On this day, we present the third and last installment of the reflection that Father Aarón Gutiérrez, CM, assistant general, has been making about the last encyclical of Pope Francis “Fratelli Tutti”. In his article, Father Gutiérrez, has offered us a reflection on the Encyclical, from a very Vincentian perspective. We hope that it was to your liking. At the end you can download the complete article and the Encyclical “Fratelli Tutti” in PDF format.
The extension of the concept of “Charity”
The encyclical may not provide new elements, however. But the extension of the concept of “charity” from an individual level, or from a corporate model, to a joint action, which is intended for all men and women in the world, is well known. Obviously, it is a dream. The question in this way of understanding charity is: What can we who perform charitable works, as well as charity associations, do to orient ourselves towards this universal charity and with new repercussions in the economy, in society and in politics?
Some ideas have already been mentioned: study the causes of injustice, inequality, and poverty, and develop projects that proceed holistically. Pope Francis assumes that it is essential to return concepts to their original meaning, distorted by inappropriate practices. Clean up the concept and clean up the practices.
For example: Pope Francis considers it important to talk about love in politics. A reality that cannot be dismissed, which is why he asks: “Can the world function without politics?” In the fifth chapter (nos. 154-197) the encyclical proposes a profound reformulation and restoration of the dominant political idea in today’s world: that “it often takes on forms that make it difficult to move towards a different world.” The objective of this reflection is “to make possible the development of a world community, capable of realizing fraternity beginning with peoples and nations that live social friendship;” for which “the best policy is needed at the service of the true common good,” something that current political systems, populist or liberal, do not do, which end up “despising” and “excluding” the weak and serving “economic interests of the powerful.” When “popular” is mentioned, this is something different, as it relates to the People, which has an unquestionable impact on the people and is directed and participated in by the common people. So: “Good politics searches for ways to build communities at different levels of social life, in order to rebalance and reorient globalization to avoid its disintegrating effects.”6
The goal, according to the encyclical, is to make fraternity an instrument for transforming international relations: “it is necessary to foster not only a mystique of fraternity but at the same time a more efficient world organization to help solve pressing problems,” and to create an ascending path determined by a healthy subsidiarity that, starting from the person, expands to encompass the family, social and state dimensions up to the international community: “Because an individual can help a person in need, but when he joins others for generating social processes of fraternity and justice for all, that person enters “the field of the broadest charity, political charity…. It is, therefore, a matter of moving toward a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once again I call for a politics of rehabilitation, which “is a very high vocation, one of the most precious forms of charity, because it seeks the common good.”
In this process, it is essential to be aware of “interdependence,” one of the characteristics of our present-day world. Today the problems are interdependent and, therefore, so must the solutions be. Hence the need to promote “social love,” which is a “force capable of creating new ways to face the problems of the world today and to profoundly renew structures, social organizations, and legal systems from within.” From such a love it is possible to move towards a civilization of love to which we can all feel called. Charity has a “universal dynamism” capable of “building a new world …, because it is not a sterile feeling, but the best way to achieve effective development paths for all.” Respect for human dignity, compassion, and reciprocal care are the fruit of love, since “Social charity makes us love the common good and leads us to effectively seek the good of all, considered not only individually, but also in the social dimension that unites them.” But all this means renouncing the materialism of the current world: “Gratuity exists.” And mutual and reciprocal help can be promoted: “We need to develop this awareness that today either we are all saved or no one is saved. Poverty, decadence, the sufferings of a place on earth are a silent breeding ground for problems that will eventually affect the entire planet. What does the pope mean by “gratuity?” Gratuity, he says, “is the ability to do some things just for their own sake, because they are good in themselves, without expecting any successful results, without immediately expecting something in return. This makes it possible to welcome the foreigner, although at the moment this does not bring a tangible benefit. But there are countries that claim to receive only scientists or investors.”
It does not seem to me that the pope is proposing a “new world order.” What happens is that we should be aware, as many of us are aware besides, that the new order is in our milieu and we should not set it aside, because there seem to be very deep dark things there that affect everyone. It goes without saying what the pontiff is asking: taking into account the value of solidarity; canceling the debt of poor countries, and creating real opportunities for development. He emphasizes: “It is possible to yearn for a planet that ensures land, shelter, and work for all. This is the true path of peace, and not the meaningless and shortsighted strategy of sowing fear and distrust in the face of external threats. The encyclical points out, with great foresight, that “the market alone does not solve everything, although again they want us to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. It is a poor, repetitious thought that always proposes the same recipes in the face of any challenge that arises.” The economic dimension linked to the market cannot absorb or annul the functions of a healthy policy. Along with this is the request to reform the work of the UN whose aim would be to generate a “family of nations” working for the common good, the eradication of poverty, and the protection of human rights. To always resort to “negotiation, good offices and arbitration,” to “promote the force of law over the law of force, favoring multilateral agreements that better protect even the weakest states.” World politics is called to not stop “globalizing basic human rights”: to be effective in ending hunger and thirst, the right to health, to a decent home, to the basic needs that still have to be satisfied. It is imperative to put an end to speeches that are elegant and well-intentioned, but ineffective.
Finally, social friendship implies many things: “Approaching, expressing, listening, looking at each other, getting to know each other, trying to understand each other, looking for points of contact, all of this can be summed up in the term ‘dialogue.’ To meet and help each other we need to dialogue. It goes without saying what the dialogue is for. It is enough for me to think what the world would be like without that patient dialogue of so many generous people who have held families and communities together. Persistent and courageous dialogue does not make the news like the disagreements and conflicts do, but it quietly helps the world to live better, much more than we realize.” Building the common good requires consensus, a culture of encounter, which seeks points of contact, builds bridges, and projects something that includes us all: “a realistic and inclusive social contract must also be a ‘cultural contract,’ which respects and assume the diverse worldviews, cultures, or lifestyles that coexist in society.” Social friendship is based on kindness, treating others well, “saying Please, Sorry, Thanks.” It creates listening spaces that break down indifference. In his view, “the cultivation of kindness is not a minor detail or a superficial or bourgeois attitude, since it implies appreciation and respect, when it becomes the culture in a society that profoundly transfigures lifestyle, social relationships, and the way of debating and confronting ideas. It facilitates the search for consensus and opens paths when hopelessness has destroyed all bridges.” To strive every day for all this “can create that healthy coexistence that overcomes misunderstandings and prevents conflicts.”
It is also necessary to create paths of “reunion” or “peacemaking,” in which “the various institutions of society interact, each within its own competence, but there is also the making of peace that involves us all.” This path implies recovering the value of forgiveness, but without renouncing “our own rights before a powerful corrupt person, before a criminal, or someone who degrades our dignity. We are called to love everyone, without exception, but to love oppressors is not to allow them to continue as they were; nor is it making them imagine that what they do is acceptable.” With great impetus the pope declares: “Never again war, the failure of humanity!” Why not invest the money invested in armaments in a worldwide fund to eliminate hunger? Peace is being built from family education: “It is not a question, then, of a peace that arises out of silencing social demands or preventing them from making a mess, since it is not a secretarial consensus or an ephemeral peace for a minority, which it is worth generating meeting processes, processes that build a people that knows how to pick up on the differences.
The pope writes: “Let us arm our children with the weapons of dialogue. Let us teach the good fight of the match.”
After showing the inconveniences of weapons, questioning and challenging the criteria of the “just war” and the death penalty, he insists that those who “seek to pacify a society should not forget that inequality and the lack of integral human development do not allow us to generate peace.” Consequently: “If you have to start over, it will always be from the end.”
In this call to create universal brotherhood, religions have a special role. They are “at the service of peace.” It highlights the themes that can help a better dialogue between religions: “the valuing of each person as a creature called to be a son or daughter of God, offers a valuable contribution to the construction of fraternity and to the defense of justice in society. Dialogue between people of different religions is not done merely out of diplomacy, kindness, or tolerance.” The contribution of experiences of faith, the sincere search for God, respect for human dignity and fraternity, should not be tarnished “with our ideological or instrumental interests.” Religions must therefore establish paths of reflection on what can unite them: “As believers we are challenged to return to our sources to concentrate on what is essential: worship of God and love of neighbor, so that some aspects of our doctrines, out of their context, do not end up feeding forms of contempt, hatred, xenophobia, or denial of the other. The truth is that violence does not find its foundation in fundamental religious convictions but in its deformations.”
As you can imagine, what I write is just a handful of points. Of the 287 issues divided into eight chapters, I offer only a sketch putting the theme of charity as the center, a theme that we are passionate about as Vincentians. The topics that I would like to delve into are many; I trust that some other time I can delve into them. However, I deeply appreciate the reflections of Pope Francis in this encyclical that, without a doubt, can give us many lights to guide charity to its peak. Reading these reflections from the perspective of systemic change, for example, can discover new spaces for charitable action by everyone, but especially by Vincentian laity. Somehow, Saint Vincent had already intuited that “Christian love … is a love by which one loves one another for God, in God, and according to God; it is a love that makes us love each other for the same purpose for which God loves us, which is to make us holy in this world and blessed in the next. For this reason, this love makes us look at God and look only at God in each one of us whom we love.” This would be a universality from God himself. At the end of the day, no one can gainsay that surrender is the best sign of love: “Due to its own dynamics, love demands a growing openness, a greater capacity to welcome others, in an unfinished adventure that integrates all the peripheries towards a full sense of mutual belonging. Jesus told us: ‘You are all brothers and sisters,’” (Mt 23,8), and that is what we promote and defend by making charity effective.
Father Aarón Gutiérrez Nava, C.M.
 In this sense, the pope tries to correct the distortion that has been given to the political word and consequently to its practice: “For many, politics today is a bad word, and it cannot be ignored that behind this fact there are often the mistakes, corruption, and inefficiency of some politicians. To this are added the strategies that seek to weaken it, replace it with the economy or dominate it with some ideology.”