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Pope’s new encyclical is a blueprint for a better and more just post-COVID world

Fratelli Tutti, a letter addressed to all people, is an encyclical on human connectedness and follows a series of teachings given by the Pope during his general audiences in August and September which have focused on rebuilding a more just world after the Coronavirus pandemic.

The encyclical is Pope Francis’s latest significant contribution to the global response to Coronavirus. Throughout the pandemic, Pope Francis has shown great leadership. His weekly audiences have focused on themes linked to the pandemic and have offered hope and a way forward for not just Catholics but everyone.

The Pope has been unflinching and courageous in his messages around ‘togetherness’ and ‘inter-connectedness‘ throughout the pandemic. This encyclical builds on those themes in what amounts to a powerful call for global solidarity and for a Church that actively challenges injustice.

“A worldwide tragedy like the Covid-19 pandemic momentarily revived the sense that we are a global community, all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all,” he writes. “Once more we realised that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together. God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’ but only ‘us’.”

As the agency of the Catholic Church in Ireland working on justice and human rights in the developing world, Trócaire particularly welcomes the Pope’s thought-provoking guidance on subjects including universal human rights, conflict, the treatment of refugees and migrants, the rights of indigenous people and the need to actively pursue a ‘better’ form of politics. These are areas that Trócaire has worked on for many years and this encyclical provides further validation of that work.

He writes: “In today’s world, many forms of injustice persist…While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated.”

Crucially, Pope Francis sees the Catholic Church taking an active and leadership role in addressing the inequalities that exist in our world. He calls for a Church centred on justice; one that actively encourages a new and fairer political system that provides for all people equally:

“The Church, while respecting the autonomy of political life, does not restrict her mission to the private sphere. On the contrary, she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the building of a better world, or fail to reawaken the spiritual energy that can contribute to the betterment of society… 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.”

Francis argues that politics should be “re-evaluated” to focus on serving the common good, not economic interests. The message is clear: politics is failing the poor and it is shameful that political decisions are made that plunge people further into poverty, suffering and despair.

He returns to what has been a core theme of his papacy: the need to reject “a culture of walls…walls in the heart, walls on the land, in order to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people”. Pope Francis warns that people who feel scared and abandoned by politics or society can find themselves drifting towards groups who are “intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realising it – racist”. He warns: “Those who raise walls will end up as slaves within the very walls they have built.”

Fratelli Tutti builds on the themes Pope Francis has highlighted through his weekly audiences throughout the pandemic. At the centre of both the encyclical and his weekly audiences are the theme of ‘inter-connectedness’. It is, of course, a tragedy that it has taken a virus to show us how interconnected we are – how an illness that starts in one city can soon impact the lives of all seven billion people who share this Earth. Pope Francis has called for this valuable lesson to be a legacy of this crisis. It cannot simply be a case of ‘business as usual’.

In his general audience of August 19, Pope Francis said: “Many people want to return to normality and resume economic activities. Certainly, but this ‘normality’ should not include social injustices and the degradation of the environment. The pandemic is a crisis, and we do not emerge from a crisis the same as before: either we come out of it better, or we come out of it worse. We must come out of it better, to counter social injustice.”

Pope Francis tells the faithful that this pandemic is an opportunity to change the structures of the world that allow this situation. He refers to the preferential option for the poor as “the mission of the Church”, saying: “Jesus’ followers recognise themselves by their closeness to the poor, the little ones, the sick and the imprisoned, the excluded and the forgotten, those without food and clothing.”

Last month, he said: “A virus that does not recognise barriers, borders, or cultural or political distinctions must be faced with a love without barriers, borders or distinctions. This love can generate social structures that encourage us to share rather than to compete, that allow us to include the most vulnerable and not to cast them aside, and that help us to express the best in our human nature and not the worst.”

These new structures will “cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation, and the lack of protection for the weakest.”

In a world where political leadership has been often lacking, Pope Francis’ words throughout this pandemic have offered hope and guidance. Every day, Trócaire sees the leadership the Church is taking during this devastating time. Our Church partners around the world are helping people keep safe from this virus, by supplying them with soap, water and other basic items. We are also working with the Church to ensure that people have access to food and basic health services. At this time of crisis, the numbers of people expected to suffer from acute hunger has doubled, but through the support of parishioners in Ireland, Trócaire is able to provide vital assistance.

This encyclical offers hope in a dark time and a vision of what the future could be: a Just World, where the dignity and rights of all are respected, promoted and protected.

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