Fratelli Tutti, Care for the Natural World, and Integral Ecology

 

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In his recent Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis encourages universal brotherhood and social friendship, and calls for a culture of encounter with one other and with our natural environment. While calling for a Christian approach to our social and environmental relationships, the Pope does not shy away from describing how our culture, our politics and our economy diverge from these principles of brotherhood and social friendship. Sadly, ours is a political and economic culture that all too often does damage both to our fellow human beings and the earth itself, our common home.

As in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis once again brings us face to face with the lie at the base of our present economic, political and social model: that technological progress and economic growth can provide security, and that the individual can survive divorced from our natural environment and human society:

‘The world was relentlessly moving towards an economy that, thanks to technological progress, sought to reduce “human costs”; there were those who would have had us believe that freedom of the market was sufficient to keep everything secure. Yet the brutal and unforeseen blow of this uncontrolled pandemic forced us to recover our concern for human beings, for everyone, rather than for the benefit of a few.’ (33)

The Holy Father returns again to the theme of Integral Ecology previously outlined in his encyclical Laudato Si’. In that encyclical he warned that our culture is pervaded by faith in human mastery and the belief that technological progress is all that matters: ‘The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life.’ (Laudato Si’, 109) He again reminds us that notions of human supremacy are mere fantasy, and that in reality everything is interdependent rather than independent, both human and natural:

‘If everything is connected, it is hard to imagine that this global disaster is unrelated to our way of approaching reality, our claim to be absolute masters of our own lives and of all that exists. I do not want to speak of divine retribution, nor would it be sufficient to say that the harm we do to nature is itself the punishment for our offences. The world is itself crying out in rebellion.’ (34)

The Pope makes clear that the economy cannot be allowed to result in massive wealth for the a few or without limitations on the pressure economic activity places on our natural world. Any model of economic development must be constrained by the limits of our natural environment and the social needs of our brothers and sisters around the world: ‘The right of some to free enterprise or market freedom cannot supersede the rights of peoples and the dignity of the poor, or, for that matter, respect for the natural environment’ (122)

Ultimately, Pope Francis challenges notions of security, whether economic or political, that are premised on fear and rely on a strategy of dominance: ‘We need also to ask ourselves how sustainable is a stability based on fear, when it actually increases fear and undermines relationships of trust between peoples. […] Trust can be built only through dialogue that is truly directed to the common good and not to the protection of veiled or particular interests.’ (262)

Instead of the current model, the Holy Father recommends an approach of open encounter with the other founded upon a recognition of our shared humanity, brotherhood and a commitment to friendship. He encourages a listening attitude that seeks an approach of encounter with one other (and the earth) where we listen before we speak: ‘Saint Francis “heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many”. (48)

Such an attitude of universal brotherhood necessarily changes our approach to politics and economic development, and in turn heals not only relations between nations and peoples, but also our relationship with the earth. We are reminded of his critical statement in Laudato Si’: ‘We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.’ (Laudato Si’, 139). In Fratelli Tutti, he repeats this observation, linking the social and environmental good that can be gained by putting an attitude of brotherhood into practice: ‘by refusing to exploit those countries or to drain them of natural resources’ (125).

Within this context of brotherhood and social friendship, rather than rivalry and suspicion, Pope Francis calls for a commitment to international diplomacy, human rights and a great common effort to tackle the problems facing our world, both social and environmental:

The seventy-five years since the establishment of the United Nations and the experience of the first twenty years of this millennium have shown that the full application of international norms proves truly effective, and that failure to comply with them is detrimental. The Charter of the United Nations, when observed and applied with transparency and sincerity, is an obligatory reference point of justice and a channel of peace. (257)

 

John McGeady
OLA Justice Officer
December 2020