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No Genuine Encounter without Charity, Dignity, and Justice

By: Marcel Uwineza

August 22, 2022

Challenges of Global Governance: Responses to Archbishop Gallagher

Genuine encounter is founded on charity and the recognition of the inalienable dignity of each person. In his keynote address at a conference in Rome on “The Culture of Encounter: An Imperative for a Divided World,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher argued that “a true encounter, an authentic relationship between people and between nations can only come about at the level of charity and the recognition of the fundamental dignity of each person.” On the one hand, charity entails an act of willing the good of the other and doing something concrete about it. Charity is also not left in abstraction. It is made tangible in action. For Pope Francis, true love “does not care if a brother or sister in need comes from one place or another” (Fratelli Tutti, 62). In his other encounters, especially in his words to those assisted by the charitable works of the Catholic Church, Francis notes how “love shatters the chains that keep us isolated and separate; in their place, it builds bridges. Love enables us to create one great family, where all of us can feel at home... Love exudes compassion and dignity.

The other who is encountered and loved is not necessarily someone related by blood, but any other person whom God places on my path. Archbishop Gallagher put it beautifully: love “sees the other person as an alter ego, for whom we desire all the good that we would want for ourselves,” he writes. “Charity inspires individuals to act as brothers and sisters, ensuring respect for each member of the community and helping them to achieve their full human potential.” The point is that obligations of human society are born from charity for our neighbor and fidelity to our duties. For charity, as Saint Augustine says, “gives rise to the obligations of human society.”1 It is therefore unimaginable to truly encounter others if we do not feel the duty to belong to one another by the virtue of being human.

On the other hand, dignity is not something we receive from others. There is a transcultural dimension to human dignity. Pope Francis has stated that the principle that “every human being possesses an inalienable dignity” is “a truth that corresponds to human nature apart from all cultural change” (Fratelli Tutti, 213). Human dignity is thus God-given and it defines who we are. Despite the relative and evolving understanding of the word “dignity,” Archbishop Gallagher underscores that many people recognize the fundamental dignity of each person. Because of the supremacy of human dignity, the United Nations penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Because of human dignity, no one should be treated as a means to an end; all are ends in themselves. Theologically, we have no reason whatsoever to belittle ourselves, much less any reason to be belittled, because in doing so, we belittle God. German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner remarks that “Man is forever the articulate mystery of God.”2 The human person is the addressee of God’s love. 

Charity and dignity are made possible through justice. For Gallagher, “Justice, or law, inspires right relationships with others… Human beings need respect as much as they need food. Social justice respects the essential needs of every person, ensuring that he or she enjoys all the means necessary not only to live, but to live in a way worthy of human beings.” It is fair to add that no human society can live and prosper and no genuine encounter is possible, if the practice of truth, justice, and charity is not upheld.  

What does this mean for our divided world? With conflicts and crises including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the war and deaths in the Great Lakes Regions of Africa, refugees, migration and climate crises, human trafficking, racist shootings, and nationalist and populist movements on the rise, it is impossible to speak of genuine encounter without the search for truth about what leads to these conflicts; without charity which inspires us to treat others as deserving equal treatment; and without respect for human dignity and the pursuit of justice. For example, it cannot be emphasized enough that the people of Ukraine have the right to exist, to practice their God-given rights, and to protect themselves as a nation. For Archbishop Gallagher, “the ultimate foundation of lasting peace is seeing others as equal.” He further adds that the culture of encounter cannot be founded on beautiful rhetoric without action, responsibility, creativity, and forgiveness. “One of the deeper causes of the grave crisis now shaking our world and jeopardizing its future,” he notes, “is that the project of building the future together is often accepted in words, but very imperfectly followed and applied.”  

To forge meaningful encounters, Gallagher argues, we must be willing to see others as “our equals, as sons and daughters of the same Father, whom I need for the development of my personality even as they need me.” The worst danger of dis-encounter among nations is that the strongest groups and individuals “occupy space in the world, marginalizing those who are weaker and increasing the tensions that give rise to resentment and war.” We are experiencing this in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis. The disregard of Ukraine’s right to exist as a nation is an example of what powerful nations can do when they do not view other nations as equals. In their self-centeredness and self-absorption, Russian leaders have disregarded the imperative of charity, dignity, and justice. Indeed, “without love,” Garaudy has written, “an individual or a society can function, but it cannot exist.”3 

Georgetown University’s project on the Culture of Encounter and the Global Agenda is therefore an imperative for our divided world. This project must continue to open different religious, economic, social, and political horizons in order to become a platform that can help enhance and implement Pope Francis’ vision and encounters. Pope Francis’ insistence on the culture of encounter has the capacity to “re-member” us, that is, to bring our broken pieces together. Ultimately, Archbishop Gallagher’s speech at the conference in Rome sent us on a mission to proclaim that there is no genuine encounter without charity, dignity, and justice. Let us therefore not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

1 Augustine, De moribus Ecclesiae catholicae, I, XXVI, 49.

2 Karl Rahner, “On the Theology of the Incarnation,” in Theological Investigations, IV, trans. Kevin Smyth (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966), 116-17.

3 R. Garaudy, Parole d’homme, Paris, 1975, p. 37.