In 2015, Pope Francis penned Laudato si (Praise be to you), the papal letter that touched on pressing environmental issues and the far-and-wide-reaching effects of climate change. Five years later, on October 3, he releases Fratelli tutti (All brothers and sisters), his encyclical on fraternity and social friendship, and one inspired by the teachings of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.
It’s a timely sentiment, given how the world has been unfolding in recent years. COVID-19 didn’t just change life as we know it. “Ancient conflicts…are breaking out anew,” the Holy Father writes, “while instances of a myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism are on the rise.” So are “digital campaigns of hate and destruction” and “destructive forms of fanaticism.” (Read: 10 Things Pope Francis and Saint Francis Share in Common)
“The world exists for everyone, because all of us were born with the same dignity,” he reminds. “As a community, we have an obligation to ensure that every person lives with dignity and has sufficient opportunities for his or her integral development.”
From news reports, it appears that Pope Francis’ own attempts at fraternity and social friendship with some world leaders are still a work in progress—work being the operative word. “If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue,” he says. “Persistent and courageous dialogue quietly helps the world to live much better than we imagine.”
Pope Francis and Donald Trump, US President
Photos of a stern-looking Holy Pontiff next to the all-smiles US president during the latter’s trip to the Vatican in 2017 are proof of the frosty relationship between the two leaders.
“A person who only thinks about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” said Pope Francis in an interview, in reference to Trump’s plan to build a bridge in the US-Mexico border, as well as his stand on refusing Muslim immigrants and refugees. The two have also disagreed on environmental and racial issues. (Read: Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Anti-Corruption Activist, Dies of COVID-19)
“Once more, we encounter the temptation to build a culture of walls, to raise walls, walls in the heart, walls on the land, in order to prevent this encounter with other cultures, with other people,” wrote Lolo Kiko in Fratelli Tutti. Talk about a not-so-subtle jab.
Pope Francis and Rodrigo Duterte, Philippine President
When Pope Francis’ highly anticipated trip to the Philippines in 2015 caused traffic jams in the Metro, Duterte cursed at the leader of the Catholic Church, then clarified that his statement was said in exasperation at the government’s handling of the papal visit. He also wrote to the Vatican to apologize for his remark.
The Vatican responded by sending him a letter, one written by Italian Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu—then a Vatican substitute or chief of staff. “He appreciates the sentiments you expressed,” wrote Becciu. “The Holy Father offers the assurance of his prayers for you, as he invokes upon you the divine blessing of wisdom and peace.”
Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin, Russian President
July 2019 marked the third meeting between Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin. After a cordial discussion on their bilateral relations, the two leaders “turned their attention to various questions of relevance to the life of the Catholic Church in Russia…as well as the ecological question and various themes relating to current international affairs, with particular reference to Syria, Ukraine, and Venezuela,” said Vatican press office interim director Alessandro Gisotti in an interview. (Read: Pope’s New Encyclical Offers Voter’s Guide for Upcoming Elections)
To date, no invitation has been extended to the Pope to visit Russia. Pundits believe it has something to do with Ukraine: “Ever since the ‘breadbasket of Europe’ gained independence in 1991, Moscow has tried to maintain its influence over not only the country’s politics and economy but its religious affairs,” said theorthodoxworld.com.
“Russia has protested relentlessly to the Vatican over the alleged misbehavior of local Catholics belonging to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Russia now accuses Ukrainian Catholics of supporting the creation of the new Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which has declared its allegiance to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, rather than Moscow. It is therefore in Russia’s interest to ensure that the Vatican retains tight control over the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.”
Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar
In February 2019, the Holy Father made history not just as the first pope to visit Abu Dhabi in United Arab Emirates; he was also there for the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together, a landmark joint statement between Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning for Sunni Muslims.
Otherwise known as the Abu Dhabi Agreement, the statement serves as a guide on how people of different religions can co-exist in harmony. Among its key points is the resolute declaration “that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.” (Read: Queen’s Virtual Tea Party Highlights the Church’s Role in Social Issues)
Prior to this watershed moment, the Sheikh paid his respects to the Pope in the Vatican in 2016. “We need to take a joint stance, hand in hand, to bring happiness to humanity,” he said in a statement. “Divine religions were revealed to make people happy, not to cause them hardship.”