A culture of encounter

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 28, 2017

Opening our doors to strangers

In his message for Lent, Pope Francis focuses on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke’s Gospel. While one man is surrounded by material possessions, the other “is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand,” says the pope.

“Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift,” Pope Francis explains. “A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change.”

There are many examples in today’s world where we can substitute Lazarus for a modern-day counterpart. During Lent, Pope Francis asks us to open the doors of our heart to them and recognize in them the face of Christ.

“I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal by sharing in the Lenten campaigns promoted by many church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family,” concludes Pope Francis. (Read the pope’s entire Lenten message at bit.ly/Lent2017_Message.)

A culture of encounter is a theme desperately needed in our world today. We have seen how differences — ethnicity, religion, race, language, skin color — can breed animosity, enmity and suspicion. Yet, when strangers meet, when walls are gradually replaced by bridges, those differences diminish and disappear.

How can we embrace a culture of encounter? By welcoming the stranger. Do you know an immigrant? Have you met a refugee? Have you encountered a homeless person? What about a single mom, a young black man or a Muslim student?

Here in the Diocese of Green Bay, we have ample opportunities to create a culture of encounter. Many parishes minister to immigrants, and in Green Bay, Casa ALBA Melanie offers a variety of services to Spanish-speaking immigrants. Offering assistance, such as teaching English as a second language, can put a human face on a culture and race that has been disparaged in recent months.

For every stranger, there is an outreach organization that can link individuals and groups together.

It’s not always practical to begin a face-to-face encounter. This is where organizations like Catholic Relief Services can help. Through its Rice Bowl program, Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, can facilitate a culture of encounter. CRS offers “Stories of Hope,” where each week during Lent they introduce visitors on their website (crsricebowl.org) to a global family.

The first encounter is with the Singh family of India. We learn how the family makes a living, what foods they eat and how we, through CRS, can help them. There is even a video showing how Raj and Megha Singh grow food for their family.

Another opportunity to experience a culture of encounter is by sponsoring a child, young adult or elder through Unbound, formerly Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA).

Founded by a group of Catholic friends and missionaries, Unbound connects U.S. families with the poor around the world. Monthly donations help educate and feed a needy child or support an elder. Donors correspond with their sponsored friend, making the experience a true culture of encounter. Learn more at unbound.org.

These are a few ideas to begin a culture of encounter. It’s a Lenten journey that can bring us face-to-face with strangers who are also the face of Jesus Christ.

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