14 October 2020, The Tablet

Silent witnesses

Women and Fratelli Tutti


At a time of increasing fractiousness, Fratelli Tutti is a powerful reimagining of the human predicament as a shared opportunity for mutual enrichment, in which the gifts and needs of the other are respected and honoured. Yet the experiences of women are neglected, their voices unheard

The day Fratelli Tutti came out I was between three crises. Two of the guests at the east London soup kitchen and drop-in centre where I volunteer had been evicted from their temporary accommodation. Neither had any recourse to state support; our emergency tent was already loaned out, and one man’s meagre possessions, dumped on the pavement by his landlord, were disintegrating in the same rainstorm that was hampering my attempts to cycle between drop-offs with a leaking pannier full of hot meals and sliced bread.

So it took me until the evening to sit down with the lengthy document, a call to universal solidarity that – as I’d hoped – gave spiritual impetus to our efforts. It explained why our volunteers spend Sundays stirring vats of rice, waiting in gridlocked traffic to deliver a family’s food for a week, why I sat against the radiator while I read Fratelli Tutti with rain dripping from my hair on to its pages. My first reaction, as a newswoman, was that Pope Francis could do with an editor. After two further read-throughs, I feel differently.

To come alongside the Pope when he says there is no such thing as just war, or an overriding right to private property, or that “each country also belongs to the foreigner, inasmuch as [its] goods must not be denied to a needy person coming from elsewhere”, you have to try to inhabit the prophetic thoughtscape he sketches at first. One where your neighbour is no longer defined by geography or biology, but by need. Once inside, concepts such as “self-defence” or nuclear deterrence stop making sense: what, after all, qualifies as “self” in the Kingdom of God?

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