Pope Francis Pays Attention to the Details of an Encounter
The context of a parable
Sr. Joyce Meyer attended a meeting in Rome of leaders of women’s congregations from 80 countries representing more than 450,000 women religious. The theme of the assembly was Sowers of Prophetic Hope. Among their exercises, they contemplated images of small seeds pushing their way through seemingly impossible odds of extremely hard surfaces. These and other images were intended remind to be attentive to small actions that begin to change landscapes of unthinkably impossible situations. Several weeks later she is still reflecting upon the impact of Pope Francis meeting with them.
Here is a parable extracted from here recent reflection.
When I entered the audience room, I expected to see the pope’s chair up on the stage, where I had seen it at other times, a place from which popes offer messages to audiences.
“Where is the chair?” I thought. “It is missing!”
I searched and eventually found it in a very different place — another surprise of the week. It was sitting floor-level, facing the chairs where sisters were being seated.
Pope Francis came into the audience chamber from the back after blessing the beautiful anti-trafficking exhibit in the hallway outside and proceeded to his chair, with sisters enthusiastically welcoming him. Once seated, Sr. Carmen Sammut, now-former president of UISG, rose and moved forward to greet him. To my surprise, as she did so, he stood, greeted her and called for another chair to be brought for her. He invited her to sit beside him at his table.
Having her sit side by side with him was already an unheralded change of protocol that did not end there. An attendant handed Pope Francis his speech, which, instead of reading, he handed to Sister Carmen, saying, “You can read this later. Now, I want to have conversation with the sisters.”
It was stunning. Another break with protocol.
There were no questions written and vetted before the pope would answer them. The conversation was to be totally open, without fear of what might be said. I was amazed at the vulnerability in this action.
Pope Francis then invited any sister who desired to ask whatever she wished. A number of sisters asked questions, but one touched me deeply, primarily for the courage it took for the sister to ask.
A Sister of the Sacred Heart of Jesus from South Sudan asked him directly: “Holy Father, why are there still five vacancies for bishops in South Sudan? We are a country without shepherds. We need bishops. When will you do something to change this?”
Pope Francis was quiet for a moment before agreeing that it is not good to be without church leadership in that war-torn country. Then he explained that he has not yet identified anyone he thought could be appointed bishop or found those willing to accept the posts. He also mentioned his desire to visit there and his regret that last year’s planned visit was postponed because of security reasons.
All of these changes may seem insignificant, but they ignited new hope in me. They are small seeds sown that may be part of the breaking through seemingly unchangeable rigidity of a hierarchy that clings to power.
A parable for the Vincentian Family to consider
As I read this story it seemed to me to be a parable for all members of the Vincentian Family to reflect on as we strive to serve our marginalized brothers and sisters.
I began by thinking of all the unconscious little rituals we have in many of our ministerial settings, especially those in which people with needs come to us rather than when we go to them.
I also thought about how easy it is to slip into accustomed ways of speaking rather than really listening to the hearts of those we claim to serve. When do we need to throw away our scripts? What chairs do we need to move?
How many times do we share our frustrations in not being able to provide immediate answers?
Read the entire reflection. Pay particular attention to the little details that struck her. Are there any instances where you see you might be able to make little changes in your ministry setting and how you listen?