Fratelli Tutti in Denver

I started this writing once I had occasion to read the Pope’s encyclical. Nothing to do with the election. Yet the writing has been shadowed continually by election hopes and fears and lies. Now I’m finishing this writing as we still await the election’s outcome. What we already know, very clearly, is that we will remain a deeply divided people who nonetheless depend on each other. For these reasons – our divisions and our inter-dependence, we very much need to hear Francis’ words, and to heed them. They are addressed to all people, not just to Catholics or other religious folk. He’s writing to all of us, now, in our fragmented and fear-filled time, urging us to think together about and find ways or recovering many forms of social friendship.

And as I wrote an simultaneously re-read Francis’ words, my own writing grew like topsey. Perhaps because of my effort to related the Pope’s ideas to realities I experience daily in Denver. So I will be posting what I’ve written in short, hopefully readable parts over the next several days.

And I ask the reader’s indulgence for the spacing and numbering in what follows. I am learning a new format from Word Press which hosts this blog.

I write to recommend Pope Francis’ latest encyclical “letter” Fratelli Tutti in the highest possible terms. In fact, “recommend” is too restrained a word. I urge folks, all folks and not just Catholics, to read the new encyclical and to get family and friends to do likewise.
Here I can do little more than recommend by highlighting this or that idea from and about the text of this beautifully written but still quite lengthy and detailed document.
I’m also going to try something different. To make the meaning of the letter more concrete (at least for myself), I will be describing local scenes which make present for me that meaning.

Such as the fact that I have the privilege of walking my dog daily around downtown Denver and witnessing the breadth of human solidarity or “social friendship” as the Pope calls it. And also some of the fragmentation and loss of solidarity he laments.

If you enjoy languages as I do, the role and repetition in the Italian title is beautiful. I can hear Francis saying it as he begins some talk – both St. Francis and our present Pontiff. A the single best review I’ve so of the Pope’s document focuses far more deeply than I have just suggested on Francis’ language – evoking its rhetorical depth by comparison with a protest song, “Sólo Le Pido A Dios,” originally from the terrible war in Argentina and now widespread in Latin lands, something like our “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

For sound and rhythm open our hearts to truth in ways that written words alone do not. And it’s not just the Pope’s musical Italian title. His mix of analysis and moral persuasion moves with its own rhythm when read with an open heart. And the letter is loaded with rhetorical zingers worthy of memorization and repetition.

I live in “LoDo,” the poetic way we refer to Denver’s lower downtown. Centered on our main train station. So I hear the trains when the come and go – the big twice-daily Amtrack, the many local light rail trains, and the constant movement of long freight trains. There’s also street noise – cars and trucks, the too frequent roaring of motorcycles and low riders down the tunnel streets created by old warehouses turned into lofts and new condo/office towers. And often, even during this pandemic, the sounds of children coming off trains or brought to the station by parents or teachers. Now and again one hears the sound of sirens – mostly ambulances coming for someone who’s faltered or fallen, but also the not infrequent police cars coming (hopefully) to restore social peace.

People occasionally ask me whether I’m bothered by the “noise” of living downtown. In fact, I find that the many forms of street noise provide regular symphonic evidence of social cooperation.

Of course I need not romanticize. One also hears the angry noise of car horns, the cursed shouts at uber driver blocking streets, and the mad ranting or dance-singing of another mental ill and typically homeless pedestrian.

You may have read that there was some reaction to that masculine title – “brothers” – when the encyclical was first announced.  But the actual text released by the Vatican (just released in book editions) puts those concerns to rest with its first sentence’s address to “brothers and sisters.”  The content of the letter, as it unfolds, is clearly much and deeply concerned about the condition of women in our fragmented world.  Though he might have stressed more (unless I missed it) the role of women at all levels in nurturing and maintaining the reality of social trust and friendship. And, as some critics were quick to not, it doesn’t look like Francis reads or hears enough from women.

A mix of workers still “come downtown” each day – office and construction workers, restaurant and delivery and transportation workers.  Many more office workers stay at home.

The street traffic here suggests what research indicates – at least as many women are in the workplace as men, more in white collar and service than in construction and suits, and probably paid less than men.  I note especially the immigrant women with vacuums on their backs cleaning the office spaces at night here in LoDo.

I continue to believe that the women of Denver do more in more ways to maintain the city’s social fabric than we men do with our scribbling and designing and ordering. Perhaps I’m romanticizing again.

3 thoughts on “Fratelli Tutti in Denver

  1. John,

    This Saturday morning is indeed a Happy and Joyous one. You bring back a lot of memories for me. During 1958 and early 1960s of my delivering coffee for (Fr.) Roger Mollisons dad – Liquid Coffee Co. at 22nd and Market in 3, 5 and 10 gallon containers to offices in LoDo – one time 200 gallons along the steps of Red Rocks. Walking our dog Timber is quite a contrast to your walk. There is a “Palouse Cascade Trail” that runs behind our home. It is an old railroad bed (from 1910 to 1980). I walk 2 miles among farm and pasture acreage, wirth a majestic view of Mt. Stuart, like you have of Mt. Evans. Peace my friend.

    Lee

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  2. John,

    The description of your visit downtown was a delight. I felt I was by your side—you with your dog and me with mine. You made the city come alive. I felt the energy.

    Thank you for all the wonderful words you send our way. I use them as a springboard to delve deeper into the topic being discussed. May we all take the words of St. Francis to heart as we strive to be instruments of peace.

    Mary

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  3. I have been thinking about our techniques of hope and how they work in our cities. You final words strike sharply at the techniques of speed and strength suggesting another category of technique which we need to pay more attention to.

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