Monday, February 5, 2018

Silence & Complicity

General Audience with Pope Francis where the Faculty and Students of Jesuit University of San Francisco participated on January 10, 2018. Photo by Geoff Johnson

Silence & Complicity 
by Geoff Johnson, MNA

During the Academic Global Immersion (AGI) trip to Rome, Italy, we had the privilege of attending and audience with Pope Francis in the Paul VI Hall. Our audience with the Pope was very timely in that in took place on Wednesday, exactly halfway through our program. The two days prior, we had the opportunity to meet with the global staff of Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and to hear about JRS’ work helping asylum seekers, refugees, migrants and displaced persons throughout the world. Father Thomas Smolich the International Director of JRS spoke about the mission of JRS which is to, “Accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons. As a Catholic organization and a work of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), JRS is inspired by the compassion and love of Jesus for the poor and excluded.” What struck me most about their mission, is their desire to serve where the need is the greatest and misery is the most pronounced. Led by the values of dignity, solidarity, compassion, hope, hospitality, justice, and participation, the organization finds its greatest advocate in Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit.

Prior to the audience with the Pope, we also had the opportunity to tour the Colosseum and learn about its history of slavery, prostitution and other forms of forced labor. Surrounded by the historical splendor of the Colosseum, I began to understand the human misery and suffering that occurred within its walls and how human lives were not valued. During our time the previous afternoon with Father Michael Smith with JRS, we were led in a exercise on the importance of silence in active listening, and striving to connect with those who are in need. It was following these meaningful preparatory sessions, that Pope Francis’ message on Wednesday resonated so purposefully.

Pope Francis began his message by stating, “It is in the very encounter between human misery and divine mercy that the gratitude expressed in the ‘Gloria’ comes alive; ‘a very ancient and venerable hymn in which the Church, gathered together in the Holy Spirit, glorifies and entreats God the Father and the Lamb’ (General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 53).” Highlighting the importance of silence, the Pope continues, “The silence is not confined to the absence of words but rather to preparing oneself to listen to other voices: the one in our heart and, above all, the voice of the Holy Spirit. In the Liturgy, the nature of sacred silence depends on the moment in which it takes place: ‘within the Act of Penitence and again after the invitation to pray, all recollect themselves; but at the conclusion of a reading or the homily, all meditate briefly on what they have heard; then after Communion, they praise and pray to God in their hearts’ (ibid., 45). Thus, before the opening prayer, silence helps us to recollect ourselves and to contemplate why we are there.”

This powerful message was even more appropriate given the purpose of our trip to Rome, and given the setting of the Pope speaking in front of The Resurrection by Pericle Fazzini. This massive sculpture was created to show the anguish of mankind living under threat of nuclear war during the 20th century. For me personally, I felt the connection of the anguish, misery and suffering that is now felt in the 21st century by refugees and migrants. Furthermore, I especially appreciated the theme throughout the week of silence. So often we think about silence in the face of misery as a form of complicity, as a metaphor for ignoring the suffering of others. But through our time with JRS and with the Pope’s address, I was reminded that silence can actually be a tool of reflection and solidarity. Allowing us to not just listen to, but actually hear and understand, both “the voice of the Holy Spirit” and the stories of those in need.

Message of Pope on Silence:

Image of Resurrection- Anguish of mankind leaving under threat of nuclear war/Contrast with loss of connection between mankind.

Jesuit Refugee Service