Georgetown University Georgetown University Logo Berkley Center Berkley Center Logo

Exploring "Paths of Renewed Encounter"

By: Ludovic Lado

August 23, 2022

Challenges of Interculturality: Responses to Fr. Arturo Sosa

The title of this contribution is partly borrowed from chapter seven of Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, which seeks to offer some guidelines on how to heal failed human encounters. Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., writes in his May 2022 keynote address that

Peace requires walking together along the complex path of reconciliation that leads us from tragic dis-encounter and fractured human relations toward genuine fraternal encounter… Intercultural encounter takes place in the midst of conflicts of all kinds….The path toward justice and peace, through intercultural encounter, is a complex process of reconciliation among human beings, and its culmination is forgiveness, without which peace lacks a solid foundation.

This realistic approach that I embrace in this essay draws attention to the fragility of human encounters and the need for reconciliation and forgiveness to renew them when they are broken. To illustrate, I refer to the long history of encounters between Africa and the West. 

At the level of interpersonal relationships, many human encounters begin with love but end in enmity. Broken friendships or family relationships are a perfect illustration of failed human encounters. Also, encounters between peoples of different cultures or races can also be marked by violence that generates deep wounds and traumas. Human history is fraught with interethnic and interracial feuds resulting in genocides, like the one witnessed in Rwanda in 1994. The history of the encounter between Africa and the West also has its dark spots of violence. This violence has taken many forms, including slavery, colonization, and racism. Seeking and finding the “paths of renewed encounter” between Africa and the West is an ongoing process of reconciliation and forgiveness, of learning to see each other as equals in dignity. 

Concerning walking the paths of renewed encounter, Pope Francis first emphasizes the importance of remembering failed human encounters: “Neither must we forget the persecutions, the slave trade and the ethnic killings that continue in various countries, as well as the many other historical events that make us ashamed of our humanity. They need to be remembered, always and ever anew,” he writes. “We can never move forward without remembering the past; we do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory” (Fratelli Tutti, 248-249). Secondly, Pope Francis stresses the importance of remembering also those people who showed goodness even in the midst of the worst forms of inhumanity: “I think not only of the need to remember the atrocities, but also all those who, amid such great inhumanity and corruption, retained their dignity and, with gestures small or large, chose the part of solidarity, forgiveness, and fraternity. To remember goodness is also a healthy thing.” (Fratelli Tutti, 249).

These two aspects of the historical memory of the encounter between peoples are very relevant in considering “paths of renewed encounter” between Africa and the West today. Whenever this encounter turned ugly, there have always been men and women on both sides who chose to show love rather than fuel hatred and violence. But this struggle for the respect of the equal dignity of every human being, which must be the foundation of every authentic human encounter, is far from over. Unfortunately, some recent events remind us that there is still a long way to go in this effort of finding “renewed paths of encounter.” 

Last March, while the war between Ukraine and Russia was in full swing, several media outlets reported on the differential treatment of refugees at Ukraine’s borders. Some European countries were reluctant to open their borders to African refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. This discrimination has been denounced by several human rights organizations and media. Writing about the Biden administration’s decision to welcome 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the United States, the editorial staff of the National Catholic Reporter noted in April 2022: “Although the violence of a sudden, unjust and unprovoked war is different from the kinds of violence causing many peoples in the Americas to flee north, it’s difficult not to conclude that the relative openness to Ukrainian refugees is, at least in part, due to their skin color. We were not so welcoming just last fall, when tens of thousands of Haitians were also escaping situations of desperate violence.”

As Archbishop Paul Gallagher rightly puts it in his keynote address for the conference: “The ultimate basis of peace is the ability to see other people as our equals, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of the same Father.” He continued: “When the community of nations lacks a culture of encounter, only the strongest individuals and groups occupy space in the world, marginalizing those who are weaker and increasing the tensions that give rise to resentment and war.” Respect for the equal dignity of all human beings remains the foundation of any authentic human encounter.