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PONTIFEX MINIMUS: PRESIDENTIAL REFLECTIONS ON THE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUAL TRADITION

By Dr. Michael W.  Higgins, President and Vice-Chancellor of Corpus Christi-St. Mark's at UBC 

        Fratelli Tutti, the latest document to emerge from the pen of Pope Francis, is a substantive examination of humanity’s desperate need for meaningful connection, for human communion, for a shared grasp of those values that enrich us as individuals and as societies.

    Building on this pope’s special love for, and identification with, the Poverello of Assisi, the encyclical letter is a sustained meditation on the evangelical vision and legacy of Francesco Bernardone, especially as they apply to our tremulous, plague-riddled, and deeply unsettled time.

    Having prompted Pope Francis to write his earlier encyclical, Laudato Sí, a powerful document on the environment and our common home, the pope returns to the first Franciscan, if you like, and draws on his wisdom and saintliness to address our universal yearning for credible love, genuine justice, profound unity.

    He writes: “Francis felt himself a brother to the sun, the sea and the wind, yet he knew that he was even closer to those of his own flesh.  Wherever he went, he sowed seeds of peace and walked alongside the poor, the abandoned, the infirm and the outcast, the least of his brothers and sisters.”

    And that has also been the way of Papa Bergoglio as he privileged the poor in his ministry, prioritized the pastoral needs of the displaced migrants, addressed the social and economic inequities that define our politically fraught environment, and taken on the powers and principalities that oppress the underclass.

    Pope Francis reminds us that the COVID-19 pandemic is a dramatic illustration of the crippling irony that “for all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.  Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we are already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.”

    In Fratelli Tutti Francis is embracing reality.  He names the structural, systemic and historically-conditioned problems that divide us, polarize us, delimit and denigrate us.  His encyclical is a cri de coeur, a cry of the heart that is prophetic, and yet not oracular or abstract.  It has about it the sweet reason of the pragmatic infused with the spiritual.  Pope Francis is uninterested in windy expostulations and grand theories.  He diagnoses our ailments through his Franciscan lens and then offers some prescriptions that can assist us in restoring our social health.

    Although, as is the tradition in encyclical writing, he speaks of issues and avoids naming personalities, it is not difficult to identify those leaders and the policies that they advocate who merit his moral outrage: those who build walls, foment racial and ethnic hatred,  demean their opponents and critics, sunder language from truth, commodify human worth, create a politics that despises the “other,”  perpetuate a “throwaway culture” that diminishes life at its beginning and at its end, solidity an ethos that prizes “killers over zeros, winners over losers”.

    The conclusion of Fratelli Tutti is a public acknowledgement of the heroic witness and holy lives of those outside the Catholic faith who have influenced the author greatly: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi.  The pope draws on a moral chorus he finds congruent with the teachings of Jesus, with Francis of Assisi his lead soloist.

This content was originally published by The B.C. Catholic and appeared in the October 12, 2020 edition. Source: Become an ‘artisan of peace’: Vancouver Catholics react to Pope’s encyclical Fratelli tutti
 

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