For the worldwide Franciscan community, Pope Francis’s decision to sign his latest encyclical – “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship” – in Assisi, Italy, at the tomb of St. Francis, was more than a symbolic and historic gesture; it was a call to renewal.
First, the pope selected the birthplace of his namesake, on the day before the Oct. 4 feast of St. Francis – the first time any pontiff signed an encyclical in Assisi. But the release of a document with fraternity as its theme – a foundational precept of the Order of Friars Minor – couldn’t have been scripted better 800 years ago by St. Francis himself.
For friars of Holy Name Province and their partners-in-ministry, the St. Francis stamp on “Fratelli Tutti” was momentous and inspiring, but not surprising. The pope’s 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’” proclaimed another Franciscan value – the care for all creation and the environment.
“Pope Francis has repeatedly shown how he is inspired by the example and writings of Francis of Assisi – first, in his selection of his own name; second, in his encyclical “Laudato Si’,” and, third, in this new encyclical,” said Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen, OFM. “His papacy continues to be a ‘Franciscan moment.’ It is imperative that Franciscans be more than proud. They must seize this opportunity to share their spirituality and outlook to complement the teaching of the pope.”
The Franciscan community globally was abuzz even before Pope Francis celebrated Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis prior to signing “Fratelli Tutti.” It had been revealed that the source of the title and inspiration of the pope’s encyclical – his third since taking office in 2013 – was St. Francis of Assisi.
In the days following the release, many in the HNP community joined in discussing, praising, and writing about its text – especially the chords that connect the encyclical’s themes with the social issues and divisions gripping the United States in 2020.
“Though not the Holy Father’s intention to release it one month before the U.S. elections, Pope Francis’s words – building from the inspiration of the Church and, in particular, St. Francis – provided a guide on how to approach the elections, and how to deal with the aftermath,” said Russ Testa, HNP’s director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “His call to a new social order of ‘brothers and sisters to all’ can bring a time of profound social and political transformation to build anew the common good.”
Added Sr. Margaret Carney, OSF, former president of St. Bonaventure University, “This encyclical is a clarion call to all people of goodwill. By signing it at the tomb of St. Francis, the pope sent a message that every Franciscan should understand.”
Seeking to capitalize on the opportunity for understanding and transformation, Kevin established the “preaching project” – an initiative in which a group of friars used their preaching and writing talents to submit observations about the relation between the message of “Fratelli Tutti” and Sunday scriptures.
Participating friars created a series of reflections that incorporate the messages of scripture and Pope Francis into the realities of the political choices confronting Americans. The content of these reflections was available to HNP friars and others for their preparation of homilies, bulletin and newsletter announcements, talks, house chapter discussions, contemplation before meetings, and individual prayer.
Kevin said the reflections were not partisan in nature, but rather an “invitation to go deeper into the work of transformation while considering political choices.” The reflections of seven friars were distributed via email three weeks before Election Day to HNP friars, as well as to laypeople involved with JPIC work at the Province’s ministry sites.
Solid and Consistent Reflections
Though the depth of the reflections varied, the interest in the pontiff’s message was consistently strong in all of the reflections.
As part of the reflections for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Dan Horan, OFM, wrote: “This encyclical aligns well with the readings by offering modern Christians inspiration and resources for thinking through how our faith commitments ought to impact the way we envision society and engage in the political enterprise. Like Jesus’s refusal to be boxed in on one issue – such as taxes – the pope reminds us, likewise, to embrace a broader vision of social and political engagement, one that prioritizes solidarity and the common good.”
Dan went on to say, “The responsibility we have as citizens, voting or paying taxes, or any other duty, should be informed by this vision of what Pope Francis calls ‘human fraternity’ – or the commitment Christians have to always think of the whole community, especially the most vulnerable, rather than on any particular personal interest or individualistic agenda,” added Dan, an associate professor of systematic theology and spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Illinois.
Joe Nangle, OFM, who also contributed to the reflections for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, said Pope Francis could well have titled one part of the encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti words to people of goodwill as they vote on November 3.” Joe, a vocal advocate for immigrants and other social justice issues, added, “As part of his global social analysis in the first chapter, the pope says: ‘In some countries, a concept of popular and national unity… is creating new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense under the guise of defending national interests.’”
Ken Himes, OFM, a professor of theological ethics at Boston College, observed that the pope urges us “to see in politics the opportunity to build bridges that connect us with other people, rather than build walls that exclude us from people.” Ken said that the closing ecumenical prayer in the encyclical “nicely reflects that belief in the very nature of God is love, and [that] as God’s people, we are called to share in that love, and further, [as] disciples of Jesus, we are to share that love generously with others.”
Tom Gallagher, OFM, pastor of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, cited many sections of the encyclical in his reflection – including the pope’s observation about the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.
Tom noted, “Pope Francis said: ‘As I was writing this letter, the Covid-19 pandemic unexpectedly erupted, exposing our false securities. Aside from the different ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident. For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all. Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.’”
In his reflection, David McBriar, OFM, noted that “Fratelli Tutti” says there are three responses to the disfigurement of our time: social friendship, the inalienable dignity of each person, and the importance of peace. David expanded on these thoughts in a homily that he delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church on West 31st Street, where he is stationed.
“Pope Francis spends the greater part of ‘Fratelli Tutti’ describing what is disfiguring the human family. Ideologies of economic self-interest dominate the common good, public conversation and communication are being poisoned, and there continue to be many forms of discrimination. There is a widespread disrespect for vulnerable human beings,” David said.
Ignatius Harding, OFM, who lives at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland, shared his reflections as they relate to the Nov. 15 scripture readings: “Pope Francis based [his encyclical] on the life and experience of Francis of Assisi, [giving] us a blueprint to consider – an uplifting and realistic view of the work ahead, [for] all of us and all societies to build a new world consciousness. We in the United States are blessed with so many talents, gifts, and resources that it is time to eradicate any fear we have had and take on our role as leader of the world in creating a world community that will actually allow us to live as brothers and sisters.”
Gabriel Scarfia, OFM, who taught theology for 45 years, wrote: “On Oct. 26, 2020, a commemoration of the 75th anniversary [of the United Nations] renewed its mission and addressed to the world this searching question, ‘What are your hopes for the future?’ As our nation moves into the aftermath of a very contested election, we Catholics can confront this important question with the wisdom and grace of today’s scriptures and Eucharist and opt for a future beyond the perils of a festering winner-loser mentality.”
Testa said that the friars who contributed to the Province’s preaching project recognized that Pope Francis “captured our particular moment in history and each offers a bold set of principles and actions based around human unity and the struggle to make it happen.”
He added, “[No one] is lost in a fantasy that any of this will be easy, and no one is lost in the challenge as being impossible. Given the social chasms in our nation, the Provincial’s invitation to embrace this ‘Franciscan moment’ is more imperative than ever.”
In early October, Dan Horan wrote a column, “Relationship leads to peace: Three Franciscan Themes of ‘Fratelli Tutti,’” for the National Catholic Reporter. He also has written the introduction for a book about the encyclical published by Orbis Books earlier this month.
Opportunities for Education and Enrichment
Other written resources, as well as speaking events, are being planned for upcoming weeks. A digital study guide, compiled and produced by Sr. Margaret and Pat McCloskey, OFM, a member of St. John the Baptist Province and longtime staff member at St. Anthony Messenger magazine, is slated for distribution later this month.
“The pope is trying to be the voice in our time that Francis was in his time,” said Sr. Margaret. “That means we must help make that voice heard.”
In addition to an introduction to each of the eight chapters, the guide will provide a summary and select quotes and questions for group discussion and individual reflection. It will be posted on websites of Franciscan communities in the United States and beyond.
Friars and ministries around the Province are planning events in the coming weeks to help communicate the theme of “Fratelli Tutti.” In Western New York, the friars at Mt. Irenaeus, a mountain retreat center, have scheduled a discussion for Nov. 22, with attendance limited because of COVID-19 social distancing.
On Nov. 23, the provincial ministers of the US-6 provinces (those working to reorganize into one OFM province in the U.S.) are planning to listen to a presentation by Dan Horan on the encyclical — and share in a discussion – that will be recorded and distributed to friars across the United States.
For Advent, Richard Rohr, OFM, a writer, lecturer, and member of Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, will be leading a four-week video retreat for US-6 friars.
The HNP Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation has been charged with developing opportunities in the coming months to promote “Fratelli Tutti” and its relationship to “Laudato Si.'”
–Jocelyn Thomas is the director of communications for Holy Name Province.
- “Reflecting on Fraternity and Brotherhood for St. Francis Feast” – Oct. 2, 2020, HNP Today
- “Franciscans and Election 2020” – Oct. 16, 2020, HNP Today
- “Fratelli Tutti: Short summary of Pope Francis’s Social Encyclical” — Oct. 4, 2020, Vatican News
- “Pope Francis, Four Years Later” — March 26, 2017, HNP Today
- “Franciscans Welcome ‘Laudato Si’” – June 24, 2015, HNP Today