Pope Francis is trying to create a spirit of "pastoral renewal" where the Church reaches out to the many people who feel alienated from a "very authoritarian, very dogmatic institution", the Englishman who holds one of the most influential posts in the Vatican has said.
The "culture of encounter" is central to the pontificate of Pope Francis, according to Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State, and effectively the Pope's foreign minister.
Speaking to Douglas Alexander, the former Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary, in a recording made for the BBC, Archbishop Gallagher said: "Well I think there is this spirit of pastoral renewal which [Pope Francis] has been trying to instil in the Church, by which within the Church and outside the Church many people feel alienated from a very authoritarian, very dogmatic institution and he's sort of saying, No, let's put the people at the centre.
"It doesn't mean that we have to compromise on what we believe but we do have to go out and meet [people]. And that's one of his ideas that goes together with this. It's a going out, not the Church closing in on itself in a very defensive way but rather taking risks and going out to people and meeting them where they're at."
The Jesuit-educated Archbishop Gallagher said the Pope's understanding of a culture of encounter goes back to his Christian faith and his Jesuit formation "in which we very much believe that the whole very centre of Christianity is an encounter between God and man, between Jesus Christ and the people who come to believe in him."
Pope Francis was meeting people "in a slightly more audacious way" than his predecessors. His culture of encounter was an invitation to commitment and involvement, and he wants to see political engagement where people commit to working for the good of their society at a local, national or even continental level.
"I think that sort of encounter is fundamental."
Archbishop Gallagher said the concept included an "avoidance of conflict" and a sense of respect, and acceptance of dignity. "You cannot dialogue with anybody that you obviously disrespect or despise."
For a parish priest in Britain, this would mean getting to know the ethnic, cultural and religious groups around him. He said the Church has enormous potential in this respect. "In fact the Church is doing an awful lot at the local level to bind communities together, both in moments of difficulties and in moments when things things are going well, but the potential is enormous."
The biggest barriers to this were fear and prejudice, along with the crime of extreme nationalism at a political level and protectionism in economics.
The interview was recorded as part of the BBC Radio 4’s season of programmes on a Culture of Encounter.