Some of the themes in Pope Francis’ exhortation are pretty obvious, but others are more subtle. Here’s one of the latter: diversity as a good thing in the Church.
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like many Catholics (and many religious believers of any stripe) aren’t so hot on diversity. There’s a tendency, if you believe yours is the One True God, to think the corollary is that everyone should be just like you, apparently. Francis sees it differently.
Francis talks a fair bit about cities, and one of the things he loves about them is their diversity. “In cities, as opposed to the countryside, the religious dimension of life is expressed by different lifestyles, daily rhythms linked to places and people.” (72) Evangelization “must reach places where new narratives and paradigms are being formed, bringing the word of Jesus to the inmost souls of our cities. Cities are multicultural; in the larger cities, a connective network is found in which the groups of people share a common imagination and dreams about life, and new human interactions arise, new cultures, invisible cities.” (74) Even so, “properly understood, cultural diversity is not a threat to Church unity…we in the Church can sometimes fall into a needless hall owing of our own culture and this show more fanaticism than true evangelizing zeal.” (117) But “faith cannot be constricted to the limits of understanding and expression of any one culture. ..no single culture can exhaust the mystery of our redemption in Christ.” (118)
It’s not just cities that reflect a diversity which Francis praises; he also talks in 125-126 about popular piety – those traditions that flower in local communities and generally make non-Catholics wonder if we’ve lost our marbles. These aren’t just human traditions run wild to Francis. “Underlying popular piety, as a fruit of the inculturated Gospel, is an active evangelizing power which we must not underestimate…we are called to promote and strengthen it, in order to deepen the never ending process of inculturation.” (126)
Diversity isn’t supposed to be easy or comfortable. “Differences between persons and communities can sometimes prove uncomfortable, but the Holy Spirit, who is the source of that diversity, can bring forth something good from all things and turn it into an attractive means of evangelization.” (131) Diversity can lead to conflict, but Francis believes that conflict will not have the last word: “the unity brought by the Spirit can harmonize every diversity…Diversity is a beautiful thing when it can constantly enter into a process of reconciliation and seal a sort of cultural covenant resulting in a ‘reconciled diversity.’” (230)
Sometimes recognizing diversity leads to a paradoxical movement to create a “least common denominator” culture that tries to segregate the things that make us different to a private sphere of life. That’s not what Francis wants. “A healthy pluralism, one which genuinely respects differences and values them as such, does not entail privatizing religions in an attempt to reduce them to the quiet obscurity of the individual’s conscience or to relegate them to the enclosed precincts of churches, synagogues or mosques.” (255)
Finally, recognizing and valuing diversity is an extension of the recognition of the dignity of each human being. “If we are to share our lives with others and generously give of ourselves, we also have to realize that every person is worthy of our giving. Not for their physical appearance, their abilities, their language, their way of thinking, or for any satisfaction that we might receive, but rather because they are God’s handiwork, his creation.” (274)
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