Listening to the brother or sister is the indispensable condition for an authentic dialog. This is how Pope Francis puts it in his apostolic exhortation Christus Vivit (Christ Lives): “The sign of listening is the time I dedicate to the other. It’s not a question of quantity, but of the other person feeling that my time is theirs: all the time they need to tell me what they want. They must feel that I am listening to them unconditionally, without offending, scandalizing, annoying or tiring them. This is how the Lord listens when he sets out with the disciples on the road to Emmaus” (cf. Luke 24:13-35). “When Jesus mentions continuing because the two disciples had reached home, they understand that he has offered them his time, so they give him theirs, offering him lodging. This attentive and disinterested listening shows how valuable the other person is to us, regardless of their ideas or life choices” (CV, n. 292).
EMPATHY AND LISTENING
I watched the documentary “Amen: Francis responds” on the Disney+ streaming service some time ago. In the documentary, the Pope talks to ten young people, who were between 20 and 25 years old. The reality of the young people varies: three are men and seven are women. They come from Spain, Latin America, India, and Senegal.
These boys and girls express themselves with freedom and sincerity and share their experiences and reality, even if it is often painful, deeply personal, and intimate. The testimonies presented are challenging, both in human terms and in terms of the Christian faith.
Khadim, a young Senegalese Muslim living in Spain, spoke of his brother who crossed the sea in an unseaworthy boat at the age of 14 to reach Europe where he was the victim of racism. Medha, an American whose parents left India for a better future for their family, mentioned how she was also the victim of racism and discrimination but managed to overcome it and is now studying medicine. Juan, Spanish, was a victim of sexual abuse in a Catholic school who gave his testimony in tears and lamented the refusal of many to accompany victims of abuse, siding with the abusers. Alejandra, a young Colombian mother, talked about creating and selling adult content on online platforms. Victor, a Spanish member of a family of former Catholics, considered himself agnostic; Dora, born in Ecuador and emigrated with her family to Spain when she was three years old, burst into tears as she told her experiences of bullying, racism, and loneliness and how it led her to contemplate about suicide. Lucía, a young Peruvian woman, spoke of how she lost her faith in Jesus Christ after suffering power and psychological abuse for years while in a religious community. Milagros, from Argentina, presented herself as a Catholic catechist who actively participates in feminist and activist groups, including the Catholic for the Right to Decide. Maria, a Spanish Catholic, spoke out against abortion and explained why pornography is harmful to those who produce it and those who consume it; Celia, Spanish, shared that she is non-binary and Christian.
The Pope listens to the sometimes distressing words of his interlocutors with empathy, or as he said in his message for World Communications Day 2022, “with the ear of his heart.” He is attentive, interested, and respectful. He tries to respond logically, but also with love, understanding, mercy, and respect, to the concerns of young people, always with a calm and welcoming voice without judgment.
Francis shares his thoughts spontaneously. He draws more on his life experience than on theologically elaborate reasoning or the defense of doctrinal ideas, although he always responds with the teachings of the Church. In emotionally tense moments, the Pope affectionately invites young people to express themselves with tranquility, freedom, and confidence. On these occasions, he calls them “son” or “daughter”.
In addition to words, the Pope communicates non-verbally, whether with facial expressions, gestures, posture, or respectful silence. For example, we never see him frown. We also see him lower his head as a sign of sadness or circumspection.
RECOVERING LISTENING SKILLS
Today, in a globalized and hyper-connected world, young people communicate a lot using different digital platforms, but they don’t always feel listened to and understood. The Pope acknowledged that he doesn’t use a cell phone and isn’t up to date with new technologies.
However, these ten young people, who represent today’s youth, with their sorrows and joys, disappointments and hopes, felt welcomed in their differences and experienced the richness of communication and empathetic listening that is possible even between such different generations.
Open dialogue with those who think differently carried out with mutual respect and empathy, is a good example of how the Church should act in our encounters with people who are different, even those of other religions or non-believers.
When we establish a sincere dialogue with the other, are willing to listen and learn, respect differences and share our own experiences as Francis and these young people did, we can build new paths of social and ecclesial fraternity.