They were speaking and... remained silent about suffering

Małgorzata Cichoń

A jubilee scientific session of the International Flying University of the Church teaching entitled 'The Social Dimension of Suffering' was held In Cracow and Oswiecim. It was attended by participants interested in the Church teaching like professors from academic centres (among the others from Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, England, France, Switzerland), Catholic clerics (among the others from India and Ghana) and also protestants (among the others the Anglican Bishop of nominee). They have been meeting for longer than 25 years to raise issues important from the standpoint of faith, education and current events.

'Social dimension of suffering'

The choice of this year's topic was suggested by dr Kazimierz Szałata, a philosopher and ethics scientist at Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński's University in Warsaw, one of the main organizers of the session this year: - we often limit the Church social teaching to economic or political issues while its essence is a human being. Without understanding what is the deepest in it, it is impossible to understand the Church social teaching which is not the third way between liberalism and communism but an attempt to throw a light of the Gospel onto our reality within an individual, family, social dimension. Hence, according to dr Szałata, we have chosen something which is the most difficult in the social discourse: it is suffering.
The first part of the conference was held in the Centre of the Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim. The attendants were meditating on the issue of human suffering and sacrifice on the basis of the Book of Job and the Book of Isaiah, sharing their experiences of the social suffering in Africa, India and Europe (during wars and communism), and they were participating in The Holy Mass. They also walked through a gate with the inscription: 'Arbeit macht frei'.

The courage of silence

- In order to say something about suffering, it is essential to remain silent - as dr Szałata explains. - It has got a spiritual dimension and is out of a discourse. It is impossible to speak about it without an earlier experience which we refer to. There are people who talk about suffering beautifully, they can also easily bring tears to others' eyes although they have never experienced any suffering in their life and in fact, have got nothing to say about it but they are ready to comfort others at any time. Prof. Szałata refers to his personal tragedy when his 11-year-old daughter was fatally run over by a car at a pedestrian crossing and his wife was fighting for life in hospital. - I had so many 'comforters' around me then but two scouts helped me the most who could not sit at home, as their friend had died. They came to me but were not courageous enough to say any word to me. They spent that afternoon with me. And they were in that suffering with me. Although in such moments we struggle with temptation to escape or 'talk loudest of all', we must sometimes be courageous not to say anything in a sufferer's presence. Dr Szałata adds that the contemporary people have believed too much in 'fetish effectiveness', effectiveness which is not congruent with the level of a personal life though: - when Jesus stood in the Olive Garden, facing suffering, he did not ask the Apostles to save Him, but he wanted them to be with Him: be prepared, be present and pray. However, we are not able to devote some time to somebody ill, even if it is a mother or father. At all costs we want to do something: maybe a medical examination, treatment? Instead of sitting with a sufferer - we are running. Whereas an ill person is suffering and dying in loneliness. He stresses that we must behave towards suffering seriously. -Suffering in loneliness is a real hell, absurd and incompatible with the nature of man who wants to be happy. An experience 'with another person' is also a suffering but more bearable. Whereas a suffering 'for another person' is not something absurd, as being inscribed in the context of love it becomes a sacrifice.
During the conference various aspects of suffering were discussed. Its social dimension was explained by Rafael Alvira. Referring to communism, Lidmila Nemcova was speaking about 'a raped soul', Jean-Yves Naudet, basing on Benedykt XVI (encyklika) 'Caritas in veritate', was speaking about a civil society as a place where suffering should meet a relief. Helene and Jean-Nicolas Moreau took up the subject of suffering among people working in big but often dehumanized international corporations.

Economy with a human face

One of inventors and inspirers of the International Flying University of the Church Teaching - Association Internationale pour l'Enseignement Social Chretien (AIESC) is a Frenchman - Partick de Laubier, a professor of sociology at a university in Geneva. Being already retired, he was ordained a priest and started working in China. He founded the Flying University with its headquarters in Geneva with a group of his friends 25 years ago. Prof. Paweł Dembiński, a Polish economist lecturing in Fryburg, has been its chairman for the recent years.
Prof. Dembiński quotes a humorous remark that the Church social education is one of the most concealed secrets - even the Catholics do not know it. In order to change it, within annual conferences, the members of the Flying University penetrate its issues. They have been popularizing the results of their thoughts for 4 years, organizing a Summer University in September in Cartes (France) with Chemin Neuf Community and a foundation dealing with art and ethics; Around 150 people attend its lectures every year. This time they bring up a subject on family as a base for economy with a human face.
Do these developed thoughts get into the society? - I ask the professor - What happens here is copied by everybody according to their possibilities. There are influential people here, for instance, a head-teacher of a media school in England, a philosopher from a university in Pampeluna, an Anglican bishop familiar with Catholic traditions, an economist being a member of the Pope's Council -as prof. Dembiński introduces the participants of the session. As he stresses, the people are characterized by friendliness and trustfulness - these meetings are the reason for thinking. I can confront my scientific and professional activity with my faith. I have got an access to experiences which allow me to show problems worth examining from the scientific point of view.
In order to prove it - the professor presents a new book edited by him, entitled 'Finances after a fall'- it is a work of a group of people who have been thinking over the role of ethics in the financial activities for 10 years. In the aftermath of a meeting 5 years ago is a publication' It's all about man; anthropological challenges of the current time'

An English Lord and the Church teaching

Justin Welby had a wife and five children and he is going to be an Anglican bishop of Durham (north-East of England) from October. He will become a member of the House of Lords soon. He got that offer from the prime minister. Before he agreed on it, he had refused three times. - dr Szałata presents him as an Anglican who is the closest to the spirit of John Paul II.
Being asked why he attends proceedings of the Flying University, the Anglican bishop nominee says: - the Church social teaching is wonderful, effective and clear. Many Catholics even do not know about it. And this is a Gospel application. I have been working in Liverpool for 30 years in a region of great poverty and social depravation. Solidarity, help and common wealth are very important ideas to us. They tell us how we should cooperate, run a policy, especially in poor regions.
A future bishop and a member of the House of Lords intends using the Church social thoughts during his contacts with believers and political proceedings. He is famous for good relations between the Catholics and Anglicans in the area of the present diocese: - it would be better if we all were united with Rome - he says. - But history has got a great power. It is difficult to overcome. Many Anglicans recognize that the pope is the most important Christian leader but we do not acknowledge his right to his authority. The history of the last 500 years divided us. But we strongly cooperate with the Catholics in Liverpool - he assures.


"Niedziela" 38/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: