Encounter & Dialogue assignment on the film The mission

As we shall see shortly, Pope Francis exhorts his followers to create cultures of encounter. For Francis, encounter requires dialogue, and dialogue must be built on a foundation of love. What if you can't dialogue, however, due to linguistic differences? Our stories about discovering "new worlds" tell us about the difficulties we continually face when we encounter one another across vast seas of difference. In fact, modes of domination and exploitation plague our "discoveries" and create dehumanizing situations.
How do we relate to one another, especially on "first encounter" when languages radically differ? The Jesuits were noted for their linguistic abilities and adventurous spirit of mission, and still are. The film we are viewing this week highlights that Jesuit set of gifts re-imagined in the encounters between Europeans and indigenous people in South America during the 18th Century. Through direct encounters with indigenous peoples, Jesuits learned languages and found ways to create dialogue
Music became one mode of encounter for the Jesuits in missionary work.

Here is a selection from "Light Shining in Darkness: Roland Joffe on "The Mission"" by Michael Dempsey in Film Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Summer, 1987), pp. 2-11, where we get a direct reflection on the relationship between visions of the "peaceable kingdom" and colonial dreams:

In this same interview, the Director Roland Joffe tells us that the film is "intimately concerned with the struggle for liberation in liberation theology, and that's why the historical perspective is very important, because what it's actually saying is that these people [the Jesuits] haven't come out of nowhere. The tradition of the worker-priest in Paris immediately after the war, a lot of movements that became schisms, the Albigensians or others, who were not only motivated by a different eschatological view of the meaning of life but also by a political sense and an economic sense, that they felt that they had to be responsible for the daily lives of the people. That's an old tradition in the Church, and I thought it was important that people appreciated that, without giving a historical lecture about it" (p. 3).

The worker-priest movement to which Joffe refers created solidarity for the Church, especially when so few of the educated understood the plight of laborers like these coal miners in France. Scranton, in fact, is a town known for its defense of the rights of workers in the mines and its coal strikes. (Another film that depicts a priest of this kind can be found in Marlon Brando's justly praised performance in On the Waterfront.) John Mitchell is memorialized in Scranton City center at the Courthouse Square for his role in creating unions and more just labor laws. Places like Scranton were built on the backs of immigrant families who labored under oppressive conditions that often resulted in death for the workers and severely truncated lives. To be "liberated" from those conditions required defending the rights of workers and seeking just remuneration. The Jesuits took over the Christian Brothers school, Saint Thomas, and created The University of Scranton in the 40's, serving the descendants of coal-miners and to minister in "the mission" of urban Scranton. Jesuits have often practiced accompaniment with laborers and the poor the world over. What many of the Jesuits have shown is that by coming alongside people and working together towards a more just future we learn to love one another more deeply. That love destroys the false idol of the "us" and "them" mentality.

Fr Greg Boyle, SJ articulates well how the transformative love of gang-members in Los Angeles (pictured here in the background) changed his life. Compassion and kinship are two realities he introduces to us:

Love and the city applies radically to his work in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries provides much hope to people who otherwise may have lost all hope for a better future.

Boyle encourages us to stand with the poor, the marginalized, the voiceless, the easily despised, the readily left out. To celebrate justice is to engage in kinship and work against the dehumanization of our times. The drive to dehumanize is evident in The Mission and should occupy some of your attention. How do the Jesuits in the film work towards re-humanization? (HERE is an article on the Jesuits who inspired the film.)

"Dialogue cannot exist...in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people...Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself. It is thus necessarily the task of responsible Subjects and cannot exist in a relation of domination. Domination reveals the pathology of love: sadism in the dominator and masochism in the dominated. Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause--the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical. As an act of bravery, love cannot be sentimental; as an act of freedom, it must not serve as a pretext for manipulation. It must generate other acts of freedom; otherwise it is not love. Only by abolishing the situation of oppression is it possible to restore the love which that situation made impossible. If I do not love the world--if I do not love life--if I do not love people--I cannot enter into dialogue." Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, pp. 89-90.

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

The Guarani are hunted, enslaved, exploited, and considered sub-human by the colonizers. The Spanish and Portuguese want the land and the riches of the land for building wealth through international trade. The "Mission" is in the way of the plans for further exploitation. Fr. Gabriel defends the rights of the indigenous and models how to care for the Guarani. The Trial scene is particularly telling of the different ways the Guarani are treated. Just notice how Fr. Gabriel relates to the child in the trial who sings as "proof" of his "humanity," in contrast to the slave-trader. (Remember our use of the song At the Purchaser's Option previously?)

"We an legitimately say that in the process of oppression someone oppresses someone else; we cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, nor yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other." Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 133.

Please read the link provided above for the article in Commonweal, after you have watched the film. It will deepen your understanding of the film and its relationship to themes important to our course.

Record your "video response" holding a conversation about how The Mission gives us insight into what Paulo Freire means when he writes that "human beings in communion liberate each other." Who is "liberated"? How? In what way(s)? Maybe your reading of the film is that nobody is liberated. If so, then do we see at least glimpses of liberating communion between people, founded in love? If so, what kind of love?

(I would suggest a focus on Rodrigo and his penitential journey may provide an excellent focus for you. What is the deal with his “penance”? Why is it self-chosen? Why must Rodrigo bear the burden until he feels the time is right? (Note that Liam Neason’s character tries to intervene too early.) What is the significance of the role the Guarani play in his penance? Why do you think the Guarani must be involved in his penance, as far as the story-line associated with Rodrigo goes? Who is he, what is his role, and why might he have previously been engaged with the Guarani? How is the Christian understanding of love, as it relates to sin, forgiveness, and new life significant for the story?)

Submit the presentations on Slack before Monday morning, July 26.

Created By
Cyrus Olsen


Created with images by Daniel Öberg - "Cascade aux Ecrevisses" • Alexander Paul - "Young Yagua" • Kateryna Kovarzh - "dipinto acquerello comunicazione concettuale" • Varshita Korrapati - "I was walking through a crowded part of Central Park when I stumbled upon this violinist playing a beautiful tune and I immediately knew he was special." • Archivist - "French Miners. Date: circa 1900" • Alexis Balinoff - "Lost in Los Angeles" • Rawpixel.com - "Classmate Solidarity Team Group Community Concept"