ROME — Opposition to the death penalty is the “logical and moral consequence” of recognizing the dignity of all human life and of believing that each person deserves the possibility to repent of his or her sins and crimes, said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.
While in Rome for a prayer meeting for peace with Pope Francis, the Orthodox patriarch spoke to Vatican News Oct. 20 about his reading of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship.
“We completely agree with the call-challenge of His Holiness to abandon the indifference or even cynicism that governs our ecological, political, economic and social life in general,” the patriarch said. Instead, people must work to fulfill the dream of “our world as a united human family in which we are all brothers and sisters without exception.”
The patriarch said that when he heard the pope was writing the encyclical, he expected it would be a further sign of Pope Francis’s “unshakable interest” in human beings, created and beloved by God, and that, inspired by Christian tradition, it would include concrete suggestions for living out the obligation to love others, especially the poor and needy.
“Our expectations were fully met,” he said. The document “is not simply a compendium or summary of previous encyclicals or other texts of Pope Francis, but the crowning and happy conclusion of all social doctrine.”
“Love, openness to the other and the culture of solidarity” are key Christian principles, he said, and they are the values the encyclical promotes.
Pope Francis uses the parable of the good Samaritan as a centerpiece of the encyclical, urging people to consider which character they are in the story: One of the people who passes by the injured man or the Samaritan who stops to help and makes arrangements for the wounded man’s continued care.
The parable, the patriarch said, is an illustration of Jesus’ teaching that the commandments to love God and to love one’s neighbor always go together.
Members of the early Christian communities called each other brothers and sisters, he said. “This spiritual and Christ-centered fraternity is deeper than natural kinship. For Christians, however, brothers and sisters are not only members of the church, but all peoples. The Word of God has taken on human nature and united everything in itself.”
“The love of the believer has no boundaries and limits,” Bartholomew said. “In fact, it embraces the whole of creation; it is ‘the burning of the heart for the whole of creation,'” as Isaac the Syrian said.
“The attitude of a society toward the death penalty is an indicator of its cultural orientation and consideration of human dignity,” he said. “The worthy system of European constitutional culture, of which one of the fundamental pillars is the idea of love as an expression of its Christian beliefs, requires us to consider that every man must be given the possibility of repentance and improvement, even if he has been condemned for the worst crime.”
“It is therefore a logical and moral consequence that one who condemns war also should reject the death penalty,” the patriarch said.