Fratelli tutti – the space between

Creating enduring unity among people is an on-going task. Zimbabweans were united in their desire to create a new country after the collapse of the Rhodesian project but no sooner had they done so than fissures began at appear.  The new government’s reaction was to use force to preserve a unity more on paper than real.

This is nothing new. Shaka welded his people into a strong Zulu nation in the early nineteenth century but it soon exploded and groups broke off to move west and north to found new nations, most notably for us in Matabeleland. And in the twentieth century the European Union, so painstakingly negotiated by 27 nations, is now weakened by the defection of the British. ‘The centre does not hold…’

Brexit is only one instance of a movement where people, dissatisfied with the broken promises of liberal capitalism, are listening to politicians who say nations should look after their own people and forget about the rest. This is what brought Trump to power and it still a strong feeling as Americans approach a new election.

Covid 19 has taught us this does not work. Selfishness on any scale, be it local or national, does not work. This week Pope Francis has issued his letter, Fratelli Tutti, at Assisi in Italy, the home of St Francis, reminding us we are all brothers and sisters and should think of ourselves as one family living in one common home. There is nothing wrong in local pride and culture but we are called go beyond these to have a universal heart. St Francis was the son of a merchant content with a world divided between rich and poor – he being one of the rich. But Francis, the pope reminds us, stripped himself of all his possessions, even the clothes he wore, in a sign of his openness to all, especially the poor.

Many are discouraged and confused today about the way our world is going. The editor of this paper has just become a grandfather again and the question arises what kind of world will this new person inherit? Since the Second World War huge aspirations have found expression in establishing the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme and so forth. But it is to the space between ideals and action that the pope addresses his words. What happens, Francis asks, when we see a man by the side of the road robbed and beaten and left half dead? We know what the good Samaritan did. What is preventing us from doing likewise? Why do we turn aside like the priest and Levite?

Climate change affects everybody. Covid 19 affects everybody. And so do many other things. Can we learn from these to create a society marked by compassion rather than competition, by opening our heart to our brothers and sisters, fratelli tutti? Obama would say, ‘Yes, we can’. But can we?

11 Oct 2020                   Sunday 28 A        Is 25:6-10   Phil 4:6-9    Mt 22:1-14

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