Archdiocese Local

Encyclical will be focus of New Year Zoom study group

Pope Francis signs his new encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti, on Fraternity and Social Friendship” after celebrating Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 3, 2020. Young people from around the world met virtually in Assisi Nov. 19-21 to talk about the economy and ecology, including from the point of view of Pope Francis’ encyclical. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

by Jill Ragar Esfeld

ATCHISON — The title alone of Pope Francis’ third encyclical really says it all:  In English, “Fratelli tutti” means “Brothers and sisters all.”

“The encyclical is really about getting people to love each other in every sense of the word,” said Sister Anne Shepard, OSB. “The whole theme is being a culture of encounter — particularly encountering people that are different than we are.”

To encourage that encounter the Sophia Center is offering a Zoom discussion group on this important document facilitated by Sister Anne, Benedictine Sister Barbara McCracken and Steve Bruns, an oblate of Mount St. Scholastica, Atchison.

All three have a background in Catholic social teaching.

The discussion group will meet every Friday during the month of January 2022, covering two chapters of the encyclical during each session.

Participants will read the chapters ahead of time and reflect on questions provided by the Sophia Center.

At each session, facilitators will present an overview of the chapters, followed by a breakout into small chat rooms where participants can ask questions, share insights and get to know each other.

Then participants will reunite for a final discussion.

It is hoped the group will include a diverse mix of ethnic, religious and socioeconomic experience.

It will be a national encounter, as people have already signed up from as far away as California, New Jersey and Florida, and will include Catholics as well as non-Catholics.

“That’s what excites us,” said Sister Anne. “We’re going to have people from multiple faith experiences around the Zoom camera.

“And their participation and reflecting with us is going to be a major part of what we do.”

Sister Anne’s personal hope is that everyone, everywhere, reads this important document. It can be purchased in various print formats or downloaded for free from the Vatican website at:

But that’s only the first step.

“If you read it with others,” said Sister Anne, “you read it rather than just leave it on the shelf.

“And you reflect on: ‘What does this have to do with me and my life?’ and then: ‘How do I move forward so I can encounter people that are different from me?’”

Those questions are particularly important in the current political atmosphere.

“There is so much bipartisanship and division,” said Sister Anne. “What can we do as participants to try to bridge that gap?”

If you’re interested in joining the group, but not tech-savvy, not to worry, said Sister Anne.

“I am a certified techno moron,” she admitted. “With Zoom, you click it and it comes up.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

Bruns agreed and added that the encyclical itself is very reader-friendly.

“The encyclical is addressed to everyone in the world,” he said. “And it’s written in that style.

“It’s not a complicated document. It’s very straightforward, easy to read and understand.”

All three presenters are committed to helping people not just understand, but also act on the pope’s message of love. They believe it is needed now more than ever.

“The world is always messed up,” said Sister Barbara. “But right now, it’s rather acute I think.”

It is hoped this discussion group will help Catholics and others come together through a sharing of insight and wisdom.

“To me this is a very, very spiritual experience,” said Sister Barbara. “It goes right to the heart and depth of who we are as human beings, as God’s children.

“When we aren’t united, we need to work at being united.”

About the author

Jill Esfeld

Jill Ragar Esfeld received a degree in Writing from Missouri State University and started her profession as a magazine feature writer, but quickly transitioned to technical/instructional writing where she had a successful career spanning more than 20 years. She returned to feature writing when she began freelancing for The Leaven in 2004. Her articles have won several awards from the Catholic Press Association. Jill grew up in Christ the King parish in Kansas City, Missouri; and has been a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Lenexa, Kansas, for 35 years.

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