The Viral Papers talked to Sofia Carozza, co-founder of The Pilgrim Soul, a Catholic podcast set up at the beginning of the first wave of global lockdowns. We discussed the medium of the podcast, what it offers to faith communities, and how it interacts with the Christian belief in the mystical connection between all souls.
VP: What prompted you to set up this podcast during the pandemic?
SC: The initial inspiration to begin the podcast came from my recognition of my own need for community and companionship. On a personal level, I had a need to continue the kinds of conversations and intimate sharing of faith and learning that I have with Adrianna and Giuliana [co-hosts and founders of The Pilgrim Soul]. But I also had a need for the evangelical dimension of the companionship of faith. As they say, ‘a faith that isn’t shared is extinguished’ – I have a real burning desire to share the good news of what God does in my life with other people. So, with the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, the podcast format seemed like a really fruitful way to go about answering my needs.
VP: What effect, then, has running the podcast with Adrianna and Julianna, and talking about God and matters of faith together in such a frequent, structured way had on your relationship with them?
SC: I definitely feel closer to them, knowing that our companionship with each other is a really privileged way that God is leading each of us towards our destiny with him. The more we grow in our relationship with Him, the more we are able to love and accompany one another. That is something that has been made really apparent to me through doing this podcast and having these conversations – to be close to everyone I love, I have to journey to the Lord.
“I’m not just an individual but I belong to all of the Church, to all of these people who are listening“
It’s something which has also allowed me to recognise that I can be vulnerable and dependent upon both Adrianna and Giuliana on a day-to-day basis in way that is unhampered by geographical distance – I wasn’t quite comfortable doing before we went on this journey together but yes, after all this, I really feel that it has become a sisterhood (which is incredible given that we haven’t seen in each other in what feels like forever!)
VP: These conversations, as you have said yourself, are incredibly personal – does it have an effect, knowing that so many different people are listening to what you are saying and that they are, despite their intimate nature, public?
SC: It has been such a learning curve trying to figure the balance between the private and public out – obviously, because my relationship with God is the most important relationship I’ll ever have, there are deeply personal elements to it which can’t be shared. And yet, it is also true that those things that are so personal are for the whole world. I’m not just an individual but I belong to all of the Church, to all of these people who are listening. It’s been very much trial and error of how vulnerable I am on the podcast.
Doing this podcast has also been a real education in humility. When I talk about these huge topics, I always start from my own experience. But through dialogue with Julianna and Adrianna, I have had my eyes opened to the diversity of ways in which people encounter Christ. As St Paul says, each member of the body [of the Church] is different and has a unique way that they enter into the mystery of faith and a unique way that they bring God into the world. It has given me a great sense of awe and reverence for other people’s experiences than I had going into the project.
VP: One of the phrases you mentioned there was really interesting: ‘I belong to the Church’. Could you explain this and tell us about when you realised this – did the pandemic and the experience making the podcast have an effect on this at all?
SC: This is an idea I have been aware of for a while intellectually and, on an existential level, it has really been brought to the fore in moments of suffering and pilgrimage, when I felt a correspondence between my heart and the hearts of people I had never met before. The only thing we had in common was Christ – what can explain that apart from being parts of the same body, right?
“[This] made me realise more intensely that we really do have the same heart and the same desires and the same needs”
But I think the podcast, and the pandemic in general, has really intensified this belief, because it has really forced me to face the fact that I can’t reduce my belonging to the Church to just feelings or activities we do together as a community. It is something much more mystical than that, and irreducible to these levels of more tangible experience, although of course even though it is mystical, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have real effects on my day-to-day life.
VP: It’s so interesting that you mention this idea of Christians being ‘parts of the same body’. Given this mystical sense of connection between Christians, do you feel this same, or a similar sort of, connection with your listeners?
SC: Honestly, when we started this podcast, I had no idea if anyone would even listen to it. But it’s been amazing – after every episode, we get people writing to us, usually most of them people we knew already, or friends of friends. But then there are those who have discovered the podcast through social media and write to us about their own experiences of the topic we discussed or share their moments in a prayer with a quotation that we focused on, and they invite us into their own lives.
It’s been so humbling because who can do that? Only God! Who can bring together these people who have never met before, and, in a lot of cases, all they have in common is Him. And so, to the extent that my words resonate with them, and they feel moved to share their experience with me, I know it is the Holy Spirit at work. It’s been so beautiful and has really intensified my intercessory prayer for others. But it has also helped me look on others with more openness and hope, like those whom I encounter in my day-to-day life, in the chaplaincy at Cambridge or at work. Having had others, whom I would never have expected to open up to me, do so has made me realise more intensely that we really do have the same heart and the same desires and the same needs, and that we are all journeying together, whether we acknowledge it or not.
VP: So, your strengthened faith in the mystical connection between people has allowed you to look on others with hope and openness – but is this something that extends to non-Catholics or non-Christians?
SC: Definitely – three of my housemates are Muslim women and it’s the same with them. It’s really on the level of our human nature that we have this religious sense that yearns for God. People can be seeking Him and growing closer to Him even if they are not Christian: that’s really the content of my prayer for my listeners, that they might grow in intimacy with God and that our words might find fruitful ground in whoever hears them.
VP: It’s so interesting that you say this because obviously it is such a Catholic podcast but, at the same time, you are positing it in a way that makes it very universal. Is there an aspect of evangelisation here, then? And why do you think there is non-Catholic interest in the podcast?
SC: This aspect of evangelisation is definitely something I’m going to be more aware of going into season two of the podcast, and something I will have to pray and learn more about, as I wasn’t expecting any of our listeners to be non-Catholics.
“What is the desire of my heart?”
But really, I think it comes from the question, what is the desire of my heart? The desire of my heart is to share the good news of what has happened to me and that is something that is inseparable from the Catholic Church and the Sacraments and the community of the chaplaincy – all very Catholic things. But the beautiful thing about the truth is that you can propose it freely and people can either be receptive to it or closed to it, but that is not your responsibility. All you have to do is proclaim what has happened to you. Of course, you have a responsibility to do that with a measure of sensitivity to other people’s experiences, which is difficult with the podcast because it is so one sided. But knowing that the Holy Spirit is guiding us in our words has given me a lot more freedom to be very upfront about what I think is essential in a relationship with God.
Importantly, though, that which is essential in a relationship with God is always a consequence of the starting point, which is the human desire that is universal. That’s why our podcast has broader appeal.
VP: Bringing the conversation back to Catholics – we’ve talked a lot about universality, which is fitting because that pandemic made us all more ‘universal’ Catholics in a way. When churches closed, we weren’t going into a physical building anymore for Mass but rather could watch livestreamed Masses from all over the country, or even the world, a particular example being the Pope’s Urbi et Orbi blessing, given on a deserted St Peter’s Square in March 2020. What effect do you think this sense of universality will have on our faith as Catholics?
SC: There has definitely been a real increase in the sense of solidarity and belonging with people who I will never meet and who belong to different nations, communities, and even rites of the Church. It’s precisely because we’re all suffering in similar ways: we’ve seen loved ones pass away, we’ve all dealt with loneliness and restrictions. It does feel like we’re all going in the same direction and we are all encountering similar crosses along the way, which is beautiful and fruitful, because the Church as Catholic is necessarily universal and we don’t often have moments to recognise that.
“Where is [Christ] supposed to be?”
But at the same time, another fruit of the pandemic has been recognising that for a lot of people, if Christ doesn’t happen exactly where they live, then He doesn’t happen. If He’s not present in someone’s house, with their spouse, with their children, or if He’s not present in my office when I go back, then where is He supposed to be? I don’t need to go on a pilgrimage to a foreign land to encounter Him if He is not in my home. I think the need for the face of Christ in our day-to-day lives has made us think about our most intimate relationships with family members in a new way, and helped up recognise that it is the domestic Church where we are first educated to discover God’s face, to love Him, and then serve Him by loving one another.
It’s been a really interesting paradox between feeling united with everyone around the world but precisely for the reason that each of us needs God right in front of us, today, right now. In that sense, I think there has been a shrinking of the Church because you realise that it can be just one person who can be my belonging to the Church – where two are gathered in His name, He is present, and I can meet Him there.
VP: So how can the Church help us in bringing Christ back into our homes?
SC: I think the Church has a real opportunity now that she shouldn’t miss. To answer this challenge properly I think comes down to a return to that human desire that I have talked about throughout this interview, a return to that need in each one of the Church’s members, to experience and encounter Christ in the mundane details of our everyday lives. That is the desire of our hearts.
If the Church’s position is, how can we minister to that and reflect it, and make that feeling always grow, then I think she will really flourish as she emerges from the pandemic. Instead of being concerned with the numbers of people coming back to Mass after the obligation was suspended for a while, the focus should be on helping us keep our gaze fixed on the Lord, and on emphasising the innate religious sense in each of the members of the Church.
Now, we can argue about how best that takes place, what programmes and statements come from the bishops, but what I do think is vital is that the more domestic forms of community are acknowledged: the increasing intimacy of family life, the ecclesial movements, and the more local groups and chaplaincies who gathered to pray together when bigger things were shut.