Pope Francis in a church surrounded by masked congregants in Iraq


Historic Papal Visit to Iraq, Human Solidarity in Fratelli Tutti Discussed at Berkley Center Panels on the Catholic Church

By: Henry D. Brill

March 16, 2021

Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq and human solidarity in the papal encyclical Fratelli Tutti were the subjects of two Berkley Center panels on the Catholic Church held in March 2021.

On March 10, Senior Fellow Paul Elie moderated a conversation that brought together three public intellectuals—Michael J. Sandel, Marilynne Robinson, and Pankaj Mishra—for critical dialogue on the themes of Fratelli Tutti in contemporary life. 

Berkley Center Director Shaun Casey also explored Catholic engagement in world affairs, as moderator of a March 15 panel on Pope Francis in Iraq, featuring Italian journalist Rev. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., and Vatican expert Riccardo Cristiano. 

Social Solidarity in Fratelli Tutti

The themes of social friendship and human solidarity articulated in Fratelli Tutti are especially relevant in the era of COVID-19, according to the March 10 panel

“We are going through a period of global transition, more complex and more complete than we can possibly imagine at this point,” said Robinson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. “It would be the most natural thing in the world to rediscover the essential unity of humankind.”

Coming from the Global South also shapes how Pope Francis critiques global social ills in the encyclical. Mishra reflected on the pope’s background, commenting, 

Many of his specific concerns which are stated in the encyclical—about the excesses of the market economy, the rise of inequality, the breakdown of solidarities—they are all rooted in a very particular Latin American spirit.

Pope Francis presents social solidarity as a political and spiritual solution to global inequality brought by the market economy, panelists explained. 

“What strikes me about Fratelli Tutti is that Pope Francis conceives that the case for solidarity depends on taking on not only markets and neoliberalism,” said Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government Theory at Harvard University Law School. “The project of solidarity—beyond being a political project—is ultimately a spiritual project.” 

Pope Francis in Iraq

Pope Francis also made a critical contribution to interreligious dialogue and peacebuilding in the Middle East during his historic trip to Iraq, according to the March 15 panel

Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica who accompanied the pope to Iraq, summed up the visit, commenting, 

The core of the message that Pope Francis wanted to deliver to the country is to be united: considering religious, cultural, and ethnic diversity which has characterized the Iraqi society for a millennium as a precious resource that requires a healthy pluralism.

During the trip, Pope Francis met with the influential Shia cleric Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani to discuss interreligious relations. 

“The two leaders talked about the importance of cooperation between religious communities and the consolidation of the values of harmony, peaceful coexistence, and human solidarity based on the promotion of rights and mutual respect,” Spadaro explained.

Pope Francis also stressed how peace can be achieved through citizenship as a path toward solidarity, according to Cristiano.

“Iraq is a country with boundaries that are colonial lines in the sand, splitting ancient tribes,” he explained. “Saying that you are all brothers, Francis is the first who spoke to citizens—Arabs and non-Arabs—all along this part.” 

Ensuring the rights of religious minorities is especially critical to peacebuilding in Iraq, where a longtime Christian minority has dwindled in recent years due to political violence. 

“The weight of conflict has fallen on the shoulders of Christians,” Spadaro said. “Rebuilding trust is essential, and the creation of Christian enclaves must be revived.”

Fratelli Tutti: Social Solidarity from Several Points of View” was hosted by the Office of the President and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University in partnership with the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, the Pontifical Council for Culture, and La Civiltà Cattolica. It was convened as part of the Faith and Culture Series at Georgetown University. 

The Pope's Visit to Iraq: An Historic Juncture” was sponsored by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University and La Civiltà Cattolica in partnership with the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life and Georgetown Representative Office in Rome.

Opens in a new window