Fratelli Tutti: “And Who Is My Neighbor?”

We’re working through Pope Francis’ encyclical On Fraternity and Social Friendship (or “Fratelli Tutti). Let’s look at Chapter 2 entitled “A Stranger on the Road.”

The Holy Father Frances opens the chapter with a quote from the Vatican II document The Church in the Modern World (In Latin “Gaudium et Spes”). The Pope begins by looking at one phrase from the Gospels. A man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Francis then quotes a musical analogy from Saint Irenaeus. “One should not concentrate on the differences between one note and another. It is not as if each was created separately and apart from the others. Instead, one should realize that one and the same person composed the entire melody.”

Pope Francis looks at the Old Testament and Jewish tradition. Specifically, he looks at Leviticus 19:18. This passage admonishes us to: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” First, this involves loving people close to you. Francis then quotes an early Jewish rabbi theologian named Rabbi Hillel. Rabbi Hillel expounds on the Jews as the “chosen people of God.” They were chosen to be a light to other nations. The Jewish people were given a task. Other non-Jewish people would see the Jews and their customs. They should especially notice how well the Jews treated fellow Jews and non-Jews as well. This would point to the existence of God. It would be a sign that God’s people were chosen to make the world a better place.

Someone might ask, “What am I to do?” Who is my neighbor? How am I to interact with others? Hillel provides an answer. He states that those answers are found in the Torah or the first five books of the Bible. Hillel quotes a passage from Tobit 4: 15. The command not to do to others what you would not want them to do to you is the first commandment. It is the summary of the entire Torah. “Everything else is commentary.”

In other words, Frances is saying the Scriptures tell us what to do. We are commanded to go and carry it out.

Francis then quotes several passages concerning “the stranger.” For example: “We were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21). “You were strangers in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9). We were strangers in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34). “Remember when you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 24:21-22).

Anyone who has ever traveled abroad can identify with these passages. This would especially be the case if you are in a country where the language spoken is not English. The minute you get off of the plane and into the airport, there is this overwhelming sense of being a stranger. This is usually accompanied by confusion and anxiety. We look for a kind person who might be able to help us with even the simplest of tasks.

It is within this context that Pope Francis reminds us that we are all strangers at one point in our life. We are called upon to look around to see people who seem to be wandering around the airport lobby of life. Like the Jewish people, we are tasked to offer them a kind word and a helping hand.

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