Pope Francis on Why Facebook Cannot Take the Place of Real Community. Also, Care for Immigrants [Podcast]


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Transcript below:

Hello! Welcome to the Wisdom of Pope Francis podcast, a podcast where we dive into what Pope Francis has to say to the world. I’m going through his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, which tries to make the case for greater brotherhood and fraternity in the world. He speaks both to the larger structures of interaction in the global economy and among nations, but also to the more individual responsibilities we have to each other.

In this episode, I hope to wrap up chapter one of this letter to the church and world, give some thoughts on it, and hopefully entice you to go over to catholicanonymous.blog and share your own thoughts. I would love to read them and may even mention what you say in the next episode. So there you go.

Getting to it here, Pope Francis says in this last section that Covid-19, when it first appeared brought the world together for a moment. We felt, palpably, that the global community was connected – that we were all in this together. As he says, there was a “blessed awareness that we are part of one another, that we are brothers and sisters of one another.”

What he fears, though, is that after this pandemic is over, we will forget that solidarity. For a moment, we all began to realize the poverty of not being able to be with each other, hug each other, touch another person. We have realized our limitations – how this disease hit us broadside out of nowhere. Hospitals didn’t have enough respirators. Even now, I just read an article in Politico that said hospitals are worried about the surge in cases in the US right now. Some states are apparently at 90% capacity, and they fear there will be a staff shortage if there isn’t one already.

After all this is sorted out, though, will we learn the lessons Covid has taught us? He quickly pivots from the pandemic itself to what he sees as the larger underlying problem: our lack of solidarity with one another and our disregard of each other’s needs. Why were hospitals in many places not able to cope with the surge in cases? As he says, it was “partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.” Pope Francis says,

Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply in feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation.

Article 35

He goes on to discuss immigration and how countries can turn away immigrants and limit their travel. Many of these people are fleeing horrible situations abroad and trying to make a new life for themselves and their families. He warns that in some countries there can be a

…xenophobic mentality… Migrants are not seen as entitled like others to participate in the life of society, and it is forgotten that they possess the same intrinsic dignity as any person.

Article 39

I find this point really poignant. Over the years, I’ve thought about where we stand on immigration in the United States. Donald Trump definitely ran on a promise to stamp out illegal immigration. There is always the fear in the air that immigrants are taking our jobs. And Pope Francis speaks to that. He says there is a “twofold moral responsibility to protect the right of its citizens and to assure assistance and acceptance to migrants.”

But especially during the great migration of refugees from Syria a few years ago, this question was a burning one. What is the right thing to do when it comes to legal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and refugees? And I have to say, as a citizen, I may want to have more closed borders and protect my interests. There might be a case for that. As a Catholic though, I would want these immigrants – legal or illegal – to have the same opportunities I have to have a safe, healthy environment to raise their families, or even to work in the United States so that they could send money back to their families who live in poorer areas.

I don’t know what the right balance is in all of that, but I think it’s important to remember that if we are Catholics, we are Catholic first, and patriots second. In fact, I’m a Catholic first, then a family man, then a citizen. There may be one more in between there, I don’t know. Illegal immigrants are people made in the image of God. They deserve all the opportunities I have and it doesn’t seem right that they should be denied that because they happened to be born in some place other than the United States. I think Pope Francis feels the same way. We have to be as open as we can be.

He switches gears again to address what is the most interesting thing in this section to me, which is how technology kind of ruins things for us. He goes into the ways the internet makes us think we’re connected, but we’re not. I’ll touch on three points he makes here.

One thing he says is that interacting with people over the internet is nowhere near the kind of physical, intimate community we should strive for. I kind of chuckled at how he takes an entire page to explain the importance of just sitting down and having a face to face conversation with someone. He stresses how important that is and how we might be losing, with technology where you text and tweet and comment, the ability to develop real relationships with people.

Two, he stresses that internet platforms subtly put us into tribes and echo chambers. A fantastic documentary that delves into this problem is titled The Social Dilemma from Netflix. This may be old news, but the documentary drives home the point that your experience on Facebook, Google, all sorts of sites is curated to your personal preferences. So, if you are liberal, the reason you see so many Trump-bashing articles on Facebook and maybe wonder why nobody else is seeing the world the way you do is because that’s what Facebook is feeding you – not because it has an agenda, but because it wants to keep you using their platform. Same for conservatives or anybody.

Because so many of us use these services – or because so many of these services use us – our minds end up being fed day in and day out only with the opinions of people we agree with. This happens on Google and youtube as well.

Third, he touches on how so many have become emboldened to cast off the fetters of civility, you could say, on media. He puts it this way:

Things that until a few years ago could not be said by anyone without risking the loss of universal respect can now be said with impunity, and in the crudest of terms, even by some political figures… We should also recognize that destructive forms of fanaticism are at times found among religious believers, including Christians; they too ‘can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums of digital communication. Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.’ How can this contribute to the fraternity that our common Father asks of us?

Articles 45, 46

When I think about these issues – our dysfunction when it comes to interacting with one another digitally and, now, I think even in person – I think of what an antidote the local parish community is to this. There are so few places anymore where we can interact with people who are totally different from us in an intimate and respectful way. The old, the young, the married, the single, the rich, the poor, the mentally handicapped, the disabled – you find them all in the church. And it’s beautiful.

I never thought I’d see it this way, but that’s one more reason I’m glad the Catholic church requires members to go to Mass every Sunday. It’s the same reason I make my two boys share a room with each other even though we have an extra room. We learn to love each other and grow in fraternity and solidarity by being physically with each other. Pope Francis explains the gift of conversation eloquently:

The ability to sit down and listen to others… is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives…. At times, the frantic pace of the modern world prevents us from listening attentively to what another person is saying. Halfway through, we interrupt him and want to contradict what he has not even finished saying. We must not lose our ability to listen.

Article 48


Well, that wraps up chapter one of Fratelli Tutti. There’s a lot of good stuff coming in the next seven chapters, so I hope you join me next week. Also, as always, feel free to go over to my blog, catholicanonymous.blog, to comment on this episode. I just talked about how we need to interact with people we disagree with. If you disagree with me – or agree – I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section of there.

And hope you check out other opinion pieces I’ve written there, too.

Thank you for listening. God bless!

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