Many Tongues, One Spirit: Local Ecclesiologies in Dialogue

Statistics point to dramatic shifts in Christianity and Catholicism, a shift from Europe to North and South America,  to especially to Africa and  Asia.  This was very much reflected in this three day conference at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Ca. co-sponsored by  Santa Clara University, held from 28-31 May.      



Of the many international participants  traveling to the USA for the conference,  there were approximately twelve from Asia,  four from Africa, and four from Latin America.  There was only one from Europe. Participants already in the USA  reflected the shift too, with many Hispanic and African faculty  and students among the participants.  One speaker  recalled a conversation many years ago with famed Dominican theologian Dominique-Marie Chenu who said that “Europe is tired.”   As this conference made clear, the church in Asia, Africa, South and North America is not tired but creatively struggling and searching. There we find much of the growth, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity of the Catholic church


In my view, the church document most frequently presumed and referred to throughout the conference was Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution,  “The Church in the Modern World.”   Much of the input and discussion examined  how local churches have carried out the challenges set by that key document.  In small Christian communities in Latin America, in the letters of bishops or homilies,  in parishes in Africa,  and in websites and blogs, the struggle continues to see that “the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men and women of our time” becomes the joy and hope, grief and anguish of the Christian.


Issues discussed.  For the most part, one did not sense drastically new issues, or new views and activities in the local churches.  The issues grappled with have been with the church for most of the past 40 years, issues of  liberation theology, culture and inculturation, the increased role of the laity (in church and world), gender issues, the role of women, indigenous peoples and minority groups, globalization, secularization,  poverty reduction,  social justice,  the growth of Pentecostalism, and  the small Christian model of church.


One could say that  one found a deeper, more nuanced, second level  examination of issues now  emphasizing the links of the local church with fellow churches and with the  universal Church.   More than traditional philosophy, social sciences such as cultural anthropology and political science  were the main dialogical partners.  Political, economic, and technological (and climactic)  changes called forth renewed theological reflection, and  such reflection   was being done not for or from the poor, but in solidarity with the poor. 


As hinted at above, ecological concerns would be a  new thrust, and also the use of the internet.  The presence of foreign-born priests in Europe and the USA/Canada, as students and in parishes was also noted. 


Issues not emphasized:  Questions  of sexual morality, gay marriage, and life issues such as abortion and euthanasia did not come up for much discussion even if they are in the headlines. The role of permanent deacons somewhat surprisingly did not receive much emphasis, probably because their presence and impact is not strong except in the USA and Europe.  Although  young theology students were participants and shared their views with others, little attention was given to ministry to the youth.. Nor was there input or discussion of the mega churches and TV evangelists.  Nor did we enter into controversies with local church authorities or with Roman authorities. Rather the thrust of creativity and energy was more positive – how the local church could and should live and share the gospel and gospel values in whatever culture(s) it finds itself. 


Spirituality or holiness, one of the four marks of the Church,   was not directly focused upon, yet the liturgies celebrated our belief in the Spirit present at work around the world and in our assembled community.  On the first day we turned to the prayer tradition of native Americans.  Bishop Francisco Claver led the Eucharistic liturgy and reminded us of the many rich cultures of the Philippines found in his many-colored stole.            A most appropriate concluding liturgy took place for the celebration of the feast of Pentecost at St. Patrick’s Catholic parish in Oakland.  The two hour  celebration with the local Catholic community,  a bi-lingual, song-filled liturgy of African-Americans and  the Hispanic community, let the Spirit come down in abundance -  truly  Pentecost in Oakland, California.


In and through the varied conversations of these days, as Fr. Robert Schreiter indicated, the unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolic thrust of the Catholic tradition was strong reaffirmed.   We saw our challenge to be not simply participants in the mission of that Church, but deeply committed to and  responsible for that mission each in his or her own way  as lay, religious, priest or bishop, as student and as teacher.  

Gratitude (“elephant thanks” as we say in Africa)  goes to the organizers of this rich and well coordinated conference, and prayers too as the organizers contemplate the next steps which will surely follow these exciting days at Berkeley.


More information on the Conference and links to many of the papers presented here.


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9 years 9 months ago
That the European Church is 'tired' is everyones opinion. So why do the European heirarchs, who have presided over the European decline,  have veto say over the question of allowing married diocesan priests? A 'surge' of married priests is  necessary for a revival of parish life throughout the world. The question is 'How do the laity get hold of the lever of change'???? A 1000 parishes have closed in the US, 80% of Catholics would welcome optional celibacy, the priest shortage is accelerating, 16000 married deacons and many could be 'fully' almost immediately. A failure in courage and leadership!!!  


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