Archbishop Richard Smith talks with local reporters over breakfast June 10.

WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ

Archbishop Richard Smith talks with local reporters over breakfast June 10.

June 23, 2014
RAMON GONZALEZ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

Modern media technology must help us not only to connect virtually but to promote a real encounter with people.

That was the message Archbishop Richard Smith delivered to reporters at the annual Breakfast with the Archbishop at St. Joseph Seminary May 10.

Several print, television and radio journalists enjoyed a traditional bacon and eggs breakfast with Smith and then talked about communications.

Smith used the message of Pope Francis for World Communications Day as a springboard for the conversation.

Entitled Communication at the Service of an Authentic Culture of Encounter, the pope's message says effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages but respectfully engaging with their questions and their doubts.

With the Internet and social networks dominating the way people reach out to others, Pope Francis calls on people to go beyond merely connecting with each other.

The pope said that, just as the Good Samaritan took responsibility for the wounded person, it is not enough for people to be connected, but that "connections need to grow into true encounters."

Smith said the message also highlights "the sad reality of division that exists in humanity at a whole host of different levels," such as the division between rich and poor and the divisions that exist in nations where there is civil strife such as Syria and Ukraine.

The pope's call for a culture of encounter is aimed at healing divisions among people, Smith explained.

"By encountering, he means being present to the other and really taking time to listen to the other and learn from the other and understand the good in the other."

POLITICAL LEADERS PRAY

A good example of this type of encounter was the June 8 peace prayer session involving leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority which the pope hosted at the Vatican.

"Some people started to wonder whether he was jumping into politics, but he said 'No, this is very specifically an encounter for prayer,'" Smith said.

"But symbolically that struck me as really important because it was inviting two parties historically very divided, often intractably, to an encounter that would foster a listening and a mutual understanding as a necessary grounding for peace.

"I thought that was a dramatic example of what he had been trying to foster through his messages from day one."

DIGITAL NEIGHBOURLINESS

Citing Francis' statement, Smith spoke of the need to introduce neighbourliness into the digital world of communication. He said the Internet offers immense possibilities for encouraging encounter and solidarity.

"We want to do our best to keep our churches, our physical buildings, open. But how do we stay open in the digital world and create those spaces where people can come in their hurt and in their need and find the hope and the consolation and the solace that can come from the Church, from the Gospel of the Lord?"