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Cedric Prakash Cedric Prakash
12 Oct 2020

On prayerful reflection of the Encyclical one cannot but resonate with that prayer from the Upanishads, “from darkness lead me to light” or for that matter the Exultet during the Easter Vigil.



The movement from darkness to discipleship is the challenge which permeates throughout the Encyclical.

On 4 October 2020, Pope Francis gave to the world his latest Encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’; a day earlier he signed the document at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi after celebrating the Eucharist in the crypt at Assisi. This is the third Encyclical of Pope Francis; five years ago, in 2015, ‘Laudato Si’: On the care of our common home’, addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development. In 2013, it was ‘Lumen Fidei’-The Light of Faith; however; it was written mostly by Pope Benedict XVI, with only a few changes done by Pope Francis. Most regard ‘Laudato Si’ and now ‘Fratelli Tutti’ as the Encyclicals which are the mind and heart of Pope Francis; besides both are inspired by the life and teachings of St Francis of Assisi as the first words of these Encyclicals beautifully portray!

In sum and substance, ‘Fratelli Tutti' is path-breaking; through its Pope Francis makes an urgent and passionate call for meaningful discipleship in our world of today! It is blueprint for concerted action which is addressed to “brothers and sisters all” (#8) and in his opening remarks he states “although I have written it from the Christian convictions which inspire and sustain me, I have sought to make this reflection an invitation to dialogue among all people of good will" (#6)

Living discipleship today, necessitates an openness and the courage to address the darkness which has enveloped our world today. On prayerful reflection of the Encyclical one cannot but resonate with that prayer from the Upanishads, “from darkness lead me to light” or for that matter the Exultet during the Easter Vigil. Pope Francis makes the entire document a movement from darkness to discipleship (which needs to be interpreted as ‘light’).  The first chapter ‘Dark Clouds Over a Closed World’ sets the context with the grim realities which have gripped us of world today. There is darkness everywhere which is manifested by divisions, displacement, destruction, death that has become the lot of millions today!

Divisions and divisiveness cause darkness; “instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise”. (#11). Pope Francis is strong when he says, “As a rule, the advance of this kind of globalism strengthens the identity of the more powerful, who can protect themselves, but it tends to diminish the identity of the weaker and poorer regions, making them more vulnerable and dependent. In this way, political life becomes increasingly fragile in the face of transnational economic powers that operate with the principle of “divide and conquer”. (#12) When speaking of the way some abuse politics he says, “politics is something more noble than posturing, marketing and media spin. These sow nothing but division, conflict and a bleak cynicism incapable of mobilizing people to pursue a common goal”. He cannot help but speak of the divisions among Christians stating, “We cannot forget Christ’s desire “that they may all be one” (cf. Jn 17:21). Hearing his call, we recognize with sorrow that the process of globalization still lacks the prophetic and spiritual contribution of unity among Christians. (#280)

‘Deconstructionism’ is something which seems to becoming pervasive. Expressing his concern, Pope Francis says, “there is a growing loss of the sense of history, which leads to even further breakup. A kind of “deconstructionism”, whereby human freedom claims to create everything starting from zero, is making headway in today’s culture. The one thing it leaves in its wake is the drive to limitless consumption and expressions of empty individualism. Concern about this led me to offer the young some advice. “If someone tells young people to ignore their history, to reject the experiences of their elders, to look down on the past and to look forward to a future that he himself holds out, doesn’t it then become easy to draw them along so that they only do what he tells them? He needs the young to be shallow, uprooted and distrustful, so that they can trust only in his promises and act according to his plans. That is how various ideologies operate: they destroy (or deconstruct) all differences so that they can reign unopposed. To do so, however, they need young people who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations, and are ignorant of everything that came before them”. (#13). We see this reality unfolding in India today. 

Domination is another major concern of today; of how the powerful, the rich and vested interests tend to dominate one another; this takes place both in direct and indirect ways. This domination subjugates, denies the other one’s freedom and rights. It subjugates, it throttles; “let me breathe” – has become a catch phrase of 2020. Pope Francis is direct saying, “the best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation”. (#15) He elaborates on the inter-related dimensions of dominance and destruction when he urges mankind never to forget the suffering and horrors of the past as exemplified in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; We need to “keep alive the flame of collective conscience, bearing witness to succeeding generations to the horror of what happened”, because that witness “awakens and preserves the memory of the victims, so that the conscience of humanity may rise up in the face of every desire for dominance and destruction” ( #249)

Discarding /discriminating others are realities which Pope Francis refers to very often, the plight of migrants and refugees has always been close to his heart. He has consistently hit out at the throwaway culture which is a serious malaise today. He reiterates this concern saying, “some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly. We have grown indifferent to all kinds of wastefulness, starting with the waste of food, which is deplorable in the extreme” (#18). Going further he says, “This way of discarding others can take a variety of forms, such as an obsession with reducing labour costs with no concern for its grave consequences, since the unemployment that it directly generates leads to the expansion of poverty.[15] In addition, a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep re-emerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think”. (#20)

Death caused by man’s inhumanity to man seems to have become the new normal. Every form of violence needs to be abhorred and shunned. Pope Francis stages a strong position against war I can only reiterate that “war is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment” (#257). “We can no longer think of war as a solution, because its risks will probably always be greater than its supposed benefits. 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!” (#258). “War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil. Let us not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims. Let us look once more at all those civilians whose killing was considered “collateral damage”. Let us ask the victims themselves. Let us think of the refugees and displaced, those who suffered the effects of atomic radiation or chemical attacks, the mothers who lost their children, and the boys and girls maimed or deprived of their childhood. Let us hear the true stories of these victims of violence, look at reality through their eyes, and listen with an open heart to the stories they tell. In this way, we will be able to grasp the abyss of evil at the heart of war.”(#261) ‘Fratelli Tutti’ is unequivocal on the death penalty “ Today we state clearly that “the death penalty is inadmissible” and the Church is firmly committed to calling for its abolition worldwide”.(#263)

The D-factor is very strong in the ‘darkness’ dimension of the Encyclical. Pope Francis is candid saying, “We no longer have use for empty diplomacy, dissimulation, double-speak, hidden agendas and good manners that mask reality.”(#226) and he hits out at those who are trying to make the United Nations a useless body,  “There is need to prevent this Organization from being delegitimized, since its problems and shortcomings are capable of being jointly addressed and resolved. (#191)
The movement from darkness to discipleship is the challenge which permeates throughout the Encyclical. The second chapter is the crux of the message that is sought to be conveyed, ‘A Stranger on the Road’: the parable of the Good Samaritan. Pope Francis says, “Although this Letter is addressed to all people of good will, regardless of their religious convictions, the parable is one that any of us can relate to and find challenging”. The contextualising of the parable in a new idiom: in the realities of today, in more ways than one provides the necessary direction – the way ahead, the way together.

Dignity of every human person is paramount.  “Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country. People have this right even if they are unproductive, or were born with or developed limitations. This does not detract from their great dignity as human persons, a dignity based not on circumstances but on the intrinsic worth of their being. Unless this basic principle is upheld, there will be no future either for fraternity or for the survival of humanity” (#107). 

Dialogue then becomes critical in a society in which truth, justice, liberty, equality and fraternity are expected to thrive. In the words of Pope Francis, “Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue”. If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue” (#198).

Discernment then becomes essential in the process to enable fraternity and social friendship to thrive. Discernment is never easy: one needs to be doing it all the time. The need and importance of this process runs right through the Encyclical. 

Democracy and its underlying principles, which make it the way of political life today, is emphasised in the Encyclical. This is made amply clear by the constant call for good politics at every level and of a deep involvement in politics by the people. “What is needed is a politics which is far-sighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis” In other words, a “healthy politics… capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia” (#177)

Deeds must transcend lip-service. “the Church “has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities”. She works for “the advancement of humanity and of universal fraternity”. She does not claim to compete with earthly powers, but to offer herself as “a family among families, this is the Church, open to bearing witness in today’s world, open to faith hope and love for the Lord and for those whom he loves with a preferential love. A home with open doors. The Church is a home with open doors, because she is a mother”. And in imitation of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, “we want to be a Church that serves, that leaves home and goes forth from its places of worship, goes forth from its sacristies, 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”.

‘Fratelli Tutti; touches every fragment of one’s social and political life. In the Encyclical Pope Francis challenges, us all; if we have the courage to put into practise just a fraction of this challenge would surely ensure a transformed world! The big question is: are we ready to walk the talk today?

*( Cedric Prakash is a human rights & peace activist/writer Contact:  cedricprakash@gmail.com

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