‘Fratelli Tutti’, a call for humanity’s oneness and interdependence
by A. K. Merchant *

According to an Indian Bahá’í leader, in his encyclical, “Pope Francis diagnoses the multiple illnesses of present-day planetary society and offers not only hope but numerous practical solutions stemming from his associations with the peoples of the world, be they heads of religious communities, heads of governments or states or simply ordinary folks, believer or non-believer.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The latest Encyclical of Pope Francis Fratelli Tutti is truly a path-breaking piece of profound spiritual guidance in the backdrop of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 and the resultant socio-economic-politico turmoil. 

Recalling the exemplary life of St. Francis of Assisi, [who had a] unique capacity for creating and sustaining fraternity and social friendship embracing the total spectrum of inter- and intra-relationships across all sections of society regardless of race, religion, creed, gender, including other living and non-living beings, [. . .] Pope Francis diagnoses the multiple illnesses of present-day planetary society and offers not only hope but numerous practical solutions stemming from his associations with the peoples of the world, be they heads of religious communities, heads of governments or states or simply ordinary folks, believer or non-believer. [. . .]

References and quotes from the Bible and important figures who played a significant role as the history of Christianity unfolded remind the present-generation not to ignore significant teachings and learning from our past. Through the mention of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabbi Hillel, Grand Imam Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an interfaith perspective is offered stressing the universal reach of the Pope’s message brilliantly echoing the spirit of Christian ecumenism and the ethos of inter-religious exchanges.

In tackling the many facets of humanity’s grave existential reality, the Pope does not mince words but laments its failure of learning any lessons from the “many wars and disasters.” The reasons for such failures are obvious: doubts, misconceptions, prejudices, suspicions and narrow self-interest that beset nations and peoples in their relations one to another. [. . .]

This is not to say that no positive attempts were made at reconciliation and rapprochement by some countries and regions that have proved fruitful and instill optimism for the future. And yet “[w]e are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life.”

The remedy for such behavior is true social fraternity which the Pope thus elaborates: “’We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead. How important it is to dream together… By ourselves, we risk seeing mirages, things that are not there. Dreams, on the other hand, are built together’”.

Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.”

At another level there is appeal for crafting a new system of governance that outlaws war altogether not simply ‘just wars’, the failures of market capitalism, the oppression of the masses based on “the principle of ‘divide and conquer’, the new forms of cultural colonization” [. . .]

[T]he Covid-19 pandemic that unexpectedly erupted [has] exposed our false securities namely the inability of nation-states to work together [. . .]. “For all our hyper-connectivity, we witnessed a fragmentation that made it more difficult to resolve problems that affect us all.” [. . .]

As a national trustee of the Bahá’í Community of India and general secretary of Temple of Understanding India Foundation, a global interfaith association, I fully endorse the call of Pope Francis to the entire human race to set right today’s planetary dislocation caused by the coronavirus and the stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one. For, the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small and entrenched modes of divisive thought process are found to be badly wanting.

The world is desperately in need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds.  The Writings of the Bahá’í faith provide meaningful insights that shape contemporary discourse; for instance, the distorted notion that self-interest and consumerism far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. 

Impending systemic collapse, the crash of global economy and widespread suffering, are indicative that this day of reckoning may pave the way to humanity’s long anticipated redemption. 

Fratelli Tutti emphasizes both fraternity and social friendship; in other words, humanity’s oneness and interdependence [. . .] As one of the world’s leading moral figures [. . .], Pope Francis is ideally suited for making such a global appeal [for] the reconstruction and demilitarization of the whole world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life. [. . .]

My reading of the encyclical together with my convictions in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í faith, have strengthened my belief that however great the turmoil, the period into which humanity is moving will open to every individual, every institution, and every community on earth unprecedented opportunities to participate in the writing of the planet’s future. [. . .]

*Dr. A. K. Merchant is the General Secretary of the Temple of Understanding India Foundation, national trustee of the Lotus Temple & Bahá’í Community of India. He also serves as national trustee of the Sarvodaya International Trust; secretary of the Parkash Foundation (Resource Centre for Differently-abled Children); associate secretary of the Global Warming Reduction Centre; visiting Faculty at the Centre for Cultural Resources & Training, Ministry of Culture, Government of India. He is also a subject expert for research scholars enrolled for “interfaith education and Indian culture” at the Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, and a naturopath and counsellor for positive psychotherapy.