that is not subject to the dictates of finance, we must put human dignity back at the centre and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need” (FT 168).

And in another passage: “only when our economic and social system no longer produces even a single victim, a single person cast aside, will we be able to celebrate the feast of universal fraternity” (FT 110). In order to achieve the great feast of universal brotherhood, Francis insists that all humanity must abandon the society of associates to become a community of brothers. And to achieve this Pope Francis says that we must practise charity not only individually, but above all politically. In fact, love is expressed not only in small gestures of love, but also in the “macro-relationships: social, economic and political” (FT 181). Francis exalts true politics, the passion for the common good. “For whereas individuals can help others in need, when they join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, they enter the ‘field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity’. This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good” (FT 180).

And the Pope tells us just as clearly that “politics must not be subject to the economy (FT 177). But I add: above all it must not be subject to finance. And Francis’ Dream is this: “A truly human and fraternal society will be capable of ensuring in an efficient and stable way that each of its members is accompanied at every stage of life. Not only by providing for their basic needs, but by enabling them to give the best of themselves, even though their performance may be less than optimum, their pace slow or their efficiency limited” (FT 110).

In order to accomplish this dream, Francis calls into question taboos such as private property, “just war” and the death penalty. Private property: “the Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property. The principle of the common use of created goods is the first principle of the whole ethical and social order; it is a natural and inherent right that takes priority over others. All other rights having to do with the goods necessary for the integral fulfilment of persons, including that of private property or any other type of property, should – in the words of Saint Paul VI – ‘in no way hinder [this right], but should actively facilitate its implementation’. The right to private property can only be considered a secondary natural right, derived from the principle of the universal destination of created goods. This has concrete consequences that ought to be reflected in the workings of society” (FT 120).

Francis immediately draws two important consequences: “Development must not aim at the amassing of wealth by a few, but must ensure human rights – personal and social, economic and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples. The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment, for if we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all” (FT 122).

Pope Francis immediately applies the principle of the common destination of goods to the drama of migrants and refugees. “Each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as a territory’s goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere” (FT 124).

The second taboo that Francis calls into question is the theology of just war elaborated by St. Augustine and taught down the centuries, allowing Christians to participate in so many deeply unjust wars. Today, with weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear and bacteriological, the scenario changes radically. “In view of this, it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a “just war”. Never again war!” (FT 258). This is a fundamental step if we want to create a fraternal society. War must itself become a taboo.

The third taboo that is broken is that of the death penalty, inflicted by the State, which the Church too has approved and even practised over the centuries. “Today we state clearly that the death penalty is inadmissible and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide” (FT 263). And he launches a heartfelt appeal: “All Christians and people of good will are today called to work not only for the abolition of the death penalty, legal or illegal, in all its forms, but also to work for the improvement of prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their freedom. I would link this to life imprisonment… A life sentence is a secret death penalty” (FT 268).

Pope Francis radicalises the teaching of the Catholic Church on these three fundamental issues: private property, ‘just war’ and the death penalty, to make it possible to build a society of brothers and sisters. This will not be an easy or obvious process. But the important thing, Francis warns us, is to “place our hope in the hidden power of the seeds of goodness we sow, and thus to initiate processes whose fruits will be reaped by others” (FT 196).

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