Symposium revisits Vatican II with Pope Francis

Pope Francis is paying the price of prophetism as his stress on a paradigm shift in Christian living has upset those entrenched in power, says a noted Asian theologian.

Dec 06, 2019

By Benwen Lopez
Pope Francis is paying the price of prophetism as his stress on a paradigm shift in Christian living has upset those entrenched in power, says a noted Asian theologian.

By not travelling the ‘highway of theological debates’ but relocating the poor as ‘theological center,’ Pope Francis has unsettled those who concoct rootless theologies, Father Felix Wilfred told an international, interdisciplinary symposium on Vatican II.

The founder-director of the Chennai-based Asian Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies was the keynote speaker for the November 29-30 symposium at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth (JDV) in Pune, the cultural capital of Maharashtra state.

The theme of the program was ‘Towards Renewing Church and World: Revisiting Vatican II through the Eyes of Pope Francis.’

Father Wilfred, who spoke on “What it costs to be Pope Francis,” said the pontiff’s remarkable servant-leadership has challenged others as he denounces ‘unbridled capitalism,’ advocates synodality and collegiality, and takes “immense risks with deep faith.

“Like every true prophet, Francis is paying the price of prophetism since his papacy is a paradigm shift that upsets those entrenched in positions of power,” he added.

The symposium was co-hosted by JDV and the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India’s (CCBI) Commission for Theology and Doctrine.

It drew insightful inputs from bishops, scholars, lay faithful and grassroots activists from diverse disciplines and varied backgrounds from India, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Apart from the keynote and plenaries, the parallel sessions had 30 papers depicting how Pope Francis has fostered Vatican II agenda with Asian-Indian flavor in eight domains:

(i) contextual theology emerging from reality, not speculation;
(ii) socio-political, global involvement;
(iii) option for the poor and the periphery;
(iv) family/married, youth and consecrated life;
(v) priestly vocation and clericalism;
(vi) theology-science dialogue;
(vii) ecumenism and interfaith initiatives; and
(viii) care for our ‘common home’.

Jesuit Father Francis Gonsalves, dean of theology, JDV, and executive secretary of CCBI’s Commission for Theology and Doctrine, highlighted “sources, resources, outsources” as curtain-raise.

“Pope Francis is accused of being a ‘liberal’, advocating laissez-faire policies. We disagree! Rather, he is ‘radical’—from Latin radix, root—rooting us back to our Source, Jesus, while inspiring us to ‘go forth’. He admirably ‘walks the talk’,” Father Gonsalves added.

CCBI’s chairperson for Commission of Ecology Bishop Allwyn D’Silva stressed the “need to go in a unique ecological way.” Known as Mumbai’s ‘green bishop,’ the chairperson said, “The climate emergency threatens life and pollution is killing us.”

He added, “Pope Francis has emphasized that we’re plagued with complex environmental and social crises, which is the result of our mismatched priorities and disorder in our lives.”

Ideating on solutions that could be implemented in India, Bishop D’Silva said that Mumbai’s ‘Green Diocese Initiative’ could be used, pan-India.

Transitioning from ecology to interfaith dialogue, Bishop Thomas Dabre of Pune praised Pope Francis for “being pastoral and going beyond Vatican II” in his ‘Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.’

The document was signed by Pope Francis and Ahmad el Tayeb, grand imam of Al Azhar in 2018 during the pontiff’s first visit to the United Arab Emirates. “This document is action-oriented and a practical tool for interreligious dialogue,” Bishop Dabre added.

Father Michael Amaladoss, in his paper on “The Church Open to the World: From Vatican II to Pope Francis with Reference to Asia” noted that in 1974, the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC) had spoken about the 3-fold dialogue of the Gospel with Asia’s poor; rich cultures; and living religions.

Citing Francis’ bold pastoral, missional initiatives like the Amazon Synod which raised the issue of ordaining married men to meet a pastoral need, Father Amaladoss said, “The Asian Churches will feel at home with this new approach and more empowered in their mission towards God’s Kingdom.”

Sri Lankan Father Aloysius Pieris’ paper was on “Not a Reformer but a Renewalist: Pope Francis Renews the Conciliar Process after 35 Years of Hibernation.”

He suggested that, after the Council of Jerusalem (Acts, chapter 15), Vatican II was the second council of ‘renewal,’ not just ‘reform’ since change was sought from the periphery to the centre, and from down to up—not the other way around.

By preferring a Synodal mode of governance, and by tending to the peripheries, Pope Francis daringly leads the Church in ways amenable to Asian churches, he added.

Archbishop Felix Machado, an ecumenist, spoke on the importance of building bridges between the Catholic Church and evangelical Churches.

Despite Pope Francis’ glowing initiatives and inspiration in so many ecumenical endeavours, and despite dedicating a whole week to the promotion of ecumenical unity, many clergymen do not see the merit of ecumenism. Archbishop Machado provided many ‘practical ways’ of fostering ecumenism.

University of Villanova’s professor Massimo Faggioli’s paper proposed that the presence of Vatican II in Pope Francis’ pontificate has been more mediated and non-textual rather than explicit in programmatic texts; hence, he ‘incarnates’ the Council more than interpreting it.

Georgetown University’s professor Peter Phan’s paper said that ‘Laudato Si’ could be further enriched by adding perspectives from the Asian religions, especially Buddhism and Daoism.

Meanwhile on November 29, while addressing Vatican’s International Theological Commission, Pope Francis defined synodality as “a style of walking together,” which is “what Christ expects of the Church in the third millennium.”--Matters India

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