pope francis talks and models dialogue

pope and congress

When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. .. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces. (Pope Francis addressing Congress)

Pope Francis is proving to the world that respectful speech will move hearts more readily than aggressive arguments. A kind, peaceful demeanour can be more powerful than angry, wagging fingers. Acknowledging that which unites us rather than railing against that which divides us opens doors to peace. This is a pope who promotes and models dialogue over diatribe.

During his visit to the USA, he has repeatedly spoken of the need to dialogue to overcome existing polarities in our church and in our world. In today’s address to Congress, he mentioned “dialogue” twelve times. Yesterday, he called the American bishops to be “promoters of the culture of encounter” saying,

Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love

Surely it is no accident that Francis spoke strongly of the need for dialogue to both bishops and members of congress. Pope Francis faces similar challenges within the Curia and the Synod of Bishops that President Obama faced in Congress. Pope and President both came into their offices with dreams and hopes for change. Both offered us promises of ushering in much needed change; change that would promote equality, peace and justice.

Both leaders have been stymied by a lack of dialogue from those who hold tight the reins of governance with a myopic determination to ensure that change will never come under their watch.

Why is dialogue so hard?

Dialogue requires us to control our passions and emotions in the midst of difficult discussions. Perhaps the most importance aspect of dialogue, and the one we usually struggle with the most, is to simply stop speaking and listen. Listen effectively. Ponder carefully. Respond respectively.


Let’s make it more interesting. Watch any candidate or leadership debate on either side of the border. Now, let’s make it into a drinking game. Raise a glass every time a speaker is interrupted mid-sentence by another participant. Most of us would be tipsy within the first 20 minutes.

And, how about the discussion boards on some Catholic sites? I’m a huge fan of NCR. Their discussion boards offer an opportunity for dialogue that is rarely found in the Catholic Church. They attract many intelligent and witty writers. Sadly, too often what began as a respectful and thoughtful back and forth of ideas degenerates into a childish, mean-spirited fight between progressives and traditionalists.

At last year’s Synod of Bishops, it didn’t take long for idealogical lines to be drawn among the episcopal brethren. It shouldn’t surprise us that the world’s bishops don’t constitute an homogenous mind-set. But, it will take the patience of a saint and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to ensure respectful dialogue and not aggressive debate among these men, especially on issues that produce strong passion and conviction from differing views. No wonder Pope Francis keeps asking us to pray for him.

Today’s address to Congress was a brilliant example of a heart that yearns for dialogue. Yes, Francis could have challenged more, and sugar-coated less. But, he managed to speak to all. urging all to embrace their call to leadership as a vocation of service.

Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Is dialogue impossible? I hope not!

My bags are packed and I’m flying out to Lima tomorrow. Here’s one last post before I go. It’s actually a two for one special.

The National Catholic Reporter recently suspended their discussion boards due to increased negativity and lack of civil discourse among some respondents. NCR was known for its active comment boards. “NCR Today”, their online blog, received the 2013 Catholic Press Award for its far-reaching discussions. Many of us are missing these discussions, even if they did get nasty at times. Here’s a piece that I wrote for NCR Today on this issue.

In the article, I’ve included a link to a Prairie Messenger column I wrote before Christmas addressing the issue of modern day Pharisees in the Church. (Spoiler alert; Pope Francis is on our side!)

And now I’m off. See you all in two weeks!

In much gratitude for the many good women and men who add to the dialogue with insight, inspiration, and respect.


how do we dialogue with heresy hunters?

It’s happened again. Thanks to the detailed stats and comment links provided by WordPress, I discovered that my blog was being referenced by yet another self-professed gate-keeper of orthodoxy. I shared a similar experience recently. At the time, I refused to give the accusers more notoriety than they deserved. I stand by that now and will not share the name of the blogs that published the accusatory article. (The article was written by one and re-posted by another.)

The article accuses the Prairie Messenger of promoting heresy and dissent, and singles me out as a columnist who is “indicative of the open dissent”. It then lists some of the topics and articles I have written about on this catholic dialogue blog.

My first reaction was to perhaps post a polite response to the accusations. I decided to leave the accusations lying in mid-air with hopes that they will vaporize on their own.

Perhaps it is time to post a warning by-line on catholic dialogue…..now available in HD! Depending on your viewing area and theological leanings, the words you read may be deemed as Heresy and Dissent.

Sometimes, all you can do is try to have a wee bit of a chuckle. But, the spirit behind these accusations is no laughing matter. In our politically correct world, there are some words that are no longer acceptable because their history is just too horrific.

I would like to propose that the words ‘heretic’ and ‘dissenter’ be added to that list.

Aren’t these merely theological definitions for those whose religious belief or practice is contrary to orthodox doctrine, you ask?

Perhaps, but these words also have a historical association with vile and violent religious persecutions by those who self-righteously claimed sole possession of the truth. The call to wipe out heretics inspired armies of crusaders. Trotting to the authorities with false accusations of heresy or dissent became the ultimate revenge in a dispute with your neighbour. Sadistic inquisitors terrified, tortured, and killed their victims in the name of keeping religion pure.

Accusations of heresy or dissent are too often associated with a mean-spiritedness that has no place in a religious community. It saddens me, but it also challenges us to seek ways to bridge the current divides; for they must be bridged if we are to move forward together as a united people of God.

Have you ever been in a situation where dialogue seemed impossible?

What strategies can be used to promote dialogue in these situations?