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Digital world needs a human, tender touch

It is hard to believe that Pope Francis is on the cover of Rolling Stone’s February edition, but there he is.

Anyone who has read Rolling Stone knows that it is steeped in a worldview that is unfriendly to the Church’s teachings, which makes the Holy Father’s appearance all the more surprising. Because of that worldview and the one-sided analysis of the piece, I cannot recommend the cover story on Pope Francis as an example of serious journalism. The media is creating what one journalist called a “Fantasy” Francis and is far from the truth of who the Holy Father is and what he believes.

But I do believe that his appearance underscores the power of building “a culture of encounter” and bringing “tenderness” to our interactions—two principles that he embodies and promotes in his recently released message for World Communications Day.

These two ways of being Christian in our ever-changing world are a part of the new evangelization.

In his first message for World Communications Day, Pope Francis focuses on the importance of a having a truly Christian presence in the digital world.

At the heart of his message is a call to turn our online interactions with people into “true encounters” that build relationships and bring “tenderness” to the often-sterile digital landscape. If Christians are able to turn their digital meetings into real encounters where the “other” becomes our neighbor, Pope Francis says, then the Gospel can reach the ends of the earth.

The Holy Father illustrates his point by applying the parable of the Good Samaritan to the digital sphere. “Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbors. The Good Samaritan not only draws near to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other.”

In other words, truly encountering people online is not just about learning to identify with others, it goes even further and accepts difficulty for the sake of the other and leads them to Christ.

Because the digital world is not physical, these acts of mercy can take the form of being willing to engage in dialogue and “believe that the ‘other’ has something worthwhile to say.” The pope notes that this “does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.” It is meeting the person where he or she is and through the encounter lead them to Jesus Christ.

But being willing to listen and believe that others have something worth saying is only half of Pope Francis’ challenge.

I believe that the reason Pope Francis landed on the cover of Rolling Stone is that behind his eagerness to encounter others is a tender heart, a desire to lovingly tend the wounds of the people he meets.

One has to look no further than his weekly Wednesday general audiences, when Pope Francis spends close to an hour after his remarks greeting the sick and needy. He has also tasked his almoner with personally tending to those in difficult circumstances, from the old woman whose wallet was stolen to the young parents whose daughter was dying.

People do not miss this. They notice that the Holy Father loves those who are hurting, and they know by extension that if they had a chance to meet him, he would love them and tenderly care for their wounds. In his tenderness he communicates compassion for the other person.

This gift of tenderness must be a part of how we communicate online, on the phone and in person. The pope describes it as a need for “communications that bring warmth and stir hearts” like the Good Samaritan, “who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them, (may that) be our inspiration.”

I pray that every person in the Archdiocese of Denver truly encounters the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and experiences God’s healing love and tenderness. Then, we will be able to transform how we communicate and bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila
The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5).
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