Pope tackles Covid pandemic and rising nationalism in third encyclical

Pope Francis has warned against “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” in some countries, and a “growing loss of the sense of history”, in a major document outlining his view of the world.

Fratelli Tutti – the third encyclical, a pastoral letter addressed to the whole of the Catholic church, of his papacy – was published on Sunday, the feast of St Francis of Assisi, amid global uncertainty and anxiety over the Covid-19 pandemic and rising populism.

In the 45,000-word document, the pope urges nations to work towards a just and fraternal world based on common membership of the human family. He expands on familiar themes in his teachings, including opposition to conflict and war, the death penalty, slavery, trafficking, inequality and poverty; concerns about alienation, isolation and social media; and support for migrants fleeing violence and seeking a better life.

Pope Francis had begun writing the encyclical when the pandemic “unexpectedly erupted”. But, he says, the crisis has reinforced his belief that political and economic institutions must be reformed to address the needs of those most harmed by the pandemic. The global health emergency has demonstrated that “no one can face life in isolation” and that the “magic theories” of market capitalism have failed.

“Aside from the differing ways that various countries responded to the crisis, their inability to work together became quite evident,” Francis writes. “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.”

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He adds: “The fragility of world systems in the face of the pandemic has demonstrated that not everything can be resolved by market freedom. It is imperative to have a proactive economic policy directed at ‘promoting an economy that favours productive diversity and business creativity’ and makes it possible for jobs to be created, and not cut.”

Francis says a “certain regression” has taken place in today’s world. He notes the rise of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” in some countries, and “new forms of selfishness and a loss of the social sense”.

The leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics says “we are more alone than ever” in a world of “limitless consumerism” and “empty individualism” where there is a “growing loss of the sense of history” and a “kind of deconstructionism”.

“Hyperbole, extremism and polarisation” have become political tools in many countries, he writes, without “healthy debates” and long-term plans but rather “slick marketing techniques aimed at discrediting others.”

He notes that “we are growing ever more distant from one another” and that voices “raised in defence of the environment are silenced and ridiculed”.

Addressing digital culture, he criticises campaigns of “hatred and destruction” and says technology is removing people from reality; fraternity depends on “authentic encounters”.

He writes: “Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

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The Right Reverend Richard Moth, the bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said the encyclical was “very consistent” with previous teachings and messages, but had particular relevance now. “He is saying there are very clear risks to not learning the lessons of history,” he said.

The Pope says his inspiration in writing the encyclical came from St Francis of Assisi and non-Catholics such as Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Mahatma Gandhi. Fratelli Tutti, he says, develops some of the “great themes” of the Document on Human Fraternity that he signed with the grand imam of al-Azhar University, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, in Abu Dhabi last year.

In the run-up to the publication of the encyclical, a row erupted over its title – which means “brothers all” – as critics said it excluded women. The Vatican said the plural form of the word was gender-inclusive and that the document by its very nature was inclusive of women.



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