SANTA FE, Argentina – Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on the theme of human fraternity and a call for the world to be better after the COVID-19, was released on Sunday, and one of his ghostwriters urged Argentines not to take it personally and to read the pope in full.
“Contrary to what radicalized sectors of our country say about Francis, at no time does he propose a welfarism that encourages laziness and neglect,” said Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez. “On the contrary, he once again maintains that the biggest issue is employment. The truly popular thing – since it promotes the good of the people – is to provide everyone with the opportunity to nurture the seeds that God has planted in each of us: Our talents, our initiative and our innate resources.”
Fernandez is the Archbishop of La Plata and former rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and has been close to Francis since then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio served as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Soon after becoming pope, Francis made the then-priest an archbishop as his first episcopal appointment.
Fernandez helped the pope draft several papal documents, including Laudato Si’, Amoris Laetitia, and Evangelii Gaudium.
“This is the finest help we can give to the poor, the best path to a life of dignity,” Fernandez wrote in La Nacion, quoting the pope. “Hence my insistence that, helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.”
Work for all instead of subsides for all, Fernandez wrote, is what the pope asks for, so that everyone can develop their own abilities. This, he argued, is one of Francis’s biggest social demands because “there’s no poverty worse than that which deprives of work.”
On Sunday, when the Vatican released Francis’s encyclical, Fernandez had several opinion columns and reflections in Spanish-speaking media.
As the government of President Alberto Fernandez continues to keep the country in lockdown despite Argentina having proven that a long quarantine does not stop the spread of the new coronavirus, unemployment has soared and the latest statistics show that over 40 percent of the population now lives under the poverty line.
Instead of attempting to reactivate the economy by lowering taxes to boost industries as neighboring nations have done, Congress is debating an “extraordinary” tax on wealth and attempting to secure the position of Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who faces a dozen charges of corruption dating back to her 8 years as president.
For Argentines to assume Francis is talking about them is pretty much a sport, and they’re particularly good at cherry-picking from the pope’s statements to fit whatever narrative they’re bound to believe from their side of the ideological divide. Hence the response from (archbishop) Fernandez.
Right-wing politicians and social leaders, even those who once boasted of their friendship with Francis, today accuse the pope of basically promoting poverty and welfare, largely because left-wing politicians and social leaders continue to quote the pontiff’s call to help the poor.
As an example, on Sunday, Santiago Cafiero, the chief of staff of Argentina’s left-wing government, quoted Fratelli Tutti when Francis writes: “In addition to recovering a sound political life that is not subject to the dictates of finance, ‘we must put human dignity back at the center and on that pillar build the alternative social structures we need’.”
Yet Cafiero chose to ignore Francis’s call to protect public institutions as his government calls for a political trial against the head of Argentina’s supreme court because the magistrate gave signals that he want to fend off Kirchner’s attempts of intervening in the judicial system.
The archbishop offers a timely reminder for Argentines who, as Francis has said, commit suicide by jumping from their own egos: “We could think that [Fratelli Tutti] speaks to Argentina, for example, when it criticizes both the defects of populist visions and liberal positions. But again, we would forget that Francis constantly receives reports from all over the world, even from places that seem very remote for us, but for him they are equally important.”
There is, however, one paragraph where Francis does directly address Argentina, and it’s one where he speaks directly to the United States too, as both countries grapple to contain rising xenophobic: “Latino culture is a ferment of values and possibilities that can greatly enrich the United States, for intense immigration always ends up influencing and transforming the culture of a place… In Argentina, intense immigration from Italy has left a mark on the culture of the society, and the presence of some 200,000 Jews has a great effect on the cultural ‘style’ of Buenos Aires. Immigrants, if they are helped to integrate, are a blessing, a source of enrichment and new gift that encourages a society to grow.”
According to Fernandez, it’s possible that Francis is urging his fellow countrymen to “be faithful to our own origins so that we do not lose that generous openness capable of opening a space for all.”
At a time when the world is used to “quick readings,” looking for a controversial phrase or quote, there’s a risk, the archbishop argued, of not appreciating the “deep reflection” offered by Fratelli Tutti. Only as a whole, the archbishop wrote, is the encyclical understood.
The papal document is a call to fraternity that nevertheless dwells on several issues that could, individually, be taken as controversial, Fernandez wrote: From the firm opposition to the death penalty and the decisive rejection of “just war” in today’s world, to migration, human trafficking, international power, politics, corruption, trickle down economy, populism, and so on.
Hence Fernandez’ call for Argentines not to have a “radicalized” reading of the 84-page document, but to instead allow themselves to be inspired by it so as to “not emerge worse from this pandemic.”
“Hopefully political and ideological differences do not make us lose this great dream of a universal brotherhood where no one is left out,” Fernandez concluded.
In a second article, written for AICA, Argentina’s Catholic news agency, the archbishop acknowledges that, together with Laduato Si’, Fratelli Tutti leads to a full comprehension of Francis social thought.
“If someone said they didn’t know how Francis things, with this new encyclical they will have no doubts,” he wrote. “Everything is clear. For this reason, it’s possible that this document will divide the waters. No one will be able to say they don’t understand him, they’ll only have to say if they accompany him or not.”
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