Pope Francis’ exciting new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, is a profound message that calls each of us to a deeper understanding of social friendship, community, and our shared responsibility to promote the common good. This invitation is made especially clear by engagement with the civic life of our country. Fratelli Tutti challenges Catholics in the United States to get involved in our communities, to engage one another with political charity (no. 182), and to uphold human dignity at all times.
Pope Francis reminds us that every action we take presents an opportunity to actively work together, investing time in our communities, to create a world where each person can do more than simply live, but also thrive (no. 111). The current pandemic did not create the injustices that are causing suffering in our communities, but it did exacerbate much of the inequities in our world. Pope Francis calls us to use this moment in history to re-create our communities in a way that upholds our God-given dignity for each person.
Why does Pope Francis ask this of us?
As Catholics, our belief in and promotion of the common good stems from a foundational belief in the inherent human dignity which God bestows on each person. This sacred dignity demands our most sincere respect, reverence, and protection. “The dignity of others is to be respected in all circumstances, not because that dignity is something we have invented or imagined, but because human beings possess an intrinsic worth superior to that of material objects and contingent situations” (no. 213). By upholding the dignity of all, we can encourage our collective well-being and each persons’ individual well-being. In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis uses the image of the Good Samaritan to remind us that our actions can have real and lasting impacts on our sisters and brothers.
How do we respond?
The answer sounds simple but can be difficult to employ. We engage with love. In modeling civil dialogue, and other elements of political charity we can rebuild our communities to better reflect God’s vision for our world. Political charity puts our commitment to the common good at the center of our collective work in the public square and lifts up the choice to act as a true public servant. In order to make political charity a reality, each of us has a role to play. We are called to advocate, to vote if we are able, and to know and respond to the realities of our communities.
It is not enough for us to hope that whoever is elected makes the right choices—we must build relationships with one another and our elected officials. Through relationships, we keep each other accountable before and long after election day. Important policies like how we protect the unborn, how we allocate funding for basic human needs like food programs, how we promote the well-being of families, and the availability of affordable housing are all moral choices made by those whom we elect at every level. By advocating for these policies that uphold human dignity, we can influence how policies are enacted, especially when we bring communities together to work for the common good.
What can we do?
We can rebuild our communities with a culture of encounter, as proposed by Pope Francis, by modeling respect for one another and true solidarity with our brothers and sisters (no. 11). Our faith calls us to insist on the recognition of the human dignity of all. It is precisely because we are Catholic that we must get involved and call others to model love in this way. As Catholics, we do not have the luxury of opting out. Because of our baptism into the body of Christ, we cannot turn away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters, whether we know them personally or not. (FT 186)
Here are some ways for you to get involved, now, and in the future:
1. Form your conscience. Though we talk about it more during election season, conscience formation is a life-long process. Our conscience helps us make decisions, big and small, every day. We are called to continuously pray, discern, and learn.
2. Learn about what is happening in your community. How are the schools run? Who doesn’t have enough access to food, housing, healthcare, etc., and why? Where does funding for necessary social services come from? Learn more about poverty and get involved.
3. Get involved in local organizations. Around the nation, there are organizations supported by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the U.S. Catholic bishops. Groups funded by CCHD are led by low-income people who know what their communities need and are responding. Find out if your diocese or parish is involved with one of these groups that empower those in need and advocates to change the systems of injustice that keep people in poverty—and then get involved. If your parish doesn’t have such a group, start one.
4. Participate and encourage civil dialogue. Pope Francis reminds us there is much to be learned from honest conversation, “Together, we can seek the truth in dialogue, in relaxed conversation or in passionate debate” (no. 50). In choosing respectful dialogue and seeking to learn rather than win, we broaden our own experiences and recognize the dignity of others.
5. Be a faithful citizen. If you’re able, vote. Then, after election day, use your voice to lobby your elected officials about the policies you care about, especially those that impact human dignity.
One way to put all of this into practice is to join other faithful Catholics at the yearly Catholic Social Ministry Gathering. Faith leaders from across the country and from parishes, dioceses, and national organizations gather to learn, pray, and advocate for policies that promote solidarity and the common good.
Pope Francis is asking us to significantly change the systems and structures of our world through loving engagement. As Pope Francs teaches us, this is a lofty goal, but one we must take up (no. 190). Some days, the road to a culture of encounter seems long and challenging. It helps to remember that in our communities we have the opportunity to experience God’s deep and abiding love for each one of us, individually, and as a people.
Emily Schumacher-Novak serves as the Assistant Director of Education and Outreach in the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at USCCB.