John Dunlop and Callum Timms
Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti is a timely contribution to the authentic social magisterium of the Catholic Church. It is as “a diagnosis for our social ills, which have been complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Dulle, 2020). Fr Augusto Zampini, whose work on the Vatican’s Covid-19 Commission contributed to the Holy Father’s thinking, revealed something of its thought process in a recent conversation, explaining that the Holy Father’s challenge to the task force was to “prepare the future” (Jesuits in Britain, 2020). Thus, he embraced the call of Pope Paul VI to “become the artisans of [our] destiny” (PP, #65).
The Principle of Solidarity
At the core of Pope Francis’ vision for healing a fractured world are fraternal charity and love. He notes the need for opportunities to fully participate in society, stating that “Education serves these by making it possible for each human being to shape his or her own future. Here too we see the importance of the principle of subsidiarity, which is inseparable from the principle of solidarity” (FT, #187). Subsidiarity is important in an educational setting. It is underpinned by the right of children and young people to be involved in decisions affecting them (United Nations, 1989) and is evident in Scottish Government guidance which examines the role of young people as leaders of learning (Scottish Government, 2020).
In Fratelli Tutti, the role of teachers in realising this vision of solidarity is noted:
“Teachers, who have the challenging task of training children and youth in schools or other settings, should be conscious that their responsibility extends also to the moral, spiritual and social aspects of life. The values of freedom, mutual respect and solidarity can be handed on from a tender age…” (FT, #114).
Catholic schools must see beyond the academic aims of education by nurturing the moral, spiritual and social formation of young people entrusted to our care. Referencing solidarity, the Holy Father devotes an entire chapter of his encyclical to the parable of the Good Samaritan. This parable, Pope Francis notes, “compels us to recognize [sic] Christ himself in each of our abandoned or excluded brothers and sisters” (FT, #85) and thus calls us to the service of the common good.
The Common Good
Pope Francis’ vision of ministering to the marginalised can be seen in practice in many Catholic schools, not least those serving our most deprived communities. In a recent conversation with a Vicar Episcopal of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, he noted the presence of essential supplies at a local school’s door for families who feel unable to access a food-bank, showing how schools serve as places of social care. This principle is at the heart of the Pontiff’s vision, evident in his exegesis of the Good Samaritan.
Pope Francis notes there must be a place for education as we shape the future:“Cultural, economic and political integration with neighbouring peoples should therefore be accompanied by a process of education that promotes the value of love for one’s neighbour, the first indispensable step towards attaining a healthy universal integration” (FT, #151).
Education for fraternal charity and love must manifest itself in tangible efforts to support and encounter sisters and brothers across the world, especially those who are marginalised and excluded. The Holy Father challenges us not to ignore the “pandemics of inequality and xenophobia” arising from a globalised individualism (Dulle, 2020). The solution may lie in a renewal of encounter.
A Renewal of Encounter
In Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis calls for a renewal of encounter. ‘Encounter’ has been a prominent theme throughout Francis’ papacy. For Catholic educators, the implications of this renewal are clear:
‘Let us arm our children with the weapons of dialogue! Let us teach them to fight the good fight of the culture of encounter!’ (FT, #217)
In this time of crises – socioeconomic, health and social isolation – we should discern how a platform for our pupils to have these encounters can be created. Pope Francis affirms this is possible through dialogue:
‘Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word “dialogue”. If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue. (FT, #198)
Pope Francis recognises dialogue is essential for a pluralistic society (FT, #211). Our Scottish Catholic schools are sites of pluralism, enriched by staff and pupils from various corners of the world, of different faith commitments and across different generations of age and experience. Catholic educators should contemplate how we can offer authentic and purposeful opportunities for discussions and debates for young people in our care. These experiences can support pupils on their spiritual and personal journeys – their ‘search for meaning’ (SCES, This is Our Faith, 2011) This is crucial during this period of exiting isolation and returning to school. The majority of our pupils have spent the first part of this year undertaking their education at home, away from their peers and teachers, connected albeit through digital screens and technology. This renewed encounter should be a priority for Catholic schools, so that we can rediscover the humanity of one another. This can be helpfully summarised through Pope Francis’ own words:
‘No one can face life in isolation… We need a community that supports and helps us, in which we can help one another to keep looking ahead.’ (FT, #8)
Concluding Remarks and Recommendations
Pope Francis’ latest encyclical is a relevant and helpful tool for Catholic educators in Scotland. To recognise where we can implement the Holy Father’s aspirations, ideas and hopes to our pedagogy and practice, we could consider the following questions:
What opportunities do we provide for our young people to engage in acts of solidarity with those in need- in the local or global area? Such solidarity can help to build bridges in a testing time for many people in our society.
How do we give our pupils experiences to encounter those of other cultures, backgrounds, faiths or generations? We can consider how the dialogue we plan for and facilitate enriches our pupils’ understanding of their own identity.
How could we use the ideas of Pope Francis in our daily teaching practice? Perhaps we could implement the social concepts from Fratelli Tutti to form the basis of a practitioner enquiry.
John Dunlop and Callum Timms are teachers of Religious Education at Our Lady’s High School in Cumbernauld and St Augustine’s RC High School in Edinburgh respectively. They are graduates of the University of Glasgow’s MA(Hons) Religious and Philosophical Education with Secondary Teaching degree programme. Both are prospective MPhil students at the School of Education, intending to embark on this course of study later this year.