Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dialogue and Building Trust After Tragedy

By Anthony Cirelli, Ph.D.

Courage and trust are the essential qualities of dialogue, said Pope John Paul II. He knew that true dialogue is fragile, a balancing act among people. The presence or absence of truth hangs in the balance. Tragedies like the recent events in Boston can make it difficult to be courageous and trusting of others.

“Why,” one might ask, “should I bother trusting them? How can I tell if my neighbor is who they say they are?”  Can we ever tell for certain that a Muslim neighbor, fellow Christian in the pew, or that Hindu down the street, or the Jehovah’s Witness at the door is not out to manipulate or, in the extreme case of Boston, eliminate me? It seems that paranoia, a real limitation on our freedom, not to mention a form of madness, can only ensue when we withhold trust and replace it with a vigilant suspicion.

As difficult as it might seem at the moment, there is another way. Catholics in dialogue, for example, recognize that we must listen to other people and their stories with an openness devoid of hostility, defensiveness and—at least at first—challenge. In this we go against the tide of suspicion that leads to broken communion between persons and, ultimately, broken communities. Catholics in dialogue are called to choose, like our Lord, to put ourselves out there and give the other person respect, trust, attention and understanding.

Effective dialogue unfolds as an exercise in what Catholic thinkers call the shepherding of being; drawing out the true, good and beautiful that we hold dear and precious, and which alone can bring about the transformation of the world.  Our example is Jesus, who welcomed others, including those on the margins. Just as Christians are called to accept the invitation of the Lord to trust him and share our life with him, so too are we called to imitate his act of welcome by extending it to others.

This give-and-take of dialogue can dramatically impact the lives of individuals and nations.  Welcoming others, encouraging them to love and share his/her life with the world, and so bringing people into the light and out of the shadow world of loneliness and fear, is the basis for transforming the world through positive action that will lead to the formation of healthy minds and the building of culture. Our commitment to dialogue remains the best and only chance to foster understanding and peaceful coexistence, and so alone can serve our nation and the world in the prevention of another tragedy.

Anthony Cirelli is associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More information on interreligious dialogue is available on the USCCB website.

(CNS Photo/Karen Callaway, Catholic New World)

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