Pope Francis on preparing a better future for humanity and our planet

Pope Francis is sharply challenging powerful sectional interests in his new social manifesto being released on 4 October. The new encyclical, Fratelli Tutti (All Brothers and Sisters), will outline his vision of a more just, peaceful and sustainable world, and call vigorously for a renewed commitment to universal wellbeing and solidarity. 

We already have a good idea of what is in the new document because of the many talks and speeches Francis has made on social justice and climate issues recently, especially his address to the UN General Assembly on 25 September 2020, which highlighted pressing areas of concern. This new address came exactly five years after his previous one to the UN General Assembly in New York.

Fratelli Tutti will not just update his landmark Laudato Si’ on social equity, global poverty and care for the environment, but will address the newly perilous situation resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, its onslaught on national and global economies, increasing hunger and deeper poverty, the growing number of displaced peoples and refugees, and political instability.

In May 2015 Francis issued Laudato Si’ after extensive consultation with leading scientists and economists to help mobilise wider moral support for international efforts to reduce inequality, hunger and poverty, and to redress climate change. His address to the UN General Assembly on 25 September that year was judiciously placed just before the 190 UN delegates voted to endorse the Sustainable Development Goals: ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. Francis is reported to have worked the phones himself to encourage government and other leaders to bolster commitments at the December 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, COP21.

Francis believes that the future of humanity is at serious risk, and has continued efforts to bring world religions together around their core moral messages about the sacredness of Creation and of every human being. At a time when religions in parts of the world are being pressed to serve populist or ideological agendas, Pope Francis well knows the urgency of eliminating religion as an excuse for violence and conflict. He has striven to bring faith traditions closer together as vehicles of mutual understanding and peacemaking.

Fratelli Tutti will highlight the joint Declaration on  Human Fraternity  for World Peace and Living Together signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al Azhar, Ahmed bin Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019. Francis has since given a copy of that Declaration to every head of State visiting the Vatican.

Francis to the UN General Assembly September 2020

In a pre-recorded message Pope Francis addressed the 75th UN General Assembly on 25 September 2020, urging the Assembly to rethink ‘our way of life and our economic and social systems which are widening the gap between rich and poor based on an unjust distribution of resources.’

He called for a renewed sense of multilateralism, ‘of global co-responsibility, a solidarity rounded in justice and the attainment of peace and unity within the human family, which is God’s plan for our world’. ‘The other path emphasises self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism, and isolation; it excludes the poor, the vulnerable and those dwelling on the peripheries of life… It must not prevail.’

He appealed that the poor be given access to vaccines and the sick to be properly cared for. He expressed concern about widespread unemployment resulting from the pandemic and also from robots displacing people. He urged businesses to enhance human dignity and create jobs as core criteria of their success.

The widening abuse of human rights presented a ‘frightening picture’, with religious believers, including many Christians, persecuted and forced to flee their ancestral lands. Many refugees and displaced people were abandoned, or even ‘forcibly returned to detention camps, where they meet with torture and abuse. Many of these become victims of human trafficking, sexual slavery, or forced labour’. Pointedly he said: ‘This is intolerable, yet intentionally ignored by many!’

As he has emphasised repeatedly, Francis deplored ‘the rapidly growing inequality between the super-rich and the permanently poor. He called for an economic model that encouraged subsidiarity and economic development at the local level. He especially renewed his appeal for the ‘reduction, if not the forgiveness, of the debt burdening the balance sheets of the poorest nations.’ A new architecture of international finance would close tax shelters, end money laundering and defend ‘justice and the common good over the interests of the most powerful companies and multinationals.’

The Pope contrasted his 2015 visit to the UN, ‘a moment of great hope and promise’, with the current failure to fully honour those promises. He instanced the ‘alarming situation in the Amazon and its indigenous peoples’ where ‘the environmental crisis is inseparably linked to a social crisis’ of poverty and exclusion.

He noted the ‘devastating effects of the Covid-19 crisis on children, including unaccompanied young migrants and refugees.’ There were increased risks of child labour and exploitation, abuse and malnutrition, as well as abortion.

Women had greatly advanced since the Beijing Conference on Women 25 years earlier, he said, ‘offering their singular contribution and courageously promoting the common good.’ But many were left behind, ‘victims of slavery, trafficking, violence, exploitation, and degrading treatment.’

Finally, he deplored the development of new weapons systems, changing the nature of war and detaching it from human control, but especially the nuclear arms race. He reiterated his appeal to relax ‘international sanctions that make it difficult for states to provide adequate support their citizens.’ He concluded firmly endorsing the United Nations, and urged it ‘to transform the challenge that lies before us into an opportunity to build together, once more, the future we all desire.’

If it is true that Laudato Si’ is the most impactful papal document in modern times, Fratelli Tutti may well be equally significant.

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Bruce Duncan is a Redemptorist priest and lectures in history and social ethics at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne. He was one of the founders in 2005 of the ecumenical advocacy organisation, Social Policy Connections.

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