This blog originally appeared in the Feb 15th Catholic School Matters newsletter.
Love, then, is more than just a series of benevolent actions. Those actions have their source in a union increasingly directed towards, others, considering them of value, worthy, pleasing and beautiful apart from their physical or moral appearances. Our love for others, for who they are, moves us to seek the best for their lives. Only by cultivating this way of relating to one another will we make possible a social friendship that excludes no one and a fraternity that is open to call. Pope Francis, Fratelli Tutti, paragraph 94
In Chapters 3-4 of Fratelli Tutti, it becomes obvious that the pandemic is shaping Pope Francis’s message of fraternity. I explored this section on this week’s Catholic School Matters podcast with CTU theologian and former Catholic high school theology teacher, Dr. Carmen Nanko-Fernández. Francis speaks of the marginalized in our society, including the elderly and those with disability who are given a status as less than human.
When it became obvious last spring that COVID was disproportionately impacting the elderly and those with preexisting conditions as well the economy, do you remember the voices calling for sacrifices from our elderly/vulnerable to benefit the economy? Pope Francis is speaking directly to that horror by focusing on the dignity of all. We cannot allow economic prosperity to shape our life and death decisions; we cannot privilege the value of human beings.
In the same way, he connects this degradation of the elderly and the disabled with our treatment of immigrants by also echoing the parable of the Good Samaritan in the previous chapter. There is no one better to speak to about this than Nanko-Fernández, a Latina theologian. Francis writes, “Every brother or sister in need, when abandoned or ignored by society in which I live, becomes an existential foreigner, even though born in the same country” (97). Francis calls out the xenophobia that has gripped our Christian nation (as well as European Catholic countries). If we truly believe in the dignity of every person, then we wouldn’t treat migrants as enemies. “If every human being possesses an inalienable dignity, if all people are my brothers and sisters, and if the world truly belongs to everyone, then it matters little whether my neighbor was born in my country or elsewhere” (125).
The source of this treatment is not simply xenophobia. “Radical individualism is a virus that is extremely difficult to eliminate, for it is clever. It makes us believe that everything consists in giving free rein to our ambitions, as if by pursuing even greater ambitions and creating safety nets we would somehow by serving the common good” (105). Our American celebration of independence and individualism conflicts with the belief in the common good.
I heard echoes of this debate last week as our governor rescinded the state-wide mask mandate. Now mask mandates are local mandates and the voices calling for sacrifice, herd immunity, and the unconstitutionality of restrictions are louder. We need to continue to elevate the concerns for the most vulnerable populations and the common good.
I invite you to carve out some time to read this section of Fratelli and join the discussion on the podcast and look over the various materials here.