Friars’ Minister General Fr. Brian Terry, SA, with Pope Francis in November, 2017.
The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement herald the release of Pope Francis’s new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, “On Fraternity and Social Friendship,” signed at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, on October 3, 2020, and released to all of humanity on the Saint’s feast day, October 4.
Together with the Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement, the Friars share common founders in Servant of God, Fr. Paul Wattson, SA, and Mother Lurana White, SA, who co-founded the Society of the Atonement in 1898 as a Franciscan congregation in the Episcopal Church at Graymoor in Garrison, N.Y., as a witness to the unity of the whole Church and the “at-one-ment” of humanity with God, of humanity among itself and for personal human reconciliation. In 1909, with the approval of Pope St. Pius X, the Society of the Atonement was admitted into full communion with the Catholic Church. Fr. Paul founded the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 1908.
As with his preceding encyclical, Laudato Si’, “On Our Common Home” in 2015, Pope Francis invokes the words, teaching and example of his namesake, Francis of Assisi, in sharing the gospel message of fraternity, social friendship and human solidarity as part and parcel of the social teaching of the Catholic Church, hoping it may also have roots in the gospel witness of other Christian churches and communities, as well as foundations in other world religions.
In the eight chapters of Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), the Pope stresses human relationships of equality, reconciliation and friendship as a key to human advancement, alleviation of suffering and world peace. These are themes of unity and healing very dear to the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement, as they should be for all who proclaim faith in God through Jesus Christ, as well as persons of other religions or no religion as people of good will.
The Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement particularly see their contribution or charismatic gift to the Church as witnessing to the gospel imperatives of welcoming the stranger, the outcast, the poor, the addicted, the broken and the lost. Added to that is the Franciscan command to rebuild the Church through ecumenical and interreligious reconciliation, dialogue and cooperation so well emphasized by the writings, teaching and prophetic lives of Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana and their spiritual sons and daughters.
Several of the friars and their lay collaborators in ministry have done an initial reading of the text and have contributed excitement to its release on October 4. Their input forms the basis of this statement on behalf of the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement.
Far from being a collection of related teachings on contemporary social challenges, Fratelli Tutti begins with a courageous assessment of our present situation but then digs beneath that situation by way of deep discussions of scripture, theological anthropology and the ancient—and more recently, too readily forgotten—integrity of ethics and politics.
The Pope is addressing the problems facing the world globally. In Laudato Si’ he looked at the global issues that are contributing to environmental degradation. In Fratelli Tutti he is looking not merely at issues of environmental degradation, but instead at systems of human degradation, including but by no means limited to the environment. If he sees the necessity of a global response to Covid-19, he also sees the necessity for global responses to other systematic problems such as racism, global poverty, oppression and exploitation of women, children and the poor. Francis realizes that these are not discrete and isolated phenomena but rather part of a complex fabric of global systems.
Chapter 8 of the encyclical focuses on the contribution of ecumenism and interreligious relations. It represents a certain maturity in dialogue and fraternity that seem to suggest such a natural and easy feeling that Christian confessions and even people of different faiths would join in fraternity and social friendship as described by Pope Francis.
There was an observable passion felt in the encyclical’s presentation and also a certain urgency and pastoral concern. His themes of fraternity and social friendship rang throughout in a very consistent way, always taking one step deeper in their significance if the world was to be saved.
There is an urgent call to change our lifestyle in paragraph 166 and our ways of thinking in paragraph 127, which, because of Pope Francis’s personal charism, might “make the difference’ and resonate efficaciously in the readers’ minds, as it has been for Laudato Si’.
In the development of the magisterium or teaching of Pope Francis, we see a leader who is an example of gospel witness which is also a prophetic witness. This encyclical will be loved and yet may make many feel discomfort, as does the message of love of God and love of neighbor so excellently retold in the encyclical in its focus on the story of the Good Samaritan.
The Friars of the Atonement, as well as the whole Church, and hopefully all people of faith and good will, will find Fratelli Tutti both inviting and challenging. Inviting because we are all God’s children of equal dignity. Challenging because discomfort requires us to ask ourselves serious questions.