Dear brothers and sisters,
No doubt, this past week was very special to us with the visit of Pope Francis to the US, watching him on TV and especially listening to his speeches. There is a lot that we can learn from his words. One of his many teachings which stays with me was to work for the culture of the encounter. He said it both in the context of politics and church ministry.
Let us analyze these two words: culture and encounter. When something becomes part of the culture, it stays; it does not go away. It is accepted by society at large. The pope is asking us to work for and build something which will last over time. The other word, encounter, is certainly not in the meaning of confrontation or unexpected meeting. With Pope Francis, it is quite the opposite. Encounter, in the words of the Pope, is coming together, working together, building community and helping each other.
The Pope’s words are very prophetic and full of hope. We live in times in which international relationships are more hostile than friendly. The other’s difference is a cause for enmity rather than tolerance. Dialogue is not part of this culture. The culture of the encounter, therefore, is a call to the nation’s leaders to be open to listening to their neighbors, even when it is uncomfortable, to keep the dialogue going, and to be able to live in a peaceful environment despite the nations’ differences.
As the Pope addressed the Bishops, acknowledging the many challenges which the church faces locally, he also said, “We are builders of the culture of the encounter.” We are called to build the culture of the encounter in the setting of our parish communities. Any time that we gather in any of our facilities, either to pray, teach, study, or work, we are building the culture of the encounter. The first blessing of any church’s gathering is the fact that people come together.
The culture of the encounter fosters unity and communion. Every encounter of the community is a way of preparing, both personal and communal, to the personal encounter with the Lord; encounter which reaches its climax in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Sunday. I would like to acknowledge those of you who gather here at St. Pat’s to either pray, teach, learn or work. Even more, I take this opportunity to acknowledge your presence every Sunday at the Holy Eucharist. God bless you.
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Rev. Johnson Lopez
Father Lopez is Pastor of Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Rochelle, IL.