November 8, 2020

As I made my way through chapters five (On better kinds of politics) and six (Dialogue and Friendship in Society) of Fratelli Tutti, it brought me back memories of traveling to the Dominican Republic for an immersion experience. One of the unforgettable memories from my time at the DR was their hyper-friendly mosquitos, who showed impeccable hospitality throughout the entire time, gifting me, as it were a sign of welcome, SIXTY mosquito bites in total! Making me a believer in the following statement, "If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito!”

All kidding aside, my time in the Dominican Republic was a transformative experience. When I reflect back on my time at the DR, what stands out to me the most are the encounters with the people, the feelings they evoked in me; feelings which I carry, even to this day, feelings of “being held” and “being at home”.

I remember on our last day at Franco Bido, receiving a hug from Felicia. In a matter of few seconds, without any words, but just by being held, I felt warmth, acceptance, care, welcome, and while I was many miles away from home, at that very moment, I was, home.

What I appreciated about Education Across Borders (the organization that hosted the DR immersion experience) was that their mission was not merely a project “for” the people, but a partnership “with” and “of” the people (Fratelli Tutti 169). We were not simply there to “gift” the people with material support, but rather our main goal was to form bonds of genuine relationships, as we were invited into people’s homes, eating and drinking with them, listening to and sharing our stories, singing and dancing, and in the process, gifting each other our very selves, the very best gift which enriched us all with a shared sense of belonging.

What was also inspiring to see, were the community leaders who were able to receive education through the support of Education Across Borders, who would return to their respective communities upon finishing their education, to inspire and empower other future leaders. In this way, the support that the communities received from Education Across Borders did not render them into “passivity”, but it enabled the community, “new pathways of self-expression” as well as readying community members to “shape his or her own future”. This is a key principle in assisting communities in need, as Pope Francis explains its importance in paragraph 187, “the importance of the principle of subsidiarity, which is inseparable from the principle of solidarity”.

If subsidiarity (giving agency to those receiving assistance) and solidarity (sense of belonging) are the core principles for bringing about meaningful change in communities in need, the vehicle by which these principles would be brought to reality is, “a better kind of politics”. Pope Francis explains in paragraph 180, “This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as ‘a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.’ (Italics added)” Here, Pope Francis reclaims the “soul” of politics, that is, social charity, “which makes us love the common good”, which in turn is expressed through political charity, “a decisive commitment to devising effective means to this end”. 

And how do we achieve this type of “healthy politics”? Dialogue, “Approaching, speaking, listening, looking at, coming to know and understand one another, and to find common ground: all these things are summed up in the one word ‘dialogue’. If we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue” (FT 198, italics added).

And here is where each of us had a tangible role to play!

To foster genuine dialogue, in our lives, at our home, at work, at the market, at Church, at our social gatherings. Genuine dialogue involves the ability to respect the other’s point of view, an openness to the other and to truth, and a willingness to work and struggle together.

It might seem little, perhaps even insignificant, but if you think you’re too little to make a difference.. perhaps you need to sleep with a mosquito!

Have a good week!
Deacon Val Park