The pope’s first official trip outside Rome in more than seven months couldn’t come at a better, or more critical, time.
On Oct. 3, Pope Francis will be making the 110-mile journey to the central Italian town of Assisi, birthplace of his papal namesake St. Francis, to sign his encyclical titled “Fratelli Tutti.” (In English, that’s literally “Brothers All,” though Vatican insiders are quick to point out it is obviously meant to cover all humanity — the St. Francis-inspired title is, by encyclical tradition, simply drawn from the first words of the text.)
It is the third encyclical of Pope Francis’ papacy and the first since “Laudato Si'” in 2015. Whether by design or not, it is perfectly timed for a world that is desperately trying to release itself from the clutches of COVID-19. We don’t know all the content of the encyclical, of course, but Vatican officials say the theme is “fraternity and social friendship.”
That’s a pretty broad description, but if you want details, we probably need only to look at recent speeches given by the pope, laying out our responsibility to uphold Catholic social teaching and, simply put, take care of one another. That comes in many forms, but in essence it is building a world of social and economic equality.
The pope has spoken many times during the pandemic of how this virus has exposed so many of the world’s social ills, never mind the fragility of the human race. As economies and social institutions, and even our churches, shut down and isolation became a new norm, we saw the devastating results on populations already marginalized, from the poor and elderly, to the migrants and refugees and displaced persons. The vulnerable became even more vulnerable.
As we’ve discovered, without solidarity, without equality and dignity for all, we all suffer. The pope, time and again in referencing the pandemic, has been challenging us all to rethink our world and how people and countries deal with one another on every level. The Vatican itself is taking on the challenge with a task force looking at the church’s role in response to the pandemic and the post-COVID world.
The impact of this encyclical has yet to be determined of course, but if his last one, “Laudato Si’,” is any indication, “Fratelli Tutti” is the road map the world could use at this critical juncture.
There’s no question that the 2005 encyclical on care for our common home was of landmark status, hailed as one of the most important papal documents of the last century. Just as “Laudato Si'” cast the environment in a new light, indications are “Fratelli Tutti’s” themes will emphatically draw our attention to the human condition.
Fittingly, the pope will sign the document at the Assisi convent where St. Francis is entombed. Father Mauro Gambetti, custodian of the convent, says the encyclical “will indicate to the world a style for the future and will give the church and people of goodwill the responsibility for building it together.”
One thing is certain — it will be a “must-read.”
Photo credit: Pope Francis greets religious as he leaves the hermitage and cell of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, in this Oct. 4, 2013, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)