Fr Aaron Smith LC is a soft-spoken priest with a big smile and a contagious laugh. In a conversation you’re more likely to encounter him listening to others than speaking himself, so as the new International Director of Communications for the Regnum Christi Movement, we wanted to get to know the mind and mission of this priest in his new role. He granted us his very first interview and shared five things he thinks are important to know.
1- God can call you to a mission anywhere, be it Michigan, Haiti or Rome.
Q. How did you end up in Rome, in this new role, Fr. Aaron? Are you settled in?
A. (Laughing) I’m getting adjusted here to Roman life- it’s a little bit different than Michigan. The Lord has me where he wants me. For the past four years I had been serving as the local Regnum Christi director in Michigan. Last summer I was in Haiti on missions, something I love to do, even though it is very, very difficult. I was amongst babies, dying of starvation. In the midst of this, I got a call from Fr. John Connor telling me that the General Director would like to ask me to come to Rome to help with communications for the Movement. With what the Lord had been doing in my own soul, I knew that this was indeed what the He was asking of me, but I asked Fr. John for some time for prayer anyways. I was able to pray about it for a while and clearly see that God was asking this of me through the pull I felt in my own heart. Just as He asked me to go on missions to Haiti, the Lord has asked me to go on missions to Rome to help out the Movement in this way.
I am working on my licentiate degree in communications at Santa Croce while taking on this new job, which is divided up into 3 areas: 1. Internal communication, which is anything that has messaging being sent out to our own members 2. External communication, which is the relationship with the press and knowing the people in the press who are here in Rome. 3. Sitting in Regnum Christi General Committee meetings. To me this is the most hidden but most important part of my job. I’m there to give opinions and suggestions on the ramification on decisions that are made or how to communicate those decisions once they are made. Communications is really the most hidden apostolate I’ve had as a priest, it’s a lot of office work, and that’s where the day to day saving of souls takes place in my priesthood right now.”
2- Engineers aren’t the only ones who build bridges
Q. What is the goal of the communications office?
A. Really, we will know that the communications office is doing its job well if it’s a bridge builder. We are called to build a bridge between the Regnum Christi members of the different branches and the office of apostolate here in Rome, and bring the needs and concerns there are around the world here to Rome to be able to communicate them well to the general government. We are also here to listen to the government as well as the office of apostolate here in Rome and help them formulate decisions and key messages in the best and clearest way possible.
3- Communication is Evangelization
Q. Communication is not just reporting events or drawing attention to the Movement. More and more, we are seeing it as evangelization. It’s a way to be a bridge into the world as well as among members of the Movement. How is the Regnum Christi movement doing this?
A. We just had a seminar by Catholic Voices for the brothers and fathers here in Rome. It was a 3 day convention on how to engage culture. I’d love to be able to do more of that to help all the Movement members to be better prepared to engage culture through communication. How are we able to be present in the modern culture? We are there through formal and informal communication. We need to realize that everything we do communicates. If I send out a personal tweet or post on Facebook, everything I say is also communicating the Movement and the Church. It’s not just what the institution posts that is seen as official communication. The impact of what we say is great and we need to take this ability to communicate for Christ seriously. We can help people get to know Him through what we do in our mission on the ground, yes, but we also can magnify that evangelization through how we communicate, whether it’s informal or formal.
Part of the role of the communications office is to help form and give the tools necessary for all members to be communicators who can engage culture, whether it’s social media or in other ways. Often institutional voices are not as strong and powerful in today’s culture as they were in the past. There is general mistrust in institutions in general, as well as in the media. Personal communication is sometimes more impactful and trusted. Regnum Christi Members telling their stories in informal ways can have a big impact. This means they need to be good communicators and good listeners. Social media in particular should always be a stepping stone towards personal encounter to avoid the risk of staying on the superficial level. It should be a way to build personal relationships, not something that blocks real life encounters or replaces them.
4- Global connectivity brings us closer and that’s not always easy.
Q. It seems like the internet has made the world smaller and connected us globally in new ways, but it hasn’t necessarily helped us understand each other better. What should we, in the United States, understand about how the Church and Pope Francis communicate?
A. Modern communication has not created the differences of opinion among us, but it has revealed them more strongly. It has brought them to light and sharpened them. Before the internet, differences of opinions weren’t seen because in your local reality people more or less thought the same way and didn’t see other opinions as often or as clearly. Those differences and different perspectives have always existed though.
With regard to Pope Francis and understanding people from other cultures in general, it’s important to understand their own personal story as the paradigm for their words. Look at where they came from, what their background is. We need to be able to listen with that in mind. With Pope Francis, it’s important to ask people who may disagree with him on certain points if they have actually read the document they are disagreeing with. If someone approaches me with something they don’t like about what they have heard from him, I will always ask them if they have read or listened to his actual words in what he is teaching and in his discourses, or just a media report. If not, I am more than willing to have this conversation with them, but first I invite them to go and listen to the actual words first hand, so we can enter into dialog and have an informed conversation about it.
We need to listen first in any relationship, in order to be able to then speak in an informed way. Perhaps what looks like a conflict is actually two people saying the same thing in different ways. Maybe it isn’t always – but we need to listen to be able to dialogue.
We also need to encourage relationship and dialogue among the different branches of Regnum Christi as we prepare for the territorial and general assemblies during the coming year. Having conversations with others who may not agree with me helps me see things in a deeper way. The Lord is asking us to listen to those who think differently than we do and try to understand why before making any conclusions about what He is asking of the Movement according to our opinion alone.
5- Good gelato speaks for itself.
Q. Before I ask you for any last thoughts, I need to know, what is your favorite flavor of gelato?
A. I like any plain flavor of gelato, like yogurt or vanilla because I think it gives you the authentic taste and allows you to experience the quality of the ice cream. Anything tastes good with chocolate in it, but only good gelato tastes great plain.
And a last thought I want to share is that I have a deep debt of gratitude to the Regnum Christi members I met in the United states over the last four years, especially at the first renewal convention in Atlanta in 2014, the territorial convention in 2016 and those I met while I was Local Regnum Christi Director in Michigan. Each encounter is very special and important to me. They have enabled me to be here in Rome willing to serve the whole Movement throughout the world and they let me dare to trust that it is the Lord who has asked me to be here, not just my superiors. I have the courage to trust that He will have me speak His words, not my own. As my mom said when I called her from Haiti to tell her I was going back to Rome:
The LORD said to me, ‘everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.’ Jer 1:7
Please pray for me that I might take these words to heart and live out their meaning in all its depth.