On Monday February 15th 2021, we were honored to have Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald come speak to the current Russell Berrie Fellows as well as JPII Leaders from around the world about Pope Francis’s most recent Encyclical Fratelli Tutti (FT). Cardinal Fitzgerald guided Fellows’ reading of this text in the light of many decades of reflection and statements of the Magisterium with regard to Interreligious Dialogue. Cardinal Fitzgerald is a trusted expert in the subject of interreligious engagement; he planted and nurtured the seeds of interreligious dialogue in the Catholic Church when he served as the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (1987-2002) and then as its President (2002-2006). From 2006 to 2012 he was then Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt.
Pope Francis’ latest Encyclical was released in October 2020 and explores issues of human fraternity and social friendship. Cardinal Fitzgerald offered a meticulous and informed analysis of FT that locates the text in relationship to significant statements of the Church, and its relationship to the non-magisterial documents including the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi on February 4th 2019.
A unique feature of FT is the many references are taken from Apostolic exhortations from Bishops conferences from around the world, not just Europe and North America. Citations include synods in Australia, Columbia, Congo, Croatia, France, India, Korea, Mexico, USA, Portugal, South Africa, and the Conference of Bishops of Latin America. Current Russell Berrie Fellow Fr. Emmanuel from Nigeria felt that this made the document very successful on a practical level, realizing the spirit of Fratelli Tutti, because referencing synods from around the world recognized and credited the knowledge present everywhere in the Church.
FT expresses a bold vision of a world based on human solidarity, but it is an ideal yet to be realized. Cardinal Fitzgerald brought up many questions that arose in reading this document; the need for clarification of definitions of brotherhood, tolerance, citizenship, equality, and peace. Once these definitions are solidified, how are we to practically execute these ideas in the world we live in today? How do we love the stranger? Much discernment is still to be done around the application of this document and the Pope has established a Committee to explore these issues further (the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity).
Implementation of these lofty concepts can be daunting but Cardinal Fitzgerald called us each to start in small simple ways; educate ourselves, be brotherly or sisterly to the people around us, become artisans of peace and reconciliation at our local level, and nurture a climate of understanding that will help create a better world. Cardinal Fitzgerald reminds us that “The idea of fraternity in this joint document is not based on religious belonging but rather on belief in God who has created all human beings. The belonging is therefore not to one particular religion but to the human family.”
We are very grateful to Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald for sharing his wisdom with the JPII Center Family around the world.