Dan Horan of Catholic Theological Union writes that the Pope’s key concept of “fraternitas,” while criticized as too male, is meant to show how we are all “inherently related to all women, men, and even nonhuman creatures as part of God's one family of creation.” Horan also notes Francis’ call to cross borders and build bridges: “…be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact, building bridges, planning a project that includes everyone"(216). The Pope, as often before, warns of the evils of apathy and indifference, which Horan describes as taking away our “capacity for compassion and promoting an individualism that creates separation and prohibits authentic relationship, resulting in social division and tremendous suffering by the poor and vulnerable.”
Toward the end of the encyclical, we read: "Those who work for tranquil social coexistence should never forget that inequality and lack of integral human development make peace impossible" (235). Francis appeals to all people of any faith to be agents of reconciliation, but not, Horan stresses, “at the expense of silencing or dismissing the discomfiting experiences and histories of those who have been victimized.” This is a big challenge for the U.S., which hates to dwell on things like the genocide of Native Americans or the enslavement and continuing oppression of African-Americans, our unjust war in Iraq, and now our mass violations of human rights at our southern border.
Dr. Anna Rowlands, St. Hilda Associate Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Durham University in the United Kingdom, comments: “I think what he’s asking for is for us to move away from all forms of culture that involve domination or social aggression,” she said, “into something that is built on the culture of encounter, and we have to do this across the board as a way to build social peace.” Again, “domination” and “aggression” have been hallmarks of U.S. global economic and foreign policies for generations under both parties at all times.
That is the challenge for us today as we face a world of every-growing divisions – between rich and poor, blacks and whites, nativists and immigrants, progressives and conservatives. Can we – as individuals, as communities, and as a nation, encounter those unlike us, hear their stories of injustice and violence with open hearts and respond with compassion and action, sacrificing our comfort for the common good? It may be the test of whether human life on this planet is sustainable, or worth living.