On the eve of the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, 4 October 2020, Pope Francis published his third encyclical letter: ‘Fratelli tutti‘.
As the person in charge within an international congregation that fulfils a clear mission in the world, more specifically in the world of education and health care, on the basis of its own charism, Bro. René Stockman offers here a short summary of each chapter followed by a more personal reflection.
Chapter 3: Envisaging and engendering an open world
After a picture of the situation and the parable as an inspiration as to how things can be done, the following five chapters are devoted to concrete paths to a world where more social love prevails and areas where this needs to be practised in a very special way. In passing, a number of clear positions are formulated, as well.
This third chapter makes a plea to grow towards an open world, where there is room for all. Human beings are created to live together with others, even more so, to enter into a relationship with every neighbour that is marked by love. Everyone is therefore called to move beyond themselves, to break the cocoon of their own existence, and to make room in their lives for being together with others. This relationship with others makes us grow as human beings, and enables us to expand our circle of relationships and grow a spirit of hospitality within us. How uniquely this was lived in monastic communities, as early as the early Middle Ages, where welcoming guests was an important task and was lived as a concrete fulfilment of the commandment of love for one’s neighbour.
Love is at the heart of our existence and must also be the heart of every believer. Love can never take second place and cannot be replaced by a persistent struggle to defend certain ideological interpretations of faith. If defending is necessary, it must be done with and in love. The greatest danger in our lives is not to love! That is why every form of hospitality and friendship will be deeply marked by love. It is love that drives us to seek, find, and cultivate the best in every neighbour’s life.
Love breaks down all barriers, both geographical and existential. It should be our ability to constantly broaden our horizons and create more and more space in our lives for the presence of the other. Any form of exclusion of another person because of race, colour, or faith must be foreign to us. In this inclusion that we are developing, we want to pay special attention to people with disabilities and the elderly, who today often lead marginal lives in society and are considered more of a burden.
Today, our attention is particularly drawn to the way in which we open or close our borders to refugees. Referring to the parable, refugees are seen by some as the man lying there on the wayside, disturbing our walk. One does not want to be disturbed and so one looks for ways and means to shield and protect oneself and one’s own community. The term ‘neighbour’ is completely eroded and people only want to head out with those who can easily be accepted as a partner. That is why freedom, equality, and fraternity must always go hand in hand. Fraternity is the true humus for the desired freedom and equality. Without fraternity, we are driven towards ever- increasing individualism, which is a real viral infection for the further development of our community and must therefore be radically opposed.
Our basic principle must be that all human beings have the right to live in dignity and to develop themselves fully, and this right cannot and must not be ignored by any country. If this is not respected, we will become a society with diverse groups: those who have the opportunity to realize their full potential in life and those who do not, sinking into an ever-increasing marginality, which, as we can see in certain major cities, is becoming a source of growing aggression. When it is only the economic return that counts, many fall by the wayside, which, unfortunately, we are increasingly witnessing today, and all that remains of fraternity is a vague romantic slogan. The only orientation for our actions towards each other and also for the harmonious development of a society is the common good we want to promote. The common good refers to benevolentia, willing the good of others. In order to achieve this, we must go down the path of solidarity, treating solidarity as a moral virtue and a social attitude. It must be rooted in family upbringing and further education in schools. Young people need to be guided in the development of conscientious action in the moral, spiritual, and social spheres, which should be tested in practice and further developed through concrete forms of service, especially towards the fragile neighbour. Solidarity grows when people increasingly think in terms of the well-being of the community and no longer see their own prosperity, which is preached by the realm of money, as the only way to complete well-being. Here, the principle applies that private property can never be made absolute at the expense of the universal destination of goods. This principle can never remain a theory but must become visible and tangible in our attitude and commitment towards the poor. It is the only way to achieve a more equitable distribution of the resources at our disposal, to which we can never claim the absolute exclusive right.
This is also where the call sounds that entrepreneurship must never be aimed at the accumulation of property without taking account of human rights and the common good. They can be expected to pay attention to decent employment. Every government should set as its objective to give all citizens sufficient land, a roof over their heads, and work. Internationally, we cannot remain insensitive to the development of those countries that are experiencing great difficulties, and we must seek to reduce the debt burden that grips certain countries and nips any form of further development in the bud and to pay it off in a way that is feasible.
Once again, we need to ask ourselves how we can develop and shape these basic principles for the development of an open world in our own environment. It would be a mistake to hide behind political decisions and thereby shirk our responsibility to promote this open world. The words fraternity and solidarity call for concrete action. The fact that we call ourselves ‘brothers’ can be a powerful signal to promote fraternity in our environment and to put it into action, especially to those who miss out on any experience of fraternity in their lives. In many regions, we face the problem of refugees. As a congregation, we cannot turn a blind eye to this issue and, once again, it is a matter of developing small acts of love through concrete actions. The way in which we deal with our own resources, the resources of the community, of the region, and of the entire Congregation, should be inspired by a well-considered solidarity by which we also make a concrete contribution to a more equal development in the different parts of the Congregation. Let us not fall into the trap of considering the resources of the Congregation as ‘private resources’, only concerned with our own well-being and therefore allowing ourselves to be trapped in statistics with which banks like to claim us and advise us to set aside sufficient reserves for our own future. While not ruling out a justified concern for our own survival, solidarity explicitly asks us to share with others, and this on the basis of our shared responsibility for the growth of the general welfare of the entire Congregation.
Bro. René Stockman,
Superior General of the Brothers of Charity
Source: Brothers of Charity Website