Chapter 1: Hope Amidst (a LOT of) Darkness

If we are called to live as one human family, why is the world such a mess?

While Pope Francis doesn’t answer the question of “why” in great depth here, he does start by highlighting some of the biggest examples of how life today diverges from what a universal family would look like. Let’s take a quick run through what he points to in the first chapter of Fratelli Tutti:

  1. The rise of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” threatens to undo decades of progress toward international cooperation. (This is a global trend, not just an American one, by the way.)
  2. In the midst of nationalist politics, globalist multinational corporations threaten local autonomy and culture.
  3. Our sense of history and rootedness in deeper truths has been replaced by a minimalist individualism marked by shallow consumerism. Ideals like “democracy, freedom, justice and unity” have been drained of their meaning. Individualism has undone our concept of the common good.
  4. He doesn’t use the phrase “cancel culture,” but his paragraph 15 sure points to it: “The best way to dominate and gain control over people is to spread despair and discouragement, even under the guise of defending certain values. Today, in many countries, hyperbole, extremism and polarization have become political tools. Employing a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism, in a variety of ways one denies the right of others to exist or to have an opinion.“ It’s quite a barrier to human solidarity to have a rhetoric that denies those you disagree with of a right to exist.
  5. A throwaway culture. This is a foundational Francis concept, and it applies not only to the environment (as in Laudato Si) but even more to people: poor, disabled, unborn, elderly, anyone who isn’t useful to us. This shows up through economics that minimizes labor, culture that stokes racism, and the global wealth gap. This translates for Francis to a reality that fails to acknowledge the essential dignity of every person, and he points to systems of injustice, including the lack of equal rights for women and the proliferation of human trafficking.
  6. Conflict – citing “war, terrorist attacks, racial or religious persecution,” among other things as examples of conflict that stokes fear of the other.
  7. Mostly, he argues that the system doesn’t work for everybody, or, really, for anybody. While technological advances are positive signs of change, they haven’t been matched by social advances in understanding each other as one human family. We are left with “frustration, isolation and desperation” in the face of a world that seems to be leaving us out.
  8. All of this predated Covid-19, but while the pandemic shines a bright light on how interrelated we really are, it also exacerbates all of the barriers mentioned.
  9. Echoing another theme of his pontificate, Francis focuses especially on the dehumanizing plight of migrants and the inhumanity of the response of xenophobic countries. (This is another theme that Americans will read as directed to them, but which extends to many other nations as well.)
  10. His next barrier, interestingly, is the dehumanizing nature of digital communication. Paragraphs 42-50 are really worth reading on this. (Not that the whole document isn’t worth reading.)
  11. Francis’ final barrier is one that reflects his place as the first modern pope from the global self: the cultural colonization of the West and the resulting “self-contempt” for indigenous cultures by those who think development only comes to those who leave their past behind.

Where does one turn for hope in the face of all of this? Pope Francis circles back to the pandemic: “For God continues to sow abundant seeds of goodness in our human family. The recent pandemic enabled us to recognize and appreciate once more all those around us who, in the midst of fear, responded by putting their lives on the line. We began to realize that our lives are interwoven with and sustained by ordinary people valiantly shaping the decisive events of our shared history: doctors, nurses, pharmacists, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caretakers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests and religious… They understood that no one is saved alone.”

He closes with a beautiful ode to hope, quoting extensively from a speech he gave to youth in Cuba: “hope ‘speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile’. Let us continue, then, to advance along the paths of hope.”

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