Fratelli Tutti, Racism and My Neighbour

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In his recent Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis encourages universal brotherhood and social friendship, and calls on us to be open to encounter with one other. At the heart of Fratelli Tutti, is a reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan. Francis explains that the question, “who is my neighbour?” is inverted:

‘Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group. In this case, the Samaritan became a neighbour to the wounded Judean. By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbours to help, but that I must myself be a neighbour to others.’ (81)

Unfortunately, rather than a culture of Christ-like encounter with one another as neighbours, the Pope shows that our culture, our politics and our economy stand in stark contrast. Instead of political culture of brotherhood and social friendship, ours is increasingly one that fears the other and seeks to exclude. The Holy Father, especially draws our attention to migrants and illustrates how a politics of exclusion, leads to attitudes that slowly but surely deny the full human dignity of my brother and sister:

‘No one will ever openly deny that [migrants] are human beings, yet in practice, by our decisions and the way we treat them, we can show that we consider them less worthy, less important, less human. For Christians, this way of thinking and acting is unacceptable, since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.’ (39)

The Holy Father connects the disregard for, and exclusion of, others with dangerous attitudes like racism that we had previously hoped had been dispelled. He goes on to warn that racism, and the attitudes that underlie it, threatens to inform other related expressions that deny universal brotherhood in a sort of toxic feedback loop: ‘Every brother or sister in need, when abandoned or ignored by the society in which I live, becomes an existential foreigner, even though born in the same country. They may be citizens with full rights, yet they are treated like foreigners in their own country. Racism is a virus that quickly mutates and, instead of disappearing, goes into hiding, and lurks in waiting.’ (97)

Pope Francis cautions against complacency towards poisonous attitudes like racism and the seemingly unrelated attitudes and practices underlying it. The Pope points out that our culture lacks the commitment to brotherhood and social friendship necessary for true transformation; instead ours is a throwaway culture that ignores the dignity and rights of others when it proves an economic or social inconvenience: ‘Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. […] In addition, a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.’ (18 – 20)

Pope Francis takes aim squarely at the political and cultural narratives that generate fear and scapegoat people based on their social or ethnic or faith backgrounds. Decisions to “fabricate enemies” for opportunistic political profit have resulted in the emergence of a politics of fear and exclusion rather than a commitment to seeking creative solution to real-world problems. Furthermore, such politics not only distracts from facing the real problems in our society, but fester and result in cruel and inhumane policies and practices:

‘Fear and resentment can easily lead to viewing punishment in a vindictive and even cruel way, rather than as part of a process of healing and reintegration into society. Nowadays, “in some political sectors and certain media, public and private violence and revenge are incited, not only against those responsible for committing crimes, but also against those suspected, whether proven or not, of breaking the law… There is at times a tendency to deliberately fabricate enemies: stereotyped figures who represent all the characteristics that society perceives or interprets as threatening. The mechanisms that form these images are the same that allowed the spread of racist ideas in their time”. This has made all the more dangerous the growing practice in some countries of resorting to preventive custody, imprisonment without trial and especially the death penalty.’ (266)

Pope Francis warns against falling into the trap of allowing fear to enclose our horizons, to shut out the other, and to allow racist and dehumanising attitudes to emerge. He instead calls on us to embrace a culture of open encounter with the other, which he explains is essential to human flourishing:

‘Yet it is also true that an individual and a people are only fruitful and productive if they are able to develop a creative openness to others. I ask everyone to move beyond those primal reactions because “there is a problem when doubts and fears condition our way of thinking and acting to the point of making us intolerant, closed and perhaps even – without realizing it – racist. In this way, fear deprives us of the desire and the ability to encounter the other”.’ (41)

The Holy Father encourages a Culture of Encounter founded upon universal brotherhood and love for our neighbour. We are all called to build such a culture that transcends the superficial differences expressed in attitudes, like racism, that seek to divide people who are really brothers and sisters:

‘The word “culture” points to something deeply embedded within a people, its most cherished convictions and its way of life. A people’s “culture” is more than an abstract idea. It has to do with their desires, their interests and ultimately the way they live their lives. To speak of a “culture of encounter” means that we, as a people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone. This becomes an aspiration and a style of life. The subject of this culture is the people, not simply one part of society that would pacify the rest with the help of professional and media resources. […] What is important is to create processes of encounter, processes that build a people that can accept differences. Let us arm our children with the weapons of dialogue! Let us teach them to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter!’ (216 – 217)

 

John McGeady
OLA Justice Officer
December 2020