Like Pope Pius XI’s social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno did a century ago, Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti letter tries to shed light on a dark time, writes John L Allen Jr. Source: Crux.
A great global crisis has rocked the world, leaving millions afflicted and sowing fear everywhere. The shock polarises societies, radicalises opinion, and reinforces trends to a new kind of politics – loud, angry, premised on demonising others and promising to restore lost national glory.
Unless something dramatic changes, the stage seems set for a long, bloody conflict. In that context, a pope writes an encyclical letter attempting to offer an alternative before it’s too late.
That could easily be a description of Pope Francis and Fratelli Tutti, the new encyclical released on Sunday. In fact, however, it’s the background to Quadragesimo Anno, the social encyclical published by Pope Pius XI in 1931, now almost a century ago. It was written as the Great Depression was raging, Benito Mussolini was firmly in control in Italy, and Adolf Hitler was moving inexorably towards power in Germany.
In a sense, Quadragesimo Anno was Pius XI’s attempt to defuse the bomb before it went off. Those efforts failed, and the explosion Pope Pius XI saw coming turned out to be worse than even he could have imagined.
Time will tell what impact Fratelli Tutti may have, but the parallels are striking.
This is Francis’s third encyclical letter and by far his most comprehensive. One has the sense it’s almost this Pope’s social and political testament, an encapsulation of his entire papacy in a little over 40,000 words.
Perhaps the best overall way to frame the encyclical is as an extended meditation on political and economic life in the early 21st century, including the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Francis sees a contest between two flawed alternatives: Neo-liberal individualism, and nationalist populism. His “third way” is a social ethic of human fraternity, rooted for Christians in the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan.
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