03 August 2021

The Gift of Self

This article is a response to Pope Francis’ World Communications Day 2021 Message, “come and see”, to meet people where they are at, listen to their stories, and to simply be present with them in their lives


Pope Francis’ 55th World Communications Day (WCD) message encourages us to “Go. See. Share”, to hit the streets and encounter people face-to-face, listen to their stories first-hand and then share our lives with one another.

When Clara and Li Lian first heard of this, their immediate response was “No, thank you.”. Having grown accustomed to talking to people via text or email, face to face encounters now felt awkward and foreign. It is not everyday that you reach out to someone to ask them about their story, oftentimes it’s more comfortable to just be alone. This was why they were so curious about Michelle’s interview with Therese.

Michelle was given the opportunity to “Come and See” while researching for an article for the Catholic News. She was introduced to Therese, an ordinary woman with extraordinary generosity. During their interview, Michelle was in awe and inspired by Therese’s story as she found out why Therese made the radical decision to will all her assets to the Church, while recounting her faith journey in living with a chronic illness

What was Therese’s story?
Is encountering others really as awkward as we think it is?
What did you like about encountering someone and hearing their story?
What do you do when someone cries?

These were some questions that Clara, Li Lian and Michelle talked about and much more. Listen to the podcast or read the following summary to find out more.

Summary of Clara, Li Lian and Michelle’s conversation

1. Possible obstacles to face to face encounters

  • Rusty soft skills in the age of the Internet: We have grown more comfortable with interacting with our devices instead of talking face to face with someone. We have grown to dread phone calls and in-person encounters, preferring to email or text as it provides us a virtual barrier we can hide behind. Or better yet, we prefer not to meet at all if we don’t have a reason to.
  • Apprehension of meeting new people: There are many unknowns when it comes to encountering someone for the first time. These surface anxieties and concerns which make us lose the eagerness and excitement to meet new people. 

There is a lack of control in real life conversations. For example, we have no time to adjust our responses, making us uncomfortable and less spontaneous in our conversations. We are also afraid to go in blind so we find ways to combat that, either by finding out more about the person via looking through their social media profiles, or chatting with them online before meeting them offline. 

In Singapore, we are wary of strangers approaching us as we usually assume they want something from us. This makes it harder for us to encounter someone new as we don’t know how they will react. This leads to…. 

  • Fear of rejection: When we reach out to others, we are inadvertently making ourselves vulnerable. When we reach out to others, we don’t know if they want to talk to us. Even if they do, we are afraid they might judge us or even lose interest in us mid-conversation.

2. Benefits of face to face encounters

  • Helps others share their stories: Extrapolating from his 2020’s WCD Message which tells us to go out and tell our stories, Pope Francis in his 2021 WCD Message now invites us to “hit the streets” and find out other peoples’ stories. There are many people who might not be able nor have the time to share their stories, so why don’t we reach out to them and get those stories instead? We might unearth hidden treasures of hope and inspiration, just as Michelle discovered listening to Therese’s story.
  • We are able to connect better in person: Meeting someone in person allows us to experience their stories and emotions better. Michelle shared how she liked how she was able to experience Therese’s joy more fully through being able to see her smile (through her eyes, above her mask!), hear the tone of her voice and see her body language during their conversation.
  • Helps us to grow: We all have an influence on each other, which is why we are called to reach out and to connect. By exchanging stories, we widen our perspective of the world, we feel comforted knowing that we are not the only one suffering, and we get inspired to be better people when we hear an edifying sharing. Through telling our stories, we also see how God moves in other people’s lives and realise life is more interesting than we thought. 
  • Combats fake news: Pope Francis shared that, instead of getting information off the Internet or getting stories via social media, we are called to be like good old-fashioned reporters who hit the streets and get stories firsthand. 

In the same way that Andrew told Peter to come and experience Jesus for himself, we are encouraged to “Come and See” and encourage others to do the same; instead of telling others about another person, we too should bring that person directly to the source. 

3. Tips for face to face encounters

  • Reach out to someone close to you: You don’t have to look far to find someone to encounter. There could be good stories right under your nose, be it family, friends, neighbours or someone you frequently meet but never had a chance to get to know better. 
  • Be open and authentic in conversation: It is common to have first impressions of people, but let that not deter you from talking to them nor impacting the way you converse with them. Remember they might have the same fears as you. So instead of focusing on your own worries, focus more on how you can be hospitable to them.

Don’t expect too much from the conversation and start to force it to go in a direction you expect or want. Instead, be present and meet the person where they are at. Let the conversation unfold naturally, and react to what is revealed to you at that present moment. Let the Holy Spirit lead you!

  • If they cry, just hold space for them: Just like how God responds to us in prayer, we are called to also keep silent when someone shares their emotions with us and let them feel the emotions without judgement. When they have settled down, we can then remind them that they are loved, safe and that things will be ok. It is also good to standby with a tissue!

Note: Don’t stay silent for too long as that could make things turn awkward. You can rephrase what they have said and ask if you have understood them correctly, or ask them questions which might help them process their thoughts and emotions better. 

  • Pray before you reach out: Ask God who He wants you to reach out to and to bless and guide the conversation. You can say a similar prayer as what Michelle prayed before speaking with Therese:

“May this conversation be of the Holy Spirit. May He guide us in what we are going to share, what we want to speak, and may this conversation be mutually edifying, inspiring and bear fruits of joy, and friendship.”