We Need a ‘Culture of Belonging’

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Marcus Mescher writes:

Pope Francis’ call to build a “culture of encounter” is not just an invitation to bring people together across differences in the spirit of mercy, solidarity, and hope; it is also how disciples emulate Jesus Christ’s teaching and healing ministry by practicing inclusive outreach, engaging in mutually respectful exchange, and opening up new possibilities.

Jesus shows us how an intentional approach to encountering others can produce personal and social transformation. Although Jews and Gentiles were divided by belief and custom, Jesus’ inclusive table fellowship meant breaking bread with people who both suffered and benefitted from the oppressive Roman Empire. With this habit, Jesus revealed the dignity of those considered insignificant and unworthy. He also fashioned an ever-more-inclusive sense of communion that erased categories of “us” and “them.” He didn’t just heal the sick or provide food to the hungry; he made room for sinners like Zacchaeus, an encounter that spurs this corrupt and wealthy man to repent and atone for his extortion and exploitation (Luke 19:1-10)….

Social change can only happen when people feel welcome, valued, and free to be themselves. For this reason, the pope’s call to build a “culture of encounter” has to lead us from respectful accompaniment and fruitful exchange to the conditions for an inclusive and equitable “culture of belonging.” This means continually inviting people to overcome deception and fear, defensiveness and distrust, contempt and coercion. Such a commitment requires spiritual wisdom and stamina made possible by putting ourselves in touch with God, who is always seeking to encounter us….

In the end, a “culture of encounter” is not just about how to solve problems caused by social division or unjust inequalities. It is also an opportunity to become ever more attentive and responsive to the presence and power of the Triune God, the communion of love in whose image and likeness every person is made. To be human is to reach for our destiny: the equality, mutuality, and reciprocity of encounter that realizes inclusive belonging for the flourishing of all.