The Church has to play a significant role in public life in order “to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”.
The encyclical recognizes in No. 280 the need for unity among the Christians in order to facilitate harmony among religions and reminds the members of the Church of their duty “to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity”.
Message of Fratelli Tutti to the Indian Church
“God, the almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people”.
The virus of fundamentalism has infected all religions in India, and the religious divide is widening, creating distrust among the followers of different religions. Pope Francis writes in No. 4 of the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, “We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians”. The encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, provides a very pertinent message to the Catholic Church in India regarding its mission in the present context.
The encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, proclaims that acceptance of religious diversity and respecting all religions are essential for building a just and fraternal society. The last chapter of the encyclical under the title, ‘Religions at the Service of Fraternity in the World’, delineates the principles and methods for building trust and cooperation among different faiths. The first principle emphasised in the encyclical is that faith in the transcendent truth is the basis of the relations between the people of different religions. “The efforts to seek God with a sincere heart, provided it is never sullied by ideological or self-giving aims, help us recognize one another as travelling companions, truly brothers and sisters” (274).
Another principle Pope Francis highlights in the encyclical is the relationship between religions and politics. The document states clearly that “religious ministers must not engage in party politics that are the proper domain of the laity” (276). At the same time, the Church should be aware of the political forces that play a crucial role in the integral human development. The Church has to play a significant role in public life in order “to accompany life, to sustain hope, to be the sign of unity… to build bridges, to break down walls, to sow seeds of reconciliation”.
The encyclical reiterates the stand of the Second Vatican Council towards other religions by quoting from the document on the ‘Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions’ Nostra Aetate. The Church “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.”
Another principle emphasized in the encyclical is religious freedom for believers of all religions. In fact, religious freedom proclaims that we can “build harmony and understanding between different cultures and religions. Religious freedom is a sign of peaceful coexistence accepting differences and at the same time proclaiming that all are children of the same God and hence brothers and sisters (279). The encyclical recognizes in No. 280 the need for unity among the Christians in order to facilitate harmony among religions and reminds the members of the Church of their duty “to offer common witness to the love of God for all people by working together in the service of humanity”.
Nos 281 to 285 of the encyclical deal with the issue of Religion and Violence. The document is categorical that religion should never instigate or encourage or support any kind of violence, war, hatred and extremism. It says that worship of God should result in “respect for the sacredness of life, respect for the dignity and freedom of others and loving commitment to the welfare of all” and not ‘discrimination, hatred and violence’. Terrorism in any form is to be condemned along with incorrect interpretations of religious texts. Quoting from the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together the encyclical sends a powerful message to the religious extremists that “God, the almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want his name to be used to terrorize people”.
As a means for building fraternity Pope Francis appeals to the religious leaders “to adopt a culture of dialogue as the path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.” He also tells them to become ‘artisans of peace’. “As religious leaders, we are called to be true ‘people of dialogue’, to cooperate in building peace not as intermediaries but as authentic mediators.” Quoting the Indian bishops, the encyclical has clarified the purpose of dialogue among religions. “The goal of dialogue is to establish friendship, peace and harmony and to share spiritual and moral values and experiences in a spirit of truth and love”.
Being a document addressed to the whole world, the encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, does not give practical tips for building fraternity and friendship among the followers of different religions. But it gives sound general principals based on which the national and regional churches and even dioceses and religious congregations can prepare concrete proposals, taking into account the context. The general principles are MUTUAL RESPECT, MUTUAL ACCEPTANCE, MUTUAL APPRECIATION, DIALOGUE and COOPERATION.
Relationship with other faiths also depends on the Church’s understanding of its mission or evangelization. The term evangelization assumed various meanings and connotations at various periods in the history of the Church. Even though this document does not directly say what evangelization is, it gives sufficient indications regarding what should be the focus of evangelization in the present world scenario. No.4 of the document states, “Francis (St. Francis) did not wage a war of words aimed at imposing doctrines; he simply spread the love of God. He understood that God is love and those who abide in love abide in God.” The same message is conveyed by No. 91 which says, “All of us, as believers, need to recognize that love takes first place: love must never be put at risk, and the greatest danger lies in failing to love”. No. 2 emphasizes the need for sowing the seeds of peace and walking alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcaste. In No. 92, Pope Francis warns the overenthusiastic evangelizers. “Yet some believers think that it consists in the imposition of their own ideologies upon everyone else, or in a violent defence of truth, or in impressive demonstration of strength”.
Through Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis is advising the members of the Catholic Church to focus on spreading love, sowing the seeds of peace, and diffusing compassion. In the context of India, when hatred is being spread by those who are in power to divide people on the basis of religion, the advice Pope Francis is very relevant.
This is the opportune time for the leadership of the Catholic Church in India to focus on building and nurturing relationships with people of other faiths and it should be the topmost priority of the mission of the Church in India today. The bishops and major superiors may give guidelines through circulars or letters with practical tips. The following could be some of them.
• As the preamble of Indian Constitution is the basis of the secular or pluralistic State of India and of inter-faith harmony, it may be exhibited prominently in all parishes and Catholic institutions and the core values of Indian constitution shall be disseminated through all ministries of the Church.
• “A Prayer to the Creator” given at the end of encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, may be exhibited in all Churches, religious houses and Catholic institutions and used as common prayer in public functions. Songs may be composed in different languages based on the theme of the prayer and circulated through social media.
• As part of catechism the youth (high school and college students) shall be given the opportunity to learn the basic teachings of Indian religions in such a way that they are able to appreciate other faiths while being rooted in their own faith- the teachings and values of Jesus.
• Dioceses and religious congregations may launch joint initiatives/ventures in collaboration with the people of other faiths to support Corona affected people and families.
(The writer can be reached at: email@example.com)