In 1978, the Argentine folk musician León Gieco wrote a song that would become one of the continent’s most enduring protest anthems, “Sólo Le Pido A Dios.” Recorded in the midst of Argentina’s Dirty War—the seven-year military dictatorship during which as many as thirty thousand left-leaning political dissidents were kidnapped, tortured, and forcibly disappeared by state-sponsored death squads—the song is a hymn against indifference in the face of suffering and political repression. The first verse begins: “Sólo le pido a Dios / Que el dolor no me sea indiferente / Que la reseca muerte no me encuentre / Vacía y sola sin haber hecho lo suficiente” (“All I ask of God / is that I not be indifferent to sorrow / That arid death not find me / empty and alone without having done enough”).
U.S. audiences might recognize the song from Wim Wenders’s 2018 documentary, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word. In the film, Mercedes Sosa’s seismic alto voice provides the background music to a montage of Francis embracing the sick and blessing throngs of ecstatic onlookers. Given the context of its composition, Wenders’s use of the song is especially striking. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was the Jesuit provincial in Argentina during the junta. The most contested part of his pre-papal legacy remains the question of whether—to borrow from the song’s lyrics—he had “done enough” to intervene during those years of terror.
To understand Fratelli tutti, Pope Francis’s new encyclical on social solidarity, it helps to step into the aesthetic world of Francis’s cultural and political imagination. For this task, “Sólo Le Pido A Dios” makes a fruitful companion soundtrack to the encyclical. This is not only because Francis undoubtedly knows the song, which is as recognizable in Argentina as “Blowin’ in the Wind” is in the United States. And it is not only because of unmistakable resonances in content: both Francis and Gieco use the form of prayer to implore a disillusioned, fractured, exhausted people to resist the anesthetizing allure of indifference and the monstrosities of war. The folk anthem helps reveal how the encyclical understands the relationship of current reality to hope for the future.