Oscar Romero originally relied on his clerical state to insulate him. He was wary of the efforts of the clergy to serve the poor. He then was appointed bishop of Santiago de Maria in El Salvador, where he began to associate himself with the rural farmworkers of his diocese and the priests who supported them. In June 1975, in the town of Tres Calles, members of the National Guard, while looking for weapons, ransacked the houses of five campesinos and murdered the unarmed men in front of their families. Romero wrote "it rent my soul to hear the bitter tears of widowed mothers and orphaned children who, with uncontrollable sobs, told their story ... of cruel abuse and mourned having been left as orphans" For Romero, this began a process of transformation, leading, not only to his becoming champion of the poor and oppressed of El Salvador, but also ultimately to his own assassination.
Proximity is sharing the same space as another. Maybe it is a chance meeting, maybe it is the same neighborhood, or assignment to the same classroom or workplace. It draws people near enough to each other to become acquainted.
Proximity does not always lead to encounter. Vacationers can stay in plush resorts surrounded by the cardboard, plywood and tin shelters of the poor; or tourists can see the world through the windows of tour buses and group-bubbles conducted by guides. Exclusive residential developments are gated and guarded. Gestures of generosity to the less fortunate connote a sense of differential of power and may never lead to encounter.
Proximity and encounter can challenge preconceived notions people have of one another. We see the stranger as the neighbor.
The role of a professional counselor is a unique opportunity for encounter. Strangers share their fears, struggles, and frustrations in a (hopefully) safe environment, with the boundaries of ethical standards. The counselor is aware of the dynamics of transference. He or she brings to the relationship knowledge, experience, and insight. If the professional lacks the necessary humility, a power differential may develop and stand in the way of in the of the duty of the professional to empower the participant. (This could be a particular danger if the professional unconsciously presumes racial superiority.) In instances of child sexual abuse and other intimate violations, the perpetrator (which may include, among others, priest, teacher, scout leader, counselor, physician) capitalizes on assumed power to create a victim.