On his recent trip to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay, Pope Francis answered questions from journalists who were traveling with him on the flight back to Rome. One of the journalists on the flight asked him if he would study American criticisms of his critiques of the global economy and finance before his trip to the United States in September. Pope Francis replied: “I have heard that some criticisms were made in the United States—I've heard that—but I have not read them and have not had time to study them well. If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism,” he said, “I don't have the right to comment on what that person is saying.”
Once again I am impressed with Pope Francis. He could have responded to the journalist’s question dismissively, or suggested that those who critiqued his words were ill informed or just plain wrong. Instead, he said that now that his trip to South America had concluded he must begin studying for his trip to America and that his preparation would include a careful reading of the criticisms of his remarks about economic life. I find this enormously refreshing. In our world today it is so easy to pigeonhole people with whom we disagree and/or simply dismiss them out of hand. How refreshing it is to find someone who says he needs to study the criticisms of those who disagree with him so that he can enter into dialogue with them.
I think Pope Francis’ non-dismissive attitude is very Christ-like. In the Gospels we often find Jesus at odds with people—most frequently with the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus, though, never dismissed them or refused to engage them. Time and time again he entered into dialogue with them. And even when they were trying to trap him with a contrived question or fabricated situation, he never rebuffed them or declined to talk with them. Instead he allowed them to be in his company and he continually sought to enter into a dialogue with them.
In our world today where more and more often people seem to talk “at” each other rather than talk “to” each other, it is good to be reminded that this wasn’t the way of Christ. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to try to lead by example and to engage others in dialogue and civil discourse. I believe this is especially true about those with whom we disagree or where common ground seems lacking.
Now the above is not to say that we need to abandon our convictions or keep our beliefs to ourselves when we engage in dialogue with others—particularly those with whom we disagree. It is to suggest, though, that as Pope Francis said “If I have not dialogued with the person who made the criticism, I don’t have the right to comment on what that person is saying.”