Georgetown University Georgetown University Logo Berkley Center Berkley Center Logo

Culture of Encounter and Community: A Call to Effective Action

By: Sylvia Cáceres Pizarro

August 22, 2022

The Culture of Encounter: National and Local Dynamics

Recently, the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University organized a series of conferences inspired by the message of Pope Francis, bringing together professionals of various nationalities, believers and non-believers alike. Academic and religious scholars and representatives of international organizations reflected on how to approach the construction of a culture of encounter in a divided world. The presentations generated a fruitful dialogue about the different dimensions of the task and the difficulty of advancing human fraternity.

Now that the theoretical discussions have passed, we find ourselves in another moment of the Culture of Encounter and the Global Agenda project, a time to discern and propose lines of action to make the encounter between people tangible and richer at the level of social interactions. Here, the experience of faith-based and secular communities committed to integral human development, solidarity with the poor, and peace as the fruit of justice–in short, communities committed to the common good–represent critical partners.  

One of the meanings of the term community is a set of people linked by common characteristics or interests. In recent decades, myriad communities of this sort have proliferated in my country, Peru, and elsewhere. They occur in all kinds of settings and at different levels of action and communicationpublic and private, in-person and virtual. This has given rise to a new type of society in the information age: the Network Society (Castells).

In the Christian context, this dynamic can be complemented and enriched by the sense of universal fraternity and the experience of holding things in common (koinonia) which, inspired by the practice of Jesus and his early followers, informs the agendas of communities of laity and people of goodwill today.

On a global level, situations of conflict, poverty, pain, and death threaten the very existence of humanity and its common home. In his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis exhorts us on a personal and community level to adopt a lifestyle rooted in coexistence and communion, building on Jesus’ invocation of a shared father who makes us brothers and sisters.

It is a moral and ethical duty of governments and multilateral and transnational organizations to adopt policies and prioritize problems without ignoring their structural causes. At the same time, it is imperative to act in solidarity, respecting diversity and engaging in intercultural dialogue. Here, the practice of a culture of encounter is key, in which anyone who suffers is welcomed as a brother or a sister, regardless of origin, language, ethnicity, or gender; and in which bread is shared with mercy and tenderness (Luke 9:16-17).

The lay community, made up of young people or adults, is a natural space for intercultural encounters that dare to transcend cultural boundaries like the Gospels themselves. Through such encounters, discernment around the message and practice of Jesus and about the sense of belonging to a single human family can be aroused. At the same time, the community offers the possibility of mutual understanding and fraternal review of the effectiveness of Christian commitment, academic or professional, in the light of the Word and of the preferential option for the poor or “discarded” of a society. It is a permanent challenge to promote compassion for those who suffer or for whose dignity is undermined, to generate outrage at the underlying causes of such suffering, and to accompany processes of personal and collective positive transformation. The Christian community–whose values, practices, and solidarity life projects are inspired by the culture of encounter–is “a call to effective action,” as Archbishop Paul Gallagher maintains.

Going forward, let us appeal to the formation of communities with a universal horizon that, as Pope Francis encourages us in his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, lets us recognize ourselves as “a single human family, as fellow travelers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.” We have every opportunity to pool our knowledge, to practice discernment together, to build up our transformative capacity (praxis)–and to live forward in hope.