By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis encouraged those who research and reflect on social issues to have the heart of a shepherd who smells like sheep and assume the compassion of Jesus for the poor and suffering people. “Putting yourself on the side of the poor is an encounter with suffering and injustice, but also with genuine and contagious happiness” of the Beatitudes, he told some 50 journalists and collaborators of the Italian weekly magazine, “Aggiornamenti Sociali” (Social Updates).
The Jesuit-run periodical and think tank that began in 1950, also offers formation and has a staff composed of Jesuits and lay people.
Pope Francis handed them the prepared text of his discourse but preferred to speak from his heart. In their activities, he particularly encouraged them in the art of listening and dialoguing.
Listening, the Pope said, is precisely the fundamental attitude of every person who wants to do something for others. But it must be done with an open mind and heart, without any prejudice.
In this regard, he deplored the prejudice that Europe is experiencing today, with countries closing in and old ideologies that brought about the Second World War, making a comeback. In doing so, one must not distort reality but take it as it is.
After listening comes dialoguing which takes into account what reality is and seeking answers. And this dialogue, the Pope said, starts with the values of the Gospel that Jesus taught, without imposing them dogmatically, but with dialogue and discernment. According to the Pope, a genuine dialogue by a Christian includes looking at reality, resorting to prayer and then discerning the way forward, because “the Lord speaks to us through reality, through prayer and in discernment”.
“Never, never cover up reality,” he urged, stressing, “there are no ‘highways’ for evangelization; only humble, humble paths that will take us forward.”
Discerning with the Spirit
In his prepared remarks to “Aggiornamenti Sociali”, the Holy Father stressed the importance of discerning in order to orient members of society in the right direction. This consists in recognizing and following the voice of the Spirit at the personal, civil and ecclesial levels.
In areas such as artificial intelligence, bioethics, migration, inequality, economy, environment, and the common good, the Pope said, “Aggiornamenti Sociali” must not only provide reliable information but also accompany its readers to learn how to make judgments and act with greater responsibility.
The Holy Father encouraged the magazine to welcome the results of scientific research on social phenomena with the “gaze of the disciple, assuming the compassion that Jesus, the Master, feels and shows for the suffering people, for the poor who cry out to him, and, together with them, for our oppressed and devastated land”.
In discerning social phenomena, he said, Christians cannot ignore the preferential option for the poor. Among the strengths of Aggiornamenti Sociali, he said, is also that of giving space to the perspective of those who are "discarded" by listening to and accompanying them and giving voice to them.
“Even those who do research and reflect on social issues,” he said, “are called to have the heart of a shepherd who smells like sheep.”
This task of social discernment, the Pope further explained, cannot be done alone but involves all parties travelling together, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It consists in building a relationship, and also bridges, with words and gestures, by listening and willing to learn and change, to achieve a common goal.
The Pope urged those working at “Aggiornamenti Sociali” to particularly focus on three areas. Firstly, they should integrate those sectors of society that are on the margins, where the victims of the “culture of waste” are more easily found. Secondly, they should encourage solidarity and the encounter between the older and young generations, noting that the acceleration of social change risks tearing young people away from their past and roots. Lastly, he encouraged the encounter and common action among Christians, believers of other religions and all people of goodwill.
In conclusion, the Holy Father urged to them not to be discouraged in their commitment to justice for the poor and the “care of our common home”, saying it will make them enter into the dynamic of the Beatitudes – “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”