Sunday, September 19, 2010

XXX Congreso de Teología – Part 1

I am finally home from the 30th congress held last weekend in Madrid by the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII, a group of Spanish progressive theologians. This year’s theme was simple: Jesus of Nazareth. Somewhere between 800 and 1,000 people attended (depending on who’s reporting; I don’t have an official count), reversing the steady decline since 2005 but substantially fewer than the 1,453 who attended the first conference in 1981. Most of the participants are Catholic and this progressive wing seems to be dying off or dropping out as the Church has been taken over by a geriatric hierarchy intent on reversing Vatican II and a younger generation of Catholics for whom “Medellin” is a drug cartel rather than a seminal moment cementing the Church’s preferential option for the poor. The aging of their membership seemed not to worry the leadership of the association. It does not exist to perpetuate itself and is prepared to die off gracefully if no longer needed.


Also very much in the minds and hearts of this year’s participants was the recent death of one of the beloved founders of the association, Jesuit theologian José María Diez-Alegría. He was remembered throughout the event and, fortuitously, a new book which has been published about the theologian’s life and works by Juan Antonio Delgado de la Rosa (photo above-center, in suit), Libertad de Conciencia y Derechos Humanos: Vida y Pensamiento de José María Diez-Alegría (ADG-N Libros, Valencia, 2010), was introduced.

Another traditional event at the theological congress is the announcement of the theme for next year’s Agenda Latinoamericana. The Agenda Latinoamericana was begun in 1992 in Nicaragua by José María Vigil and Dom Pedro Casaldaliga. It is an annual theological review on a theme announced each year by Casadaliga. The publication gathers articles from well-known theologians and is published in 23 countries and 8 different languages via the national Oscar Romero committees. The theme for 2011 will be “¿Qué Dios? ¿Qué religión?” (“Which God? Which faith?”). Casaldaliga wants us to come back to the God of Jesus and “proclaim our passion for the subversive peace of the Gospel.”

The Presentations

I was able to attend most of the presentations. The only exception was the one by Rafael Aguirre, a professor of Sacred Scripture at the University of Deusto, about the historical Jesus, which I missed due to a scheduling conflict.


1. Federico Mayor Zaragoza:

The former director general of UNESCO (photo- center, in suit) and president of the Fundación Cultura de Paz was supposed to speak about “Attitudes about Jesus of Nazareth in Spanish society.” Instead, he offered a sweeping discourse on God, quoting from many of the major theologian members of the association as well as prominent literary figures from Garcia Lorca to Saramago. He twice cautioned against anthropomorphizing God and defended fellow scientist Stephen Hawking’s recent controversial statement that God did not create the Universe. Mayor said that he could not support creationism and that God is so great that one did not need to – and could not – prove His existence scientifically.

Mayor identified three factors shaping religion today: a) planetary consciousness; b) the increased ability of all to communicate rapidly via electronic media; c) the increased participation of women. He urged participants to reject fanaticism and fear and embrace reflection and tolerance. Finally, he called for civic participation: “We cannot be spectators. We must be active citizens and not be silent,” Mayor said.


2. Clarisse Tchala Kabanga:

This Dominican nun (photo with a fellow religious from the Congo) and theologian from the Congo spoke about Jesus in Africa. She spoke about the inculturation of Jesus as an ancestor, guide and chief in the African tradition. Some of the challenges she spoke about of certain Christian sects who embrace a miracle-working Jesus who absolves the believer from any personal responsibility to participate in solving his or her problems resonated with me. We have many such sects in the Latino community in the United States and sometimes even charismatic Catholics can start to preach the “easy way out” path, a de-politicized Jesus. It is hard to proclaim and embrace a Christology of Liberation that passes through the Crucifixion.

With respect to other challenges facing Christians on her continent, Kabanga spoke of the importance of respectful dialogue in countries with multiple major faiths, the consolidation of participatory democracy and human rights, and increasing the participation of women both in the Church and in civil society, especially though access to education.



3. Mariola Lopez:

This Sacred Heart nun and theologian (photo - left) from Alicante, Spain, spoke about Jesus and women. Despite some participants wanting to draw her into a discussion about Mary Magdalene, Lopez shunned the more traditional feminist readings.

Instead, she spoke of the doors women opened for Jesus:
a) the door to corporality – women’s presence and caring for His body at His birth and death, the sinful woman who bathed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, etc… And in reciprocity, Jesus’ empowerment of the women with the hemorrhage (“Your faith has healed you”) and His embracing her in affiliation by calling her “daughter”, stating through His actions that women’s bodies were no longer impure.

b) the door to openness to other cultures – the Syro-Phoenician woman

c) the door to vulnerability – the lesson from the widow’s mite

d) the door to friendship – Mary and Martha. Their house at Bethany became a place of intimacy for Jesus. Jesus also learned His emphasis on hospitality, table service and foot washing from these women, not from the religious authorities of His time.


4. José Ignacio González Faus:

Faus, a Jesuit (photo - center) and emeritus professor of theology at the Facultad de Teología de Catalunya, spoke on “Following Jesus, yesterday and today.” He made the following points:

  • One cannot know Jesus without the Holy Spirit
  • The call to follow Jesus is both personal and collective. He drew a distinction between following and accompanying Jesus, emphasizing the latter and reminding us that the full name of the Jesuits is “The Company of Jesus”.
  • That the response is total – leaving all behind to follow Jesus. Faus said that included not only leaving behind materials things, but also emotional attachments (celibacy) and psychological ones (defense mechanisms, addictions, etc…)
  • The complete giving of oneself and embracing a life of solidarity with the poorest
  • That we have a new mission to be “fishers of men”
  • That we need to and will show signs – “See how they love one another” – and he added that in his opinion the institutional Church is not showing many signs right now that it is following Christ
  • We need to reach out especially to the poor and the sick, whom Jesus favored
  • We need to give freely. We are not the superiors or the saviors of anyone. We should not look for personal gain from following Christ
  • That following Jesus is communal. Faus pointed out that Jesus’ disciples were a diverse lot and suggested that dissent is normal and natural in a diverse community
  • We are following the Crucified One and are called to bear an infinite number of crosses as the Passion of Christ continues in the poor of the earth.
  • The Holy Spirit is who is most excluded from the Church today. If we stay “in the clouds”, the Holy Spirit is just “vapor”. It only becomes “spirit” when we go out into the streets.






5. Jon Sobrino:

The aged and frequently persecuted professor of theology from the UCA in San Salvador spoke on Jesus of Nazareth in Latin America. Sobrino, who is very frail, received a standing ovation from those assembled, who admire him both for his steadfast commitment to liberation theology and for being a witness to martyrdom – the martyrdom of Rutilio Grande, Mons. Oscar Romero, and his fellow UCA Jesuits, their housekeeper and the housekeeper’s daughter.

Sobrino said that a new Jesus irrupted for Latin America at Medellin. He said this irruption was preceded by an irruption of the poor and followed by an attempt to conceal this Jesus once again by the institutional Church. He said that we need this Jesus who leads to commitment and offers encouragement and hope. This Jesus leads to self-denial in a world of rampant consumerism. He leads us to take the path of liberation even knowing that this path leads to the Cross. This Jesus brings a passion for the poor and for justice. Real Christians remain at Jesus’ side in His Passion and they cannot remain unaffected by what is happening in the world.

Sobrino said that the Church has “betrayed Jesus”, manipulating His image as if they owned Him. He said that the Church has made the real Jesus disappear and pleaded that He be given back to us. Sobrino said that hope comes not only from Jesus’ death but from others who, out of love, are taking up His Cross. There is no “lite” liberation in Sobrino’s view.

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting, Rebel Girl. Women are a central question. Evidence cannot be denied, Jesus dignified women, to the point that only Women were with Him in the instant of his death.

    Did many bishops attend or show interest in this Congress?

    You might enjoy this video:
    http://www.rtve.es/mediateca/videos/20100919/informe-semanal-celibato-entre-cielo-tierra/880617.shtml

    Take care, let's keep being subversive, ;)
    Jordi.

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  2. I doubt any bishops attended. I wouldn't know your Spanish bishops to look at them but I can tell you I did not see anyone dressed like a bishop and never heard anyone addressed as "Monsenor". There were a lot of priests, though the only one who was dressed like a priest (basic black with Roman collar) was a young man from Venezuela. A lot of nuns but, again, mostly in civilian dress. Most of these people are not respected by the Spanish Bishops Conference; many of them have been silenced or otherwise reprimanded by their bishops. It's a different scene...

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