June 2021

Pope Francis started to write his third official document before Covid-19 exploded on the global stage, but it only added more urgency to his message addressed to humanity, “We are all brothers!”

If you want to know more about Pope Francis, read my thoughts on the first document, a pastoral letter calling for the renewal of the church on the basis of mission (Evangelii Gaudium, or “Joy of the Gospel”) and on the second, an encyclical calling on humanity to care for its planet (Laudate Si, “Praise be to you”). It makes sense that Pope Francis would use his first document to address the church, his second one to call for action on climate change and his third one for a kinder, more peaceful world.

 

The backdrop of Fratelli Tutti

Pope Francis signed this encyclical letter in Assisi (Italy) on the feast day of St. Francis, October 4, 2020. British Catholic theologian Christopher Lamb connects this letter’s theme to the pope’s namesake, St. Francis, who in 1219 “crossed the battle lines of the Crusades to meet the Sultan of Egypt in a bid to end the conflict.” This crossing of human borders for the sake of peace dovetails nicely with the Parable of the Good Samaritan which the pope leverages in this letter to exhort people everywhere to nurture a culture of dialogue, kindness and love, so that those suffering the most find help and comfort.

A Latina theologian teaching at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago noticed another element to this letter’s backdrop. Pope Francis’ ancestors emigrated to Argentina from northern Italy. There’s an Italian connection. First, note that the title (“All Brothers”) comes from a Latin text, the Admonitions of St. Francis to his fellow friars. Changing the Latin omnes fratres into the Italian fratelli tutti is a nod to the saint and to his country of origin. Second, Professor Nanko-Fernándes points to a nineteenth-century event which nicely ties the Parable of the Good Samaritan to the action of the women of Solferino in northern Italy:

 

“In 1859, the carnage of war devastated the northern Italian landscape and overwhelmed the town of Castiglione delle Stiviere with thousands of casualties from the battle of Solferino and San Martino. Churches literally became field hospitals, sheltering enemies who were made vulnerable neighbors because of the suffering and space they shared. Ordinary townsfolk, many of them women and girls, cared for the wounded and offered a comforting presence for the dying. A monument near the cathedral now commemorates the sacrifice of these heroic women.”

 

There is yet another layer to this story. A Swiss Calvinist, Henri Dunant, happened to be in Castiglione at the time. He witnessed the selfless and compassionate work these women did, which he later documented in a book, A Memory of Solferino. Dunant wrote of “injured, mutilated, and dying soldiers from all sides, some from across the Italian peninsula as well as troops who were French, German, Austrian, Arabs, Slavs, Bohemians, Croatians, Hungarians, and Africans from lands colonized by Europeans.” Yet these women cared for all of them, because they “recognized that regardless of uniform, race, or nation, these were ‘all brothers’.”

This in itself might have nudged the pope to keep the title in Italian, but there is more. This experience led Henri Dunant and several colleagues in Geneva to found the International Red Cross (1863) and Red Crescent (1869). Among its “fundamental principles,” we read, “The Red Cross … endeavors … to alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found … to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being. It promotes human understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all peoples.” The influence of St. Francis is unmistakable (see my two-part piece on him).

 

The Good Samaritan Parable for our times

I easily picture this parable in my mind – at least the physical landscape. We used to live on the road to Jericho behind the Mount of Olives at the entrance of what was Bethany in Jesus’ day. Jerusalem is about 2,800 feet above sea level. Jericho and the Dead Sea, about 17 miles down the road, are over 1,300 feet below sea level and the road is pretty much desert a few miles from the top. In those days, it was notorious for its lawlessness and danger. Jesus’ hearers could instantly imagine someone badly beaten, almost naked, left to die by the roadside.

A Jewish priest, and then a Levite who likely was coming home after serving his Temple shift, both crossed the road to avoid the injured man. Finally, a Samaritan man came along (from a group the Jews famously despised at the time), looked at him with compassion, treated his wounds, put him on his donkey and took him to an inn. He took care of him that night and the next day, then gave money to the innkeeper as he left to make sure he got better. Jesus asked his listeners, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” (Luke 10:36). The man who had asked, “Who is my neighbor?” answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” “Go and do likewise,” replied Jesus.

Such a story is all the more poignant in our global village today. We are either the Samaritan or the passers-by. Yet our call is to be a neighbor, better yet, a brother or sister to the needy. Pope Francis puts it this way:

 

“The parable … speaks to us of an essential and often forgotten aspect of our common humanity: we were created for a fulfilment that can only be found in love. We cannot be indifferent to suffering; we cannot allow anyone to go through life as an outcast. Instead, we should feel indignant, challenged to emerge from our comfortable isolation and to be changed by our contact with human suffering. That is the meaning of dignity” (18).

 

We know the robbers, he writes. “We have seen, descending on our world, the dark shadows of neglect and violence in the service of petty interests of power, gain and division. The real question is this: will we abandon the injured man and run to take refuge from the violence, or will we pursue the thieves? Will the wounded man end up being the justification for our irreconcilable divisions, our cruel indifference, our intestine conflicts?” (18). Here the Pope, as elsewhere, calls us to work as individuals to alleviate suffering and need, and calls on us as citizens to ensure that our governments are responsive to social justice. The divisions he talks about, we too are responsible for them. Christians are called to see Christ in the hurting, the broken, naked and hungry. His infinite love “confers infinite dignity” upon all people everywhere. We cannot be passers-by. We must roll up our sleeves and help the suffering in any way we can.

 

A political message, but beyond ideology

In essence, Pope Francis is urging us to believe that a better world is possible and that each of us can help make it that way. We need to be building societies of dialogue and friendship. Dialogue is “approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground” (50). Unfortunately, and particularly in the last decade, people have increasingly retreated to their favorite social media platforms where rather than engage in open debate they fall into “parallel monologues” that are often manipulated by powerful interest groups. This dynamic has given way to shameless aggression and the proliferation of ideologies, he laments. He adds this,

 

“Social aggression has found unparalleled room for expansion through computers and mobile devices. This has now given free rein to ideologies. Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures … How can this contribute to the fraternity that our common Father asks of us?” (12).

 

Notice the phrase, “even by some political figures.” Writing as he does in 2020, we might guess to whom he might be referring: “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others.” Another Catholic commentator, Christine Allen, argues that Fratelli Tutti is “intensely political.” Yet this first encyclical to comment on our use of social media, and its emphasis on the plight of migrants and our treatment of immigrants is not ideological. Allen rather sees this document as “a radical blueprint for a post-coronavirus world.” She explains:

 

“The Pope urges us to follow the example of the Good Samaritan, to become a neighbour to those who are despised and excluded, particularly migrants and refugees. He agrees that it is challenging, not just for politicians, but for society. How can we discover the joy of a culture of encounter? Can we see the other as a gift instead of a threat? How can we love the local, our neighbourhood, our country, without closing it off to other people?"

 

Christopher Lamb best states the Pope’s distaste for ideology in the form of a prayer attributed to St. Francis:

 

“Where there is populism, Pope Francis focuses on people; where there is nationalism, he calls for reform of the United Nations; where there is individualism, he pushes for solidarity; where there is digital trolling, he asks for kindness; where there is inequality, he urges fairer distribution; when politicians hate, he recommends dialogue; when there is ideology, he calls for genuine faith.”

 

Solidarity tied to justice and love

In my last post on why Christians should support Fair Trade, I wrote that justice and love were both sides of the same coin in the currency of God’s kingdom: “Justice is when each person is treated according to his/her rights as a person created in God’s image and dearly loved by him. Love is doing everything I can to make sure everyone can flourish, especially the weak, the poor, the disabled.” In going over my notes on Fratelli Tutti, I was struck again that Pope Francis also believes this, though without using those terms exactly.

 

“Every human being has the right to live with dignity and to develop integrally; this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country” (27).

 

This has profound political implications. Some argue that an unfettered market will cause all boats to rise (everyone will benefit), in which case it makes no sense to invest in those who are slower or less talented than others, or even just disabled, because you would lose money. Wrong, he exclaims! “What we need in fact are states and civil institutions that are present and active, that look beyond the free and efficient working of certain economic, political or ideological systems, and are primarily concerned with individuals and the common good” (27). He continues,

 

“A truly human and fraternal society will be capable of ensuring in an efficient and stable way that each of its members is accompanied at every stage of life. Not only by providing for their basic needs, but by enabling them to give the best of themselves, even though their performance may be less than optimum, their pace slow or their efficiency limited” (28).

 

That said, the language of rights has to come under the umbrella of the common good. This is an important caveat: “Unless the rights of each individual are harmoniously ordered to the greater good, those rights will end up being considered limitless and consequently will become a source of conflicts and violence.” That’s another reason to pair up justice and love. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. put it, the goal is always the “beloved community.”

 

The importance of Christian-Muslim dialogue

Since the theme of this encyclical is to build a world of “human fraternity” and a culture of dialogue and kindness, it's no surprise that he refers three times to the Abu Dhabi “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” which he co-wrote with Grand Imam Ahmad al-Tayyeb of Egypt (February 4, 2019, see Mohamed ‘Arafa’s excellent commentary on this from a Muslim perspective). The first instance has to do with people from different cultures listening to and learning from one another. Quoting from the document: “good relations between East and West are indisputably necessary for both.” And then this lengthier passage:

 

“It is important to pay attention to religious, cultural and historical differences that are a vital component in shaping the character, culture and civilization of the East. It is likewise important to reinforce the bond of fundamental human rights in order to help ensure a dignified life for all the men and women of East and West, avoiding the politics of double standards” (34).

 

The second passage highlights how people of different faiths can join to help solve some of the world’s most intractable problems, including terrorism: we must call upon “the architects of international policy and world economy to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood” (48; again on p. 71).

Finally, at the end of encyclical, he offers the “Appeal” from the joint document – eleven two or three-liner statements starting with “In the name of …” I offer here numbers one, six, seven, ten and eleven:

 

“In the name of God, who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and

who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace; . . .

In the name of human fraternity, that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;

In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of

unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women; . . .

In the name of all persons of goodwill present in every part of the world;

In the name of God and of everything stated thus far, [we] declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”

 

The terms “human fraternity” and later, “fraternity,” were in bold print in the encyclical – after all, it was in the title (“All Brothers”). Yet it’s significant that this appeal in eleven points had been jointly issued by a Christian and a Muslim leader. The leader of al-Azhar University in Cairo is de facto Egypt’s top Muslim leader. That university, arguably the oldest in the world (970), has been always been considered the most prestigious center of Islamic learning for Sunnis (about 85 percent of Muslims). Pope Francis, perhaps harkening to the groundbreaking Common Word letter of 2007, was calling attention to an important symbol. With Christians and Muslims forming over half of humanity, “[w]ithout peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world.” It then adds, “The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.”

Even the Pope’s conclusion is a nod to Christian-Muslim understanding. Leading up to it, he offers this thought, perhaps setting him off as the most ecumenical of popes: “In these pages of reflection on universal fraternity, I felt inspired particularly by Saint Francis of Assisi, but also by others of our brothers and sisters who are not Catholics: Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, Mahatma Gandhi and many more.” Then this: “Yet I would like to conclude by mentioning another person of deep faith who, drawing upon his intense experience of God, made a journey of transformation towards feeling a brother to all. I am speaking of Blessed Charles de Foucauld.”

That name wistfully sends me back to my nine years in Algeria and my friendship with several Little Brothers of Jesus and Little Sisters of Jesus, two Catholic religious congregations among a dozen others inspired by Charles de Foucauld. Born in 1858 into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, he became an officer in the French cavalry, then a geographer who explored Morocco and wrote an award-winning book documenting it. He then joined the Catholic Cistercian Trappist order and lived for a while in Syria but later left the order to become a hermit seeking to live his ideal of poverty and love of others, first in Palestine and then for the remainder of his life in the Algeria Sahara. His last ten years were spent living among the nomadic Tuareg people in southern Algeria. He learned their language, identified with their Muslim faith and wrote a Tuareg-French dictionary esteemed to this day. He was “martyred” in 1916 in a tribal raid.

Pope Francis lifts up Foucauld’s quest to be “a brother to every human being” as a dream we should all ask God to fulfill in us. That dream also leads us to the injured man on the side of the Jericho road: “Yet only by identifying with the least did he come at last to be the brother of all.”

May we all aspire to live out this ideal in our lives, and as we do so more and more, we will find God – I will say Jesus – in the stranger, the immigrant, the poor and suffering, and we’ll sense God’s love drawing us closer to himself.

Two nights ago I gave a very short presentation on this topic as part of an hour webinar sponsored by our Fair Trade committee in America’s First Fair Trade Town, Media, Pennsylvania.

Let me unpack that statement. Bruce Crowther, a British veterinarian and practicing Quaker, was leading a chapter of Oxfam (an anti-poverty, pro-justice NGO founded in Britain in 1942) in his small town of Garstang, Lancashire. He had begun to focus on the issue of fair trading for local farmers but also for coffee, vanilla, sugar and tea farmers worldwide. He managed to convince most of his town’s businesses to buy and sell “Fair Trade” products whenever possible, and in 2000, Garstang declared itself the world’s “first Fair Trade Town.” That was the beginning of the Fair Trade Towns Campaigns.

Meanwhile in Media, Hal Taussig had founded a travel company (Untours) centered on the idea of building relationships between people across borders and had himself travelled several times to Mexico to find ways to improve the livelihoods of coffee growers there. He and Bruce Crowthers got in touch, and in 2006, Media’s Borough Council declared Media “America’s First Fair Trade Town.” I joined the FT committee in 2008, was off of it for 6 or 7 years, but rejoined it in 2020.

By the way, Media and Garstang have become twin towns on this basis and they have adopted New Koforidua, Ghana, as a sister Fair Trade town. This is where Bruce Crowthers and others lended support to the first cooperative of cocoa farmers (many of them women) that used fair trade principles to grow their business. Founded in 1993, it wasn’t until 2008 that these several hundred farmers were able to turn a profit and use their Fair Trade premium to build a school and other amenities for their community (see this short video documenting the completion of their school; and here for a fascinating history of their Divine Chocolate brand).

Furthermore, these three sister towns intentionally form the Fair Trade Triangle, replacing the nefarious transatlantic slavery triangle from the 16th to the 19th centuries for a new model of trade built on mutual flourishing.

Back to the webinar two days ago. Our Media Fair Trade committee, among other projects, had set its sights on increasing the number of Media congregations declaring themselves “Fair Trade congregations.” So far, no one followed the Reformation Lutheran Church which did so in 2015. The other reason, of course, was to disseminate more information about Fair Trade. Our webinar theme was the title of this post and my presentation was followed by a 10-minute presentation on fair trade by another committee member, Barbara Bole, who recently got her PhD in public policy with a dissertation on Fair Trade Towns. A discussion followed.

Below is an expansion of my Powerpoint presentation for the webinar.

 

A Christian is someone who follows Jesus, the bearer of Good News

For three years, Jesus preached his Good News (or “gospel”) to all who would listen, but mostly in the hills around Lake Tiberias (of the “Sea of Galilee”). These were mostly poor rural folk, many of them poor day laborers or small farmers. The expression that comes up again and again when you read the gospels is “follow me.” For his twelve disciples, this meant literally eating, sleeping, and traveling with him on his mission. There were at least 70 others, and probably many more who were sent on a mission to heal the sick and preach the “good news of the kingdom.” But this also includes all who came under his teaching. He called everyone to follow his teaching and his example, as Jews who had finally met the Messiah (though Jesus did not fit the traditional expectation of the Messiah, but that’s another topic).

 

The Good News can be summarized like a symphony in three movements, or a story with three chapters

  • The Garden of Eden: the close and intimate relationship God has with Adam and Eve is broken by their rebellion, and they are chased from the garden, as sin, suffering, war, and death enter the world.
  • The cross and resurrection: the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Christ’s work of redemption brings forgiveness, new birth (receiving this new nature as a gift we are “adopted” into God’s family); and one day, all of nature will be renewed. Again Paul: “But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (Romans 8:20).
  • The New Heavens and the New Earth: the Apostle John in exile near the end of his life is given a vision of what happens when Jesus returns: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared … And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband … I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory” (Revelation 21).

 

The heart of Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God had come into the world in his person. Some of the signs of this kingdom: the lame walk, the blind see, lepers are healed and even some dead come back to life. The disciples also foreshadowed a city reconciled and healed from within: a nationalist zealot ready to kill Romans, a tax collector collaborating with the occupiers, fishermen and other working class men. But Jesus made it clear that God’s rule on earth would not come fully until he came back again and had defeated Satan, sin and death -- completely and finally.

Notice too that Act I takes place in a garden. God, humanity, and nature are all one, until sin turns all that upside down. But that’s also when God’s plan of redemption and salvation is put into motion. Notice too that it’s a holistic salvation: individuals are transformed and healed from within, but so are families, neighborhoods, and whole cities. In fact, the story that starts in a garden ends in a city (Act III), where all the nations are gathered, and not only live harmoniously, but each “king” or “nation” or ethnic group brings “their glory and honor into the city.” This means that all their cultural achievements and unique gifts are made available to all. We can only dream of such harmonious multiculturalism today!

John’s vision of this new earthly city (it came down from heaven, so it’s on the new earth!) means one simple thing:

It’s the city where all may flourish!

 

All of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in two pairs:

  • The Law of Moses and the message of the prophets, declares Jesus, boil down to two commandments: a) love God with all your heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4); and b) love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
  • Drawing from my recent book, I can add that the two central values of the city where God dwells are justice and love – really two sides to the same coin, and it is the currency of this city to come. Justice is when each person is treated according to his/her rights as a person created in God’s image and dearly loved by him. Love is doing everything I can to make sure everyone can flourish, especially the weak, the poor, and disabled.

 

Put love and justice together and you understand that a society where God has his way is one in which all can flourish. Leaders enact laws that reduce inequality as much as possible, level the playing field for those who are disadvantaged, and foster both equality (all equal before the law) and equity (the justice system works fairly for all).

There are potentially hundreds of verses in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible for our Jewish brethren). This one summarizes nicely the idea of equity and equality, and for that purpose, God’s special concern for the poor, the vulnerable and disenfranchised (as Jesus says, “the least of these”):

 

What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
    and those who issue unfair laws.
They deprive the poor of justice
    and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
    and take advantage of orphans.

(Isaiah 10:1-2)

 

I mentioned earlier the bonding of the three sister towns – in Ghana, Britain, and the US. This is the “Fair Trade Triangle,” as we put it. But 18th-century abolitionists were already working on this idea. The British parliamentarian William Wilberforce, a devout Christian mentored by ex-slave trader John Newton (author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”; see the film by that name) banked his whole career on abolishing the slave trade. With a growing coalition of civil society people he began his bid to outlaw this evil trade in 1787 and the abolition bill finally passed in 1807, but slavery itself was still practiced within the British Empire. Wilberforce retired from the House of Commons in 1825 but three days before he died in 1833 he was finally vindicated : the Slavery Abolition Act was passed!

One of the tools his friends used to chip away at the slave trade was the sugar boycott. Sugar, like coffee, cotton and tobacco was produced by slave labor. A pamphlet from 1791 (written by William Fox, not a Quaker) calling people to boycott sugar to end slavery took England by storm and became the most successful pamphlet of that century. As you see, leveraging trade to end human rights abuses and fairly compensate producers is not a new concept.

The picture you see above of a child in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) straining under the weight of a bag of cocoa pods raises the issue of children’s rights. Child labor, some forms of which might arguably rise to the level of slavery, is ubiquitous in the agricultural sector in many parts of the world. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drawn up in 2015 and aiming for 2030, for the first time explicitly seek to end all forms of child labor by 2025.

The matter is particularly urgent for Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire which produce 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, as this Fair Trade article makes clear. Sadly, the US Supreme Court ruled this month in favor of Nestle in the case Nestle v. Doe (six men who had been trafficked as children from Mali to Côte d’Ivoire to work on chocolate farms), but it did raise awareness of this longstanding injustice. This is not my topic here, but surely as you can see from these articles, consumers of chocolate worldwide have an important role to play in this. Fair Trade can and does make a big difference, particularly as more and more people become conscious and intentional consumers.

If we want to follow Jesus, Fair Trade is something we should definitely embrace.*

 

* There is no mosque or synagogue in Media, a county seat of 5,000 people. Otherwise, I could easily have shown how compelling Fair Trade should be for a Muslim or Jew. In fact, we need to get some of those congregations in our wider area involved in the ongoing Fair Trade campaigns.

Published in Resources

The Christian Muslim Forum in London ...

  • tackles the tough issues which divide our communities
  • challenges anti-Muslim and anti-Christian hostility
  • supports local church-mosque twinning and friendship

Established in 2006 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Christian Muslim Forum brings together Muslims and Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions to work together for the common good (see more details here).

In March 2021, I was asked to make a half-hour presentation to the CMF's core group, based on my book, Muslims and Christians Debate Justice and Love. Here is the second (mostly different) presentation to some of the church-mosque leaders in their twinning program on June 2, 2021. In both cases I was seeking to present the material in the book in a way that would deepen Christian Muslim engagement in today's society. This time, part of the backdrop was the 11 days of fighting between Hamas and Israel in May 2021. What struck me was the confluence of issues in the protests that followed: Palestinian rights, racism and colonialism at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the fact that those factors are also behind much of the Islamophobia that Muslims experience in the West.