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‘Fratelli Tutti’ and the Filipino family

The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating, taking precious lives, crippling the economy, depriving millions of jobs and livelihood, and exacerbating the scandal of hunger and poverty in our country and various parts of the world. As we continue to deal with this crisis, the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” written in pandemic times and inviting us to share a new vision of fraternity and social friendship, is clear: No one is saved alone, and we can only be saved together.

“Fratelli Tutti” literally translates to “Brothers all.” In Filipino, it translates more inclusively to “Kapatid lahat.” Sisters and brothers all. If we are to get through this crisis, with hope of a better post-pandemic world, it will have to be as one human family.

The call of “Fratelli Tutti” is particularly challenging for us Filipinos. As a people, we are known for valuing close family ties. We take pride in being family-centered. We care for our families deeply. Filipinos would do anything for family, including living in foreign lands, foregoing comforts, to provide for their parents, spouse, siblings, and children.

For the Filipino, “Fratelli” is a given. We are experts at family. It’s the part we know by heart. The hard part for us is “Tutti”—seeing everyone as family. Because family for us is limited by blood and marriage. Family is exclusive. Family, which is supposed to be the beginning point of our love, has turned instead into love’s end. Instead of building bridges, we’ve built walls to protect and separate our family from everyone else.

While our love for family may be our strength, sustaining us in many ways, it is also our weakness. It leads us to tolerate if not accept the deep social and economic divides that have become even sharper during this prolonged lockdown.

Like a virus, our family-centeredness has infected our country’s politics and governance. Lately, much public attention has been on who will be running in the 2022 elections. Sadly, from local positions to the highest of national offices, it appears that politics is being largely driven by family interests. We see it perpetuating dynasties and alliances meant to keep power in the hands of a few. Far from the “better politics” espoused by the Pope, we see the normalization of politics that, despite the populist coating, is disconnected from and indifferent to the common good.

Realizing the vision of “Fratelli Tutti” in our society and politics will require us to go beyond our usual limits and expand our definition of family. While it may be difficult and uncomfortable, we have it in us to tap into our inner courage, openness, and generosity. Amid the dark clouds, there are rays of light that allow us to see our fellow Filipinos in a new way.

The sprouting of community pantries to feed the hungry in various parts of the country revealed the capacity of ordinary citizens to extend compassion. “Bayanihan,” after all, is also something Filipinos are known for. We may only need a Patreng Non to break our walls and overcome helplessness and isolation.

Earlier this month, the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues and Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan held a webinar on “Fratelli Tutti”; the webinar can be viewed on our Facebook pages. It featured inspiring individuals promoting solidarity through their work. They remind us that taking care of the human family means seeing the dignity of each person, especially the marginalized, the outcast, and those most in need.

Finally, the growing movement to get our citizens, primarily our youth, to register and vote in the coming elections is energizing. The efforts as well of coalitions like 1Sambayan to forge unity and find a leader who will fight for the Filipino family and govern through “better politics” gives us hope. All these efforts may feel inadequate and imperfect, and it may be too early yet to see their fruits, but they are steps forward in our “Fratelli Tutti” journey.

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Paola Q. Deles is the executive director of the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues.

This article was first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

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