St. John’s Conference Examines Legacy of Pope Francis’ 2020 Encyclical

Sean Cardinal O'Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston

Sean Patrick Cardinal O'Malley, Archbishop of Boston

May 23, 2023

The enduring impact of Pope Francis’ third encyclical was the subject of a St. John’s University-sponsored gathering of students, Catholic scholars, religious leaders, and University officials on May 18.

Fratelli Tutti, or Brothers All, was published in 2020 and announced to Catholics on October 4, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, on whose values the encyclical relies. Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, took his papal name from the sainted founder of the Franciscan order, saying he hoped to guide the Church toward a greater connection with the poor and marginalized, as St. Francis had.

According to panelists, fundamental to the encyclical is the need to care for what Pope Francis calls the “hidden exiles” of society, i.e., disabled people, the elderly, the poor, and other disadvantaged groups.

“The mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the idea that they are living with less dignity,” said Friar Joseph Blay, O.F.M., ’19MA. “Fratelli Tutti recognizes that nowadays we are either all saved together, or no one is saved.”

Pope Francis celebrated the 10th anniversary of his papacy in March 2023. He has since published three encyclicals, or personal reflections on matters of Church doctrine. Lumen Fidei, or The Light of Faith, issued in 2013, celebrates Christian belief. Laudato Si’, or Praised Be, followed in 2015 and outlines the pope’s support of environmental stewardship. Fratelli Tutti emphasizes the dignity of all people and the responsibility of Catholics to respect the less fortunate.

The encyclical relies heavily on the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan and acknowledges that a healthy society cannot ignore the suffering “stranger on the road.”      

“Pope Francis calls all of us to fix the world by enhancing the Creator’s plan,” said His Eminence Sean Patrick Cardinal O’Malley, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of the Diocese of Boston, MA, and a leading Franciscan theologian. “Unlike the priest and the Levite in the parable, who see the man abandoned to death and create distance between themselves and his need, the Samaritan goes out of his way to put himself in a position of vulnerability. The Holy Father invites us to be a new generation of Samaritans.”   

The conference, “Fratelli Tutti: Bringing People Together,” was presented by The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies and moderated by Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Mass Communication, and Director, M.S. in International Communication program. Held online to allow for enhanced participation, it also included insights from Christopher P. Vogt, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Ines Murzaku, Ph.D., Director, Catholic Studies, Seton Hall University; and Most Rev. Theodore Mascarenhas, S.F.X., Auxiliary Bishop, Archdiocese of Ranchi, India.

Catholic colleges and universities have a special responsibility to bring about a vision of human solidarity, the pope wrote—a sentiment echoed by Dr. Murzaku.

“The Church’s multiple educational traditions are part of its outward facing mission,” Dr. Murzaku explained. “Francis’ call to fraternal love means educating the poor, and this is something we have to take very seriously as Catholic universities—educating the poor and the disadvantaged.” 

Reflecting on lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bishop Mascarenhas said that while the world was drawn closer by necessity, concern for the fate of others cannot end with the lifting of pandemic restrictions. He said his diocese housed 7,000 mostly poor travelers who were unable to move on until restrictions were eased.      

“They came from all traditions, languages, and cultures,” Bishop Mascarenhas said. “We stayed together, we ate together, but what made us live together was the necessity of survival. Do we really need to go to that extreme, that the world has to teach us how to survive together? Or do we live by what Pope Francis says, namely, to walk the journey of peace together?”

That journey finds a place in chapter four of the encyclical, “Heart Open to the World,” in which the pope calls for compassion for those fleeing humanitarian crises. Issues associated with migration can be mitigated by creating opportunities for citizens to live with dignity in their countries of origin. At the same time, the pope said Catholics must respect others’ rights to seek a better life outside of their native nations.

Debates over immigration have fueled increased political hostility in the United States and elsewhere, the pope acknowledged. Chapter five, “A Better Kind of Politics,” calls for political dialogue rooted in the recognition of human dignity, and not market forces or fleeting populist movements.

“I think we all feel very frustrated by the kind of atmosphere that exists in our politics,” Cardinal O’Malley said. “The Holy Father presents to us an opportunity to come together and learn how to listen to each other, in a prayerful attitude, seeking the truth and guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we continue just shouting at each other instead of listening, the situation is only going to get worse.”