We continue with Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti. This week I’m looking at Chapter 6: “Dialogue and Friendship in Society.“ In paragraph 199, ”Social Dialogue for a New Culture, Frances talks about dialogue not only among people but among cultures. Francis says that countries flourish when constructive dialogue occurs between many rich cultural components. This includes, “popular culture, university culture, youth culture, artistic culture, technological culture, economic culture, family culture and media culture.”
It’s interesting to note that Francis is pulling from a 2013 document called ”Meeting with Brazilian Political Economic and Cultural Leaders.“ The cultural, political and economic conditions at the time of this document, in South America was changing rapidly. The changes were not always positive.
From 2000-2013, Brasil was no longer “a colony focused on primary sector goods (sugar, gold and cotton), Brazil managed to create a diversified industrial base.” Nevertheless, there was a shadow side to this economic growth. “Income inequality in Brazil was also a marked feature of the Brazilian economy, an aspect which was frequently highlighted abroad.” During this time, Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina was experiencing problematic and unstable economic conditions. The early parts of the decade witnessed significant shortages of many goods. Towards the beginning of the next decade between 2011 and 2013, Argentina experienced hyper inflation and very unstable monetary policies. This in spite of recent discoveries of significant amount of oil and other energy commodities, infusing the promise of a dramatic amount of wealth into the Argentine economy. Francis seems to be implying that a healthy country needs conversations across various segments of society if they are going to thrive. Based on what he saw and experienced, the Holy Father seems to be saying that this kind of rich dialogue was missing at that time in South America. He seems to imply that it is absent today as well.
I agree with the Holy Father. In the midst of the Covid crisis last year, I was somewhat concerned that all of the news reports and conversations were being dominated overwhelmingly by people in the medical field. Where were the school teachers? Where were the child psychologists? Where were the food services logistical managers? Where were the economists? Where were the people from the energy sector? Where were people from law enforcement? Pope Francis himself in paragraph 204 said “there is a risk that a single scientific advances will be seen as the only possible lens for viewing a particular aspect of life, society, and the world.” Personally, I think the United States would have been better served if broader conversations, among a more diverse group of segments of the society, had been invited to be at the table and be part of the public discussion.
Frances says that this has to be part of our personal lives at the micro level too. I saw a rather provocative poster the other day. It said “If you don’t have even one black friend, you are part of the problem.” You could probably put numerous social sub groups into that statement. What is unsettling about Pope Francis’ encyclical is that he is basically “calling out” countries, calling out governments and calling out individuals to expand their conversation into new areas. He is challenging us to include people in our circles with whom we have little contact and with whom we might even feel uncomfortable.