Pope Francis’ Encyclical Read as a Puzzle

by | Oct 7, 2020 | Formation, Justice and Peace, Reflections | 3 comments

For the last few days I have been absorbed with Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.”

I realized that in many ways I was involved in working on something larger than a mere 1,000 piece picture puzzle.

In my puzzling days I would tackle puzzles, no matter what size, by emptying the box on the table and turning every piece face up. Next I would study the picture on the box taking notice of important characteristics. Then I would cluster the pieces with similar colors. Only then would work begin in earnest. All through this process I would be glancing at the image on the box as a reference point.

The image of a puzzle helped me to another level of understanding about our common humanity.

Reading the encyclical as a puzzle

I find Pope Francis’ use of images enticing and challenging. I was looking forward to the challenge. So, I emptied the pieces of this box on the table of my mind by reading it very quickly.

The first chapter “Dark Clouds Over A Closed World” amounted to putting all the pieces on the table face-up. It presents an almost overwhelming description of the multitude of problems in an increasingly polarized world.

Chapter two, “A Stranger On the Road,” uses the story of the Good Samaritan as an example to present the “big picture” of God’s dream of our common humanity as sons and daughters, sisters and brothers. This has become for me the cover on the box to which I will return as a reference point for the other sections of the puzzle.

In the remaining chapters, he unpacks a vision of what the world might look like. As I read each chapter I kept referring back to the cover image of the stranger who stops.

Chapter three “Envisioning and Engendering an Open World,” presents a world where we move beyond the original fault of self-centeredness recognizing the worth of every human person.

Chapter four “A Heart Open to the Whole World” is an invitation to see the many issues in a new light and to develop new responses.

Chapter five calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good. Sadly, politics today often takes forms that hinder progress towards the world God created us to shape.

Chapter six challenges us to rethink the importance and practice of dialogue in living out God’s dream for the human community.

Chapter seven gets practical about the many open wounds in the world. It calls for peacemakers, men and women prepared to work boldly and creatively, to initiate processes of healing and renewed encounter.

Chapter eight addresses the common role of all religions in working toward creating such a world.

I read each chapter in light of the master image of coming to one another’s aid regardless of tribal affiliations.

Unfortunately, I fear that many will focus only on one small section of the of the puzzle missing the big picture of God’s dream.

Pope Francis offers this final prayer…

Lord, Father of our human family,
you created all human beings equal in dignity:
pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
dialogue, justice and peace.
Move us to create healthier societies
and a more dignified world,
a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.

May our hearts be open
to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
May we recognize the goodness and beauty
that you have sown in each of us,
and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
and shared dreams. Amen.


  1. Thomas McKenna

    Very creative metaphor-context!

  2. Julie Cutter

    your image helps me have the courage to study the encyclical! thanks.

  3. sr mary vincent

    Laser sharp comprehensive view of our situation now. Thank you