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The Culture of Encounter and Global Governance

By: Katherine Marshall

August 22, 2022

Challenges of Global Governance: Responses to Archbishop Gallagher

“If we all stand still, we will never meet.” – Pope Francis

Archbishop Paul Gallagher’s speech at the “Culture of Encounter: An Imperative for a Divided World” conference explores how the “culture of encounter” is to be understood: What problems does the papal initiative address? What are its central elements? What does it imply for Holy See action? The address bemoans wide gaps between moving, noble words and assertions and concrete action. Gallagher contrasts essential features of the culture of encounter as a path to solutions to their opposites: the problems that need to be addressed. As a non-Catholic rather unfamiliar with the language of “official” Catholic discourse, and steeped in non-religious approaches to international humanitarian and development work, I was curious about similarities, possible differences, and areas of silence. 

Insights about the interconnected nature of today’s global problems possess an obvious overlap. The integral human development in Catholic social teaching echoes contemporary global agendas, epitomized by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the five “P’s” often used to summarize the powerful interconnections of the policy universe: peace, planet, prosperity, people, and partnerships. 

The text hints at underlying differences in understandings of broad global agendas. Gallagher does not expressly explore them. Neither does he focus on possible tensions among religious traditions, ethnic groups, and “cultures.” Diversity is not cited as an intrinsic virtue (apart from a provocative call to reject “the opposition between diversity and identity”). Noteworthy is silence on gender issues: women are never mentioned except a few times within the phrase “men and women.” The word “children” does not appear. While the goals of achieving global well-being, ending poverty, and moving towards greater equality are an undercurrent, the language used in the speech differs from many analyses of today’s global imbalances: the word “poor” occurs once, “poverty” never. Education is mentioned, but with a broad framing that focuses on how the challenge is to be pursued. The Catholic Church, he argues, “seeks to educate, to help people grow by examining the intellectual, the moral and social dimensions of their relationships and daily decisions, directing them towards peace.” 

What’s Wrong? What’s the Problem?

Gallagher’s diagnosis is grim and all too familiar. Our present-day world “is less and less governed by the culture of encounter,” preferring confrontation and the rule of “might makes right.” Gallagher notes how “The world is slowly dying of selfishness, greed, injustice and especially a lack of charity, precisely as self-gift.” He also observes that “politics seems to prefer a ruling class with scant vision, bound to short-sighted tactics of self-preservation, in a state of moral and material decay.” Gallagher cites the stark choices that Pope Francis laid out in his 2015 address to the United Nations: “One path leads to the consolidation of multilateralism as the expression of a renewed sense of global co-responsibility, a solidarity grounded in justice and the attainment of peace and unity within the human family ... The other path emphasizes self-sufficiency, nationalism, protectionism, individualism and isolation; it excludes the poor, the vulnerable and those dwelling on the peripheries of life.” Addressing this crisis is essential “to regenerate democracy and restore substance and credibility to politics.” A brighter future must come from “an awareness of the common destiny that now links all individuals and peoples of the earth, the whole of humanity.”   

For Gallagher, this requires “a profound change of outlook, in which the opposition between diversity and identity, unity and multiplicity, is rejected.” Education in the art of peacemaking can draw individuals, nations, and peoples out of “the spiral of war, resentment and hatred,” guiding them to the path of dialogue and the pursuit of the common good.” The modern world and globalization “have often betrayed justice, trying to replace the culture of encounter with a odd form of fraternity that would disregard ‘paternity’,” Encounter goes beyond a simple gesture of friendship; philanthropy alone is insufficient. For Gallagher, “a humanistic solidarity and a vision of human relationships leads to a welfare state in which socialization can make great progress, but communion increasingly recedes, friendship becomes more and more difficult and practical solidarity struggles to find its place, except sporadically or as a result of emotional impulses.” 

And What Is the “Culture of Encounter”?

Encounter is “the oxygen of life,” and Gallagher asserts that it must be grounded in relationships and dialogue that differ qualitatively from the way they are often described: “We the people, should be passionate about meeting others, seeking points of contact.” He sees encounter as more than “a simple gesture of friendship…closeness to God, witnessed by love for our neighbour, and the spiritual basis of just relationships.” The culture of encounter involves an attitude of openness, a constructive and balanced approach that is future oriented, and a foundation of charity. “If we want peace, we need to recognize that it must be based on more solid foundations than non-relationships, or merely cultural or economic relationships,” Gallagher suggests. “Inclusion” is a vital feature, though the text does not elaborate on what that entails: “Encounter cannot be built on empty diplomatic gestures, double-speak, hidden agendas or mere politeness, but only on truth and sincere efforts to understand one another and to work for a new synthesis for the benefit of all.”

How Does This Culture of Encounter Link to Global Governance?

The word “encounter,” for Gallagher, points to “the interplay of diplomacy, global governance and the search for peace.” The processes of the international community need to be structured along two tracks: justice/law and charity/friendship, that make relationships more authentic and humane. “Charity, or friendship, inspires communion, unification and fraternity. Justice, or law, inspires right relationships with others,” he asserts. The culture of encounter seeks to “transform the disagreements and conflicts of present-day society, replacing hatred with fraternity and charity.”  

Gallagher makes a tantalizing comment: We must begin “to reexamine our ideas of progress, growth and globalization from a broader and more complex standpoint, and finally commit ourselves to measuring growth other than in the purely quantitative terms of the GDP, setting in place indicators that consider human dignity and development.” (It is worth noting that the claim that progress is measured only by GDP in the “secular” world is an oversimplification, as countless other measures are widely used.)

How Does This Involve the Holy See?

The Holy See’s presence and activity in the international community aims to improve “the quality of life in our world,” Gallagher writes, offering a solid ethical basis for initiating processes of healing. “Saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war and promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” are “an unattainable illusion or even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.” 

Ways Forward

It is commonly asserted that human rights verge on serving as a “religion” of the United Nations, but Gallagher distinguishes rights seen as entitlements from his call to action: “The culture of encounter is a summons to responsibility in an age of entitlement” and to effective action, he insists. Individuals and societies must choose ways to cultivate authentic and sincere relationships. “It is not enough to have good feelings towards our neighbors; we need to do something for them,” he underlines. “Building a culture of encounter cannot stop at the affective level, but pass to the level of effective action. The proof of fraternity is not just benevolence but beneficial actions that embrace justice, because our encounter is with a neighbor who has real needs, even if not strict rights.”