Pope Francis touches the icon of Maria Stella during a consistory to create 13 new cardinals at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on Nov. 28. (Photo: AFP)
Christian university students in Sri Lanka have taken the lead in highlighting the importance of Pope Francis' third encyclical, Fratelli tutti (All Brothers).
The study circle of the University of Kelaniya said the encyclical is a roadmap to face global challenges by implementing comprehensive Catholic social teaching.
"Pope Francis has called for universal brotherhood, love without borders, hospitality and welcoming love through this encyclical. This is a new way of thinking about regional and international relations," said journalist Saman Kapila Wijesuriya.
Fratelli tutti was signed on Oct. 3 on the pontiff’s visit to the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and was published the day after the saint's feast day.
The pope calls for more human fraternity and solidarity and the rejection of wars. He states that the Covid-19 pandemic has proven the failure of the world to work together during this crisis.
Wijesuriya, editor of news website Vathikana Sulaga (Vatican Winds), said the encyclical asking for respect for human rights is the preliminary condition for a country’s social and economic development.
He said war is a negation of all rights. "If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and people."
Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war caused significant hardships for the economy, environment and population.
According to the UN, the war claimed the lives of at least 40,000 civilians in its final days alone while independent reports estimated the number of civilian dead exceeded 100,000.
"Christians here are told that human rights conspiracies come from the West. If it's a conspiracy, it's not from the West, it's from heaven. The main conspirator is Pope Francis," said Wijesuriya.
Dilki Edirisinghe, a fourth-year student and a member of the study circle at Kelaniya University, said Pope Francis has challenged all and asked whether we act as Samaritans.
"Baptism alone cannot make us a true Christian," said Edirisinghe.
The Christian group studies socioeconomic, political, philosophical, historical and cultural subjects and shares knowledge through dialogue. Members try to contribute to building a society that values love, freedom, equality, justice and coexistence.
Nuwani Apsara, a student, said Fratelli tutti appeals to all nations, ethnic groups and religions.
"The document was issued during the time when the entire world is suffering deeply from the Covid-19 pandemic," she said.
"The document is also important because it reflects the pope's continuing concern and care for universal humanity, the environment as well as a call to continue endeavors in making the world a better place to live for all creation.”
Romesh Nonis, a university student, said that they have already started translating the encyclical into Sinhala. "We hope to have discussions like this in the future," said Nonis.
Wijesuriya said Pope Francis transcended race, caste, religion and skin color in the encyclical.
"The local Church should think about preferential options for the poor. I think Jesus Christ followed preferential option for the sinners," said Wijesuriya.