Sense of One's Own Identity Is Starting Point for Dialogue, Says Pope

Encourages Asian Bishops to Counter Relativism, Superficiality

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Addressing a group of bishops from almost three dozen Asian countries today, Pope Francis encouraged them to be firm in their identity as Christians when dialoguing with those around them, and said that though they are a «little flock,» they should remember that the Good Shepherd is watching over them.

The Pope’s public activities on this penultimate day of his Korea trip started with a meeting with members of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, president of the federation, welcomed the Pope, recalling how the group was established after Pope Paul VI’s trip to the Philippines in 1970. FABC today has 19 member conferences comprising 27 countries, and 9 associate members besides: Churches which do not yet have Episcopal Conferences.

«On this vast continent which is home to a great variety of cultures, the Church is called to be versatile and creative in her witness to the Gospel through dialogue and openness to all.  Dialogue, in fact, is an essential part of the mission of the Church in Asia,» the Pope said.

He then offered some principles to guide this dialogue.

Identity; empathy

First, the starting point should be twofold: «A clear sense of one’s own identity and a capacity for empathy.»

We cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity as Christians, Francis said. «And if our communication is not to be a monologue, there has to be openness of heart and mind to accepting individuals and cultures.»

The Pontiff went on to note three temptations that can get in the way of «appropriating and expressing our identity.»

Relativism; superficiality; self-absorption 

«One is the deceptive light of relativism, which obscures the splendor of truth and, shaking the earth beneath our feet, pulls us toward the shifting sands of confusion and despair.  It is a temptation which nowadays also affects Christian communities, causing people to forget that in a world of rapid and disorienting change, “there is much that is unchanging, much that has its ultimate foundation in Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Gaudium et Spes, 10; cf. Heb 13:8).  Here I am not speaking about relativism merely as a system of thought, but about that everyday practical relativism which almost imperceptibly saps our sense of identity.»

The Pope also told the bishops to guard against superficiality. For the ministers of the Church, specifically, he said, superficiality can «make itself felt in an enchantment with pastoral programs and theories, to the detriment of direct, fruitful encounter with our faithful, especially the young who need solid catechesis and sound spiritual guidance.»

Finally, Francis pointed to one of his frequent exhortations in cautioning the bishops about the temptation of «the apparent security to be found in hiding behind easy answers, ready formulas, rules and regulations.  Faith by nature is not self-absorbed; it ‘goes out,’  It seeks understanding; it gives rise to testimony; it generates mission.»

Heart to heart

Going further into the need for empathy, the Pope said, «We are challenged to listen not only to the words which others speak, but to the unspoken communication of their experiences, their hopes and aspirations, their struggles and their deepest concerns. […]

«This capacity for empathy enables a true human dialogue in which words, ideas and questions arise from an experience of fraternity and shared humanity.  It leads to a genuine encounter in which heart speaks to heart.»

In this context, the Pontiff indirectly reached out to North Korea, China and other countries.

«In this spirit of openness to others, I earnestly hope that those countries of your continent with whom the Holy See does not yet enjoy a full relationship, may not hesitate to further a dialogue for the benefit of all.»


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