Perspectives opened by Pope Francis for the evolution of the Catholic Church and reforms to meet the challenges of our evolving 21st century world
Address by Dr Nontando Hadebe at the Council 50 conference from 20 to 22 November 2015
It is a great honour for me to be asked to present my paper at this historical event initiated by Council 50 under the theme “Towards a Church inspired by the gospel, for the world.” I would like to thank the organizers, Fr Francois Becker and his team for all they have done to make this event possible by bringing us together from different parts of the world. I am also privileged to be part of this group of activists within the Catholic church seeking both internal and external change and transformation. The internal change refers to the structures of the Church and the external change refers to structures in the world - the two need to happen for the gospel to respond to the challenges of our evolving 21st Century world. I have come to know many of you through the excellent papers and contributions that you have made. Reading through these, I was struck by three things. Firstly the consensus on the need for structural change within the Church based on concrete context-specific experiences in each region. An extraordinary sign of the coming together of the contextual and global! The demand for reform is not a textbook assessment but emerges from real life experience of structural oppression in the church! The second point is that this shared sense that reform of ecclesial structures must happen for the church to fulfil her mandate inspired by the Gospel and for the world represents ‘the sense of the faithful’ sensus fidelium. History shows the critical role of the sensus fidelium in times when the Church was in danger of losing the fundamentals of faith and mission. Vatican II set the Church on a different path that opened the redefined the church both structurally and in relation to the world. These two are related - only a radically transformed church could radically transform the world. The definition of the Church as the ‘people of God’ and the call for equal participation of the laity in the priesthood of Christ represents an inclusive participatory model that allows the Church through all her members to bring the liberating message of the gospel to the world. This call for reform of the structures is central to Pope Francis who in his latest address to the Italian bishops makes change mandatory for the survival of the Church. Hence the sensus fidelium for structural reform expressed in the theme of Council 50 as well as in your papers is echoed by Pope Francis. Of equal importance is that the sensus fidelium expressed by this group is not theory but actual experiences of oppression by laity and specific groups such as women, LGTBIQ and ethnic minorities. The injustice in the Church that is championing human rights is a heresy. Lastly this gathering is praxis orientated. I have noted with excitement from your papers the practical reforms suggested that are necessary for the Church to fulfil her mission in the world as defined by Jesus in the gospels, developed further by Vatican II and recently by Pope Francis. The perspectives of Pope Francis particularly his vision of the Church as a field hospital feature prominently in the contributions that I have read. I concur with practical suggestions from all the regions and what impressed me is the common vision that emerges from this gathering.
What is interesting for me is that the contributions from the regions which were made independant of each are mysteriously weaved into my paper. The Spirit is clearly at work. I will start my paper with a brief discussion on the shared vision of Pope John XXIII and Pope Francis which is rooted in the liberating ministry of Jesus. This will form the background context of this paper. Then I will move on to the theological foundation for reform which will focus on three aspects: the method of contextual theology; interconnectedness using Trinitarian theology and applying it to seven themes. I appropriate the symbol of the Trinity as a central focus of my paper because it captures one of the perspectives of Pope Francis namely the interconnectedness of everything. I will propose that the concept of interconnectedness is best described in the symbol of the Trinity as it presents to us core values that are central to the reform of the church that is inspired by the gospel and for the world. These values are equality, mutuality, reciprocity, unity that does not dissolve difference and orientation towards justice and liberation. Based on these values I will propose seven themes on interconnectedness that can contribute to the evolution of the Catholic church and reforms that can help us respond to the our mission of Council 50 - “Towards a Church, inspired by the gospel, for the world”. I will conclude with a call to recognize this time as a kairos moment for the church an opportune time to act decisive and will cite from the Kairos Document from South Africa which was written in the context of oppression but focused on the theologies in the churches that were operating in response to the context.