LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Pope Francis is presenting the Church’s “consistent message” and is inviting individuals and nations to “slow down and to listen and to engage with our brothers and sisters,” says Bishop Richard Moth of Arundel and Brighton.
The English bishop said the “big challenge” of the pontiff’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutti is taking the principle set forth in the Gospel parable of the Good Samaritan and “invite peoples to look at other peoples through that same lens.”
The pope’s third encyclical was signed on Oct. 3 in Assisi and released the next day after Francis’s Sunday Angelus. Although the pontiff notes he began the document before the COVID-19 pandemic, the global effect of the coronavirus crisis shaped how it developed.
“There is a very interesting process that has been going on these past months,” noted Moth, who is the chair of the Department of Social Justice at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.
“Lots of people are of course grieving the loss of loved ones; healthcare professionals are working under tremendous strain; all those things we know about in the struggle trying to deal with this virus that is hitting so many,” he told Crux. “What has come alongside this has been a recognition on the part of a good number of people that we don’t necessarily want things to go back the way they were.”
Moth said Fratelli Tutti “in a way builds on that.”
“Because if people are beginning to say, does it have to be the way it was? The Holy Father is saying: It doesn’t,” the bishop said. “Let’s look at the way we look at our brothers and sisters, not just locally, but globally, for the common good, for the good of the future of humanity and the planet that God has given to us. All these things mesh in together exceptionally well, I think.”
The pope covered many topics in the encyclical, including the death penalty and warfare; the immigration crisis; the rise of populism; religious extremism and other “issues of human fraternity and social friendship.”
When asked about Francis’s comments on the “just war” theory – the pope said “it is very difficult nowadays to invoke the rational criteria elaborated in earlier centuries to speak of the possibility of a ‘just war’” – Moth noted the pontiff “doesn’t say that the just war theory holds no water.”
“He challenges whether in the present kind of world, whether it is possible, and that’s a different thing. But it’s a very, very strong call to the nations to dialogue and to recognize others first and foremost as human beings,” the bishop told Crux.
“If you take a refugee as an example,” he continued. “There is a temptation to ask questions like: Why is this person here? Where have they come from? Rather than, this is a human being.”
Moth said Francis is calling on people to see others as brothers and sisters and remember “these people are human beings.”
“Listen to them. Speak with them. Go slowly: It will be better for humanity. That combined with his challenge to the just war tradition in our present moment in history I think is very significant,” he said.
When asked about the recent pledge by the UK to tighten its asylum procedures for refugees, Moth didn’t address the point directly, but said Fratelli Tutti is addressed to all leaders, and that includes those in Britain.
The bishop then turned back to the parable of the Good Samaritan which was used by Francis to frame his encyclical.
In the story, a man is attacked and left on the side of the road. Two men pass him by and refuse to help, but a Samaritan gets him to safety.
He said the challenge is taking the principles of the story and applying it to entire nations and peoples, as opposed to just individual interactions.
“It is a very great challenge to us because it demands we turn a lot of the way we normally think a bit on its head,” Moth explained.
“We don’t say: What can this person offer me? What is this person trying to get from me? Why is this person doing this? Why is this person not doing that? We just say, this is a human being,” he said.
The bishop added there is a temptation to say “it’s obvious” to acknowledge the other person’s humanity and skip over to “look at all the other things.”
“But in fact, the Holy Father is asking us to look far more deeply and say let’s look at the human being first and let everything else follow from that,” he said. “That’s a very strong message throughout this document and it has the potential – if we accept this challenge – to really transform the way the world does its business at every level.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome