ROME – After months of speculation over what the next move might be for a pope stuck at home due to the coronavirus, the answer came Saturday with the announcement of an upcoming papal visit to Assisi to sign a new encyclical letter, the most developed form of papal teaching.
In a Sept. 5 statement, Father Enzo Fortunato, director of the St. Francis basilica in Assisi, confirmed that on Saturday Oct. 3, Pope Francis will visit the Sacred Convent of Assisi to sign the new encyclical, Fratelli tutti, meaning, “All Brothers.”
He will celebrate a private Mass with no faithful at the tomb of St. Francis at 3:00 p.m. and will sign the encyclical at the end of the ceremony.
“It is with great joy and in prayer that we welcome and wait for the private visit of Pope Francis. A stage that will highlight the importance and necessity of fraternity,” said Father Mauro Gambetti, Keeper of the Sacred Convent of Assisi.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed the news in a Sept. 5 statement, saying the encyclical would be on “fraternity and social friendship” and that the pope would return to the Vatican immediately after celebrating Mass.
The title of the encyclical appears in a passage in the Admonitions of St. Francis, under number six, which reads: “Let us all, brothers, look to the Good Shepherd who suffered the passion of the Cross to save his sheep.”
“The sheep of the Lord followed him in tribulation and persecution, in insult and hunger, in infirmity and temptation, and in everything else and they have received everlasting life from the Lord because of these things,” the passage continues. “Therefore, it is a great shame for us, servants of God, that while the saints (actually) did such things, we wish to receive glory and honor by [merely] recounting their deeds.”
Rumors of a papal encyclical first made the rounds last month when Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti let slip during a press conference of the Charter of Intent signed in light of the 800th anniversary of the nativity scene in Greccio that the document was in the works.
Given the emphasis Pope Francis has placed on his namesake as a model of brotherhood, it is unsurprising that he would choose Assisi as the place to sign his encyclical on that topic, and on the eve of the feast of St. Francis.
Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has embraced and celebrated St. Francis of Assisi as a model of social justice, particularly when it comes to the topics of poverty, peace and fraternity.
Speaking to some 5,000 journalists just days after his election to the papacy in 2013, Francis said he first thought of naming himself after the great 13th century saint when, after it was obvious he had won the necessary two-thirds majority vote, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paolo, hugged him and told him, “Don’t forget the poor.”
“Those words came to me: the poor, the poor. Then, right away, thinking of the poor, I thought of Francis of Assisi. Then I thought of all the wars, as the votes were still being counted,” he said at the time, adding that for him, St. Francis “is also the man of peace.”
“That is how the name came into my heart…For me, he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation,” the pope said, calling St. Francis, “the poor man who wanted a poor church. How I would love a church that is poor and for the poor.”
Since then, the fight against poverty and inequality, the pursuit of peace by renewing bonds of brotherhood, and care of the environment have all become staples in Francis’s papacy.
Coming at the end of the month-long “Season for Creation” promoted by the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, and which is part of a wider year-long celebration of the 5th anniversary of the pope’s 2015 eco-encyclical, Laudato Si, the new encyclical on human fraternity will likely include ecological, as well as ecumenical and other social justice-related highlights.
In comments to Crux, Fortunato said the pope’s visit “has great meaning because the pope will sign a document that is at the heart of the charisma of (Saint) Francis and of fraternity.”
The Franciscan order “tells us the importance of defending people and their dignity,” he said, adding that he believes this is Pope Francis is consistently aware of this and took it into consideration while drafting the document.
In a post-pandemic world, Fortunato said this sense of fraternity has taken on greater significance, and “means be neighbors, it means being together, loving and respecting one another.”
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