Pope Francis and the Event of Encounter

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John C. Cavadini, Donald Wallenfang
Global Perspectives on the New Evangelization
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Pickwick Publications
    , January
     310 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Pope Francis and the Event of Encounter is the opening volume of the Global Perspectives on the New Evangelization series, edited by John C. Cavadini and Donald Wallenfang. Its contributions are masterfully distributed in a series of encounters which introduce the reader to Pope Francis’s vision on new evangelization.

In the first set of essays, mercy is the recurring theme: an intertwining of hope, discernment, and the essential link to the proclamation of the Word and the Sacraments. The reader could be reminded of what the Jesuit theologian Juan Alfaro (1914-1993) used to define an existencial crístico, a constitutive relationship with Christ by virtue of which it is impossible to evade an ongoing search for God. After this encounter, one is called to walk through the world and witness the Gospel, so that it can inspire all of existence.

The centrality of the event of encounter includes a call to action for social and ecological justice, for an engagement with the poor, and a deep involvement in charity. “Pope Francis and His Phenomenology of Encuentro” by Donald Wallenfang shows how the phenomenology of Pope Francis promotes an exodus from the daily sepulchers that prevent the soul from contemplation and keep it the prisoner of judgement and ruthlessness. 

As a logical consequence of the culture of encounter, the integral vision of our common home allows us to see all creation as a manifestation of God’s love. In the second set of essays, the contributors offer insights into the relational anthropology of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and Francis, without forgetting to pay particular attention to a formation in philosophical and theological wisdom which is essential to rediscovering the Creator and Creation. 

It would be desirable for Pope Francis’s detractors, according to whom Francis allegedly dismisses the importance of doctrine, to consider what Melanie Susan Barrett writes in “Doctrine and Praxis in Pope Francis’s Approach to Evangelization.” She recounts how Francis’s methodology encourages a practical use of doctrine rather than a conceptual one, therefore explaining what grounds his ability to discern between different situations and avoid a merciless generalization that is disrespectful of people’s lives. 

This essay is in harmony with the closing one in the same section written by Timothy P. O’Malley, in which it is explained how Pope Francis’s theological and pastoral realism enables the possibility of authentic trinitarian communion unfolding even in the midst of irregular situations such as infertility, as well as among divorced and remarried Catholics. 

The contributions in the final section, which is devoted to cultural and political encounters, provide meaningful reflections ranging from a critique of the tendency to prefer the concept of space over time in the writings of Pope Francis to the risk of seeing people as connections instead of persons whom we encounter—one of the main challenges in social communication. 

The volume closes with an essay by John C. Cavadini which deserves an in-depth reading. Discussing the participation of the laity in the Church, he traces a theoretical bridge between the expressions “winners of converts” and “missionary disciples,” respectively used by Fr. John A. O’Brien—winner of the Laetare Medal in 1973, who strongly believed in the initiative of the laity—and Pope Francis. The author discusses with great foresight the challenge faced by laypeople, who struggle to find a way to deal with the obligation and right to spread the message of salvation everywhere in the world. The risk of clericalizing lay people is still rampant in the Church today, and the solution to this problem lies with the co-responsibility of the laity and priests in a participative leadership—the real way to implement everyone’s responsibility within an educating community.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Claudia Giampietro, Canon Lawyer in Rome.

Date of Review: 
September 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John C. Cavadini is Professor of Theology, former Chair of the Department of Theology, and Director of the Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.

Donald Wallenfang is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and Associate Professor of Theology at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. He is the author of Human and Divine Being: A Study on the Theological Anthropology of Edith Stein and Dialectical Anatomy of the Eucharist: An Etude in Phenomenology (Cascade, 2017).


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