Fraternity is an essential human quality, for we are relational beings. A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace. We should remember that fraternity is generally first learned in the family, thanks above all to the responsible and complementary roles of each of its members, particularly the father and the mother. The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it.
Globalization, as Benedict XVI pointed out, makes us neighbours, but does not make us brothers. The many situations of inequality, poverty and injustice, are signs not only of a profound lack of fraternity, but also of the absence of a culture of solidarity. New ideologies, characterized by rampant individualism, egocentrism and materialistic consumerism, weaken social bonds, fuelling that “throw away” mentality which leads to contempt for, and the abandonment of, the weakest and those considered “useless”. In this way human coexistence increasingly tends to resemble a mere do ut des which is both pragmatic and selfish.
“And you will all be brothers” (Mt 23:8)
The question naturally arises: Can the men and women of this world ever fully respond to the longing for fraternity placed within them by God the Father? Will they ever manage by their power alone to overcome indifference, egoism and hatred, and to accept the legitimate differences typical of brothers and sisters?
By paraphrasing his words, we can summarize the answer given by the Lord Jesus: “For you have only one Father, who is God, and you are all brothers and sisters” (cf. Mt 23:8-9). The basis of fraternity is found in God’s fatherhood. We are not speaking of a generic fatherhood, indistinct and historically ineffectual, but rather of the specific and extraordinarily concrete personal love of God for each man and woman (cf. Mt 6:25-30). It is a fatherhood, then, which effectively generates fraternity, because the love of God, once welcomed, becomes the most formidable means of transforming our lives and relationships with others, opening us to solidarity and to genuine sharing.
This being said, it is easy to realize that fraternity is the foundation and pathway of peace. The social encyclicals written by my predecessors can be very helpful in this regard. It would be sufficient to draw on the definitions of peace found in the encyclicals Populorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis by John Paul II. From the first we learn that the integral development of peoples is the new name of peace. From the second, we conclude that peace is an opus solidaritatis.
Paul VI stated that not only individuals but nations too must encounter one another in a spirit of fraternity. As he says: “In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this sacred communion, we must also… work together to build the common future of the human race”. In the first place, this duty falls to those who are most privileged. Their obligations are rooted in human and supernatural fraternity and are manifested in three ways: the duty of solidarity, which requires the richer nations to assist the less developed; the duty of social justice, which requires the realignment of relationships between stronger and weaker peoples in terms of greater fairness; and the duty of universal charity, which entails the promotion of a more humane world for all, a world in which each has something to give and to receive, without the progress of the one constituting an obstacle to the development of the other.
If, then, we consider peace as opus solidaritatis, we cannot fail to acknowledge that fraternity is its principal foundation. Peace, John Paul II affirmed, is an indivisible good. Either it is the good of all or it is the good of none. It can be truly attained and enjoyed, as the highest quality of life and a more human and sustainable development, only if all are guided by solidarity as “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good”. This means not being guided by a “desire for profit” or a “thirst for power”. What is needed is the willingness to “lose ourselves” for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to “serve them” instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. “The ‘other’ – whether a person, people or nation – [is to be seen] not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbour’, a ‘helper’”.