Pope Francis has continuously invited us during his pontificate to build a culture of encounter, addressing the United States Catholic Bishops in 2016, he said,
“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges…We are called to be bearers of good news for a society kept by disconcerting social, cultural and spiritual shifts and increasing polarization.”
The call to build a culture of encounter is rooted in the Gospel and particularly in the fact that God became human. He “humbled himself,” becoming not only one of us, but one who showed himself vulnerable, from not having a place to be born, to his death on the cross. Christ emptied himself to embrace our humanity in the most ordinary and vulnerable way, encountering and inviting us to encounter others in the deep way he did with us, becoming vulnerable, embracing the other to be able to fully listen, touch and understand their experience.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Incarnation is the criterion for Christian love: “this is our truth: God sent his Son, who became flesh and who lived like us. To love as Jesus loved us… journeying along the path of Jesus. It is the path of Jesus that gives life. The only way to love in the way Jesus loved us is to cast aside our own selfishness and go out to others because Christian love is a concrete love.”
Speaking about the culture of encounter, Pope Francis remarked again this rootedness in the Gospel. Jesus lives and calls for an encounter that flows from his compassion. This compassion, the Pope says, “is not the same as what we normally feel “when, for example, we go out into the street and see something sad: ‘What a shame!’”. Jesus in the Gospel does not just say “poor people,” he “went further. He was seized with compassion” he “drew near, he spoke and he touched” the reality of each person and was moved by it.
This culture of encounter then is a call to deeply see the other, listen and touch their reality. This of course demands of each of us an openness to be vulnerable and compassionate, to immerse ourselves into other’s reality and circumstances to be capable to listen, dialogue and build bridges where each can share more deeply their own stories and experiences. A culture of encounter grounded in openness and vulnerability – like that modeled by Christ himself – leads to encounters that can be transformative for us and others.
As we respond to our own call to build a culture of encounter, let us consider the ways in which we can learn from the Gospel to go out of our comfort zone to be open to dialogue and embrace difference; to be compassionate, sharing in other’s joys and sufferings; to be open allowing ourselves to listen and be moved in ways that can be transformative and bear good news.
Associate Director, Campus Ministry