Fratelli Tutti and the Plight of the Displaced

The latest encyclical of Pope Francis calls for a more just, more human, and more fraternal world based on love and mutual enrichment rather than suspicion and cold indifference, says Cardinal Michael Czerny in the following article. Taking up this call is not optional, for only a culture that gratuitously welcomes others has a future.

Fratelli Tutti and the Plight of the Displaced 2
Pope Francis reminds us that Christ’s call to love our neighbour includes immigrants. Fratelli Tutti suggests several concrete ways to do so, including individual and community sponsorship of refugees. Photo: Syrian refugee Zuheir Fakhir (left) meets his new neighbour, Dr Nazih Heldi and his grandson Mysaa, at an event to welcome Fakhir’s family to Dunshaughlin, Ireland. Fakhir’s family were among the first to benefit from Ireland’s new community sponsorship programme for refugees. © UNHCR/Seamus Farrelly

Pope Francis’s new encyclical, Fratelli tutti, speaks directly to the “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of migrants, refugees, and indeed all displaced and marginalized people. At its core, it is a call for greater fraternity and social friendship between all peoples and nations. The Holy Father is asking for “fraternal openness that allows us to acknowledge, appreciate and love each person, regardless of physical proximity, regardless of where he or she was born or lives.”[1] Instead of overheated self-centeredness – whether individual or group or societal –, an attitude of love and openness needs to prevail over the narrow ideologies of nationalism and individualism, which add up to “cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”[2]

This of course has clear implications for how we treat asylum-seekers, refugees, the internally displaced and vulnerable migrants. We are called to love our neighbor, say Jesus and Pope Francis, but “complex challenges arise when our neighbor happens to be an immigrant.”[3]

The starting point is to recognize the “right not to emigrate, that is, to remain in one’s homeland.”[4] All people have the right to a dignified life and integral development in their own home and native land. This entails the whole world’s responsibility to assist poorer homelands to flourish. The investments they need are not only in sustainable economic development but also and essentially in combating poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation, and climate change.

Yet, poverty and hunger remain rampant; hunger is a particular scandal – as Pope Francis says, “world politics needs to make the effective elimination of hunger one of its foremost and imperative goals.”[5] At the same time, our common home is crying out from the pain we inflict on the environment, both natural and social. As Fratelli tutti notes, the displaced are often fleeing war, persecution, and natural catastrophes – often connected to environmental and social disasters. “Every war leaves our world worse than it was before,” Pope Francis denounces. “War is a failure of politics and of humanity, a shameful capitulation, a stinging defeat before the forces of evil.”[6]

Because of these grave challenges, Fratelli tutti insists that “we are obliged to respect the right of all individuals to find a place that meets their basic needs and those of their families, and where they can find personal fulfillment.”[7] And the appropriate moral response to all those forced to flee can be summed up in four active verbs: to welcome, to protect, to promote, and to integrate.

Yet there are so many obstacles placed in the paths of migrants and refugees. As Fratelli tutti stresses, nationalist and populist regimes, crouching down behind defensive walls, seek to keep migrants out. Too often, we witness a xenophobic mentality whereby migrants “are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person.”[8] This mentality, Pope Francis stresses, is simply not compatible with Christianity, “since it sets certain political preferences above deep convictions of our faith: the inalienable dignity of each human person regardless of origin, race or religion, and the supreme law of fraternal love.”[9]

Welcoming the Stranger in a Spirit of Gratuitousness and Generosity

There are many concrete ways to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate those who have fled from humanitarian crises and become our new neighbors. Fratelli tutti lists some very practical and effective measures: “increasing and simplifying the granting of visas; adopting programs of individual and community sponsorship; opening humanitarian corridors for the most vulnerable refugees; providing suitable and dignified housing; guaranteeing personal security and access to basic services; ensuring adequate consular assistance and the right to retain personal identity documents; equitable access to the justice system; the possibility of opening bank accounts and the guarantee of the minimum needed to survive; freedom of movement and the possibility of employment; protecting minors and ensuring their regular access to education; providing for programs of temporary guardianship or shelter; guaranteeing religious freedom; promoting integration into society; supporting the reuniting of families; and preparing local communities for the process of integration.”[10]

All these worthwhile actions need to fit into a larger picture, and Fratelli tutti is clear that individual states acting alone cannot implement adequate solutions. What is needed is a concerted effort at the global level such as the 2018 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration – “a common effort to develop a form of global governance with regard to movements of migration.”[11] Short-term emergency responses are necessary but not enough. Longer-term planning and cooperation are needed to both assist migrants as they seek to integrate and to promote the sustainable development of their countries of origin.

Going even deeper, Pope Francis argues that an encounter between different cultures brought about by migration can lead to mutually enriching “reciprocal gifts,” as he puts it.[12] “Indeed,” he says, “when we open our hearts to those who are different, this enables them, while continuing to be themselves, to develop in new ways” – especially important given that “the different cultures that have flourished over the centuries need to be preserved, lest our world be impoverished.”[13] As concrete examples, he mentions the cultural enrichment brought about by Latino migration to the United States and by Italian migration to his homeland of Argentina. He also stresses that countries can learn from each other through encounter, thus contributing to a less materialistic, more equitable and more peaceful world. All in all, he notes, “mutual assistance between countries proves enriching for each,”[14] and this enrichment needs to be magnified in an age of globalization.

But this mutuality of benefits is not the whole or even the main story. We must also strive to be open to others in a spirit of gratuitousness and generosity, which Pope Francis defines as “the ability to do some things simply because they are good in themselves, without concern for personal gain or recompense.”[15] In the words of St Ignatius Loyola, “To give and not to count the cost.” This principle of gratuitousness, the Holy Father says, “makes it possible for us to welcome the stranger, even though this brings us no immediate tangible benefit.”[16] When gratuitousness is lacking, immigrants are seen as “usurpers who have nothing to offer.”[17] In this sense, “narrow forms of nationalism are an extreme expression of an inability to grasp the meaning of this gratuitousness. They err in thinking that they can develop on their own, heedless of the ruin of others, that by closing their doors to others they will be better protected.”[18] Yet this is ultimately self-defeating. As Fratelli tutti argues, only a culture that gratuitously welcomes others has a future.

This is our future and must be shared with those in need, including migrants and refugees. Let us take up Pope Francis’ call for a more just, more human, and more fraternal world based on love and mutual enrichment rather than suspicion and cold indifference. From one of the two prayers with which Fratelli tutti concludes:

May our hearts be open

to all the peoples and nations of the earth.

May we recognize the goodness and beauty

that you have sown in each of us,

and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,

and shared dreams. Amen.[19]


Cardinal Michael Czerny S.J.

* Cardinal Michael Czerny S.J. is Under-Secretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.

[1] FT 1. [2] FT 30. [3] FT 129. [4] FT 38. [5] FT 189. [6] FT 261 [7] FT 129. [8] FT 39. [9] FT 39. [10] FT 130. [11] FT 132. [12] FT 133. [13] FT 134. [14] FT 137. [15] FT 139. [16] FT 139. [17] FT 141. [18] FT 141. [19] FT 287.

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