papal intention for november – dialogue!

Source: Pope’s general prayer intention for November is for dialogue (Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis wants us to pray for dialogue. This prayer intention, for the month of November, is timely and welcomed (at least by this blogger!) It comes as no surprise that dialogue is on the pope’s mind after the hard work – and sometimes craziness – of the October synod. Francis has a vision for a truly synodal church,

“a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”

Listening is at the heart of dialogue. Constantly interrupting, or shouting down a speaker is not only rude. It shows an inability or lack of desire to listen to what the person is trying to say. The same is true for discussion board commenters who pull words out of context to attack a writer, while ignoring the main idea of an article.

Whether in speech or in writing, it takes more than a few words to express an idea. Listening is giving an other the sacred space to fully express themselves before engaging in a deeper discussion on the idea.

From the Vatican Radio article,

At a meeting in Brazil, Pope Francis said: “When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” He said, “It is the only way for individuals, families, and societies to grow along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return.”

The goal of dialogue is not to reach a false sense of consensus by letting go of our beliefs. The article continues,

Dialogue does not mean denying objective truth, but rather respecting the dignity of the other person “in a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced.”

We may not have a seat at the table of global discussions, but we sit at many tables in our daily lives. These everyday tables offer the same challenges of diverse views and different personalities. Whether it is with family, friends, workers, teachers, students, or faith communities, difficult discussions can be seen as a call to dialogue. To listen deeply before speaking.

For greater dialogue in our church and in our world….We pray….

pope francis shares vision of a synodal church


While the focus during the Synod on the Family has been on disagreements and documents, perhaps the real news is yet to come. Pope Francis has been clear in his vision for a synodal church, a listening church which makes room for all the People of God to be heard. Here is my latest article for the Prairie Messenger….

Pope Francis shares vision of a synodal church

marianist lay communities and synods – a reflection

2014 International MLC Meeting, Lima Peru
2014 International MLC Meeting, Lima Peru

I may never attend a synod of bishops, but I have attended four international meetings of Marianist Lay Communities; 2001 in Philadelphia, 2005 in Bordeaux, 2009 in Nairobi and 2014 in Lima. As I followed the daily news from the synod, I couldn’t help pondering the similarities with our MLC international meetings.

First of all, there is the mind-opening reality of any international experience. As brothers and sisters in a worldwide community of communities, our commonality is grounded in a shared charism and spirituality. Our diversity is present in how we live this charism in the day to day.

Beyond obvious differences in language and culture, there are differences in political realities and agendas. These differences affect the mission of each community. It is important to share one’s local experience. After all, this is one of the main reasons to gather across the many miles. It is equally important to come with an open mind and heart to listen carefully to the experiences of others. This requires checking in our natural, parochial mindset at the door.

This is especially true for those of us in the western world. Our issues may not be the issues of our neighbours in the global south. We are sometimes so ready with an answer to the problems before us, that we fail to listen, really listen, to the experience and wisdom of others.

MLC International Team, 2009 Nairobi, Kenya
MLC International Meeting, 2009 Nairobi, Kenya

Watching the bishops in the synod halls struggling with headsets reminded me of the long meetings listening to simultaneous translations through static sound systems. It required extra attentiveness to follow the English translation going on in your headset while you could still hear the French or Spanish being spoken on the floor. Add to that the deliciousness of a hefty midday meal, late nights and jet lag, fighting the mid-afternoon demons of sleep was inevitable.

MLC writing team, 2009 Bordeaux
MLC writing team, 2005 Bordeaux

Writing international documents is a major challenge. I was on the writing team at two of the international meetings I attended. We had the added disadvantage of not having a shared language to work with around the table. We struggled to make the necessary changes and edits in three languages. Our translators were our trusted and indispensable companions as they helped us to communicate in our discussions and in our writings. Late, exhausting nights were the norm.

Compiling the numerous statements, comments and edits was often a herculean task. The documents we were writing would become our foundational identity documents. We had to discern which statements reflected the general assembly, and which were indicative of a more individual or local preference. As Marianist Lay Communities, we value inclusivity. The challenge was to make the documents inclusive of our diversity while specifying the foundational characteristics that united us. It was not easy, and there was always a point where our efforts seemed doomed. Relief came when the final document was voted on and approved by the assembly.

As with the synods, our international meetings provided the dual challenge for delegates to faithfully represent the grass roots experience of their region, and to take the fruits of the meeting back home so that visions and carefully chosen words could be transformed into action.

Interest in our international meetings was often mixed at the local levels. Again, as with synods, international meetings come and go while the lives of communities go on.