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 .