José Comblin, an 87-year old Belgian-born priest and liberation theologian who has been working most of his life in Brazil, gave this lecture back in March as part of a theology conference at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador. The lecture, given in Spanish, addresses the future of theology and, indeed, the Church itself. It was finally transcribed this fall and has been making the rounds on the various progressive theology blogs. We are pleased to bring it to you in English. You can listen to audio files of the lecture on the UCA website. Warning: Those of you who prefer your sacred cows of Catholic apologetics unchallenged should stop right here and read no further. Fr. Comblin skewers a lot of them...
Good afternoon, everyone. It's not the first time I've spoken in this place, but I very much appreciate the friendship of Jon Sobrino; we have known each other for so long and I consider him to be one of the most lucid heads of our time, someone who has completely renewed Christology.
Yesterday's questions have given me the impression that...well...there is a certain amount of confusion in many people about the current situation of the Church. In other words, a sense of insecurity. As St. Teresa said, "may nothing disturb you, may nothing cause you fear."
When I was young I experienced something similar and perhaps worse. It was the pontificate of Pius XII. He had condemned all the major theologians, had condemned all the major social movements, for example, the experience of the worker priests in France, Belgium, and other countries. We young people -- young seminarians and later young priests -- were more than baffled at that, wondering: But, is there still a future?
I remember that at that time I was reading a biography of Pope Pius XII by an Austrian author. And in it were some words Fr. Leiber, a Jesuit professor of Church History at the Gregorian, had written. Fr. Leiber was confessor to the pope. He knew everything that went on in the head of Pius XII and so he said: "Today the situation of the Catholic Church is like a medieval castle, surrounded by water. They have pulled up the drawbridge and thrown the keys into the water. There is no way out." (laughter) In other words, the Church is cut off from the world; it no longer has any possibility of entering it. This being said by the pope's confessor, who had reason to know these things.
After that came John XXIII and there, all those who had been persecuted, are suddenly the lights in the Council and suddenly all bans are lifted. ... There was renewed hope. I'm saying this so you don't get disturbed. Something will come along, something will come, we don't know what, but something always happens.
How do we explain these problems that could still start up again? Because we are approaching the final phase of Christianity. For many centuries, the death of what has been dying for 200 years has been announced, but it still could ... Christianity could continue its dying for a few decades or years. In other words, it has ceased to be the conscience of the Western world. It has stopped being the force that encourages, stimulates, clarifies, explains the source of culture, the economy, everything that existed during the time of Christianity.
This has been progressively destroyed since the French Revolution and here since independence, since the separation from the Spanish empire. Then, little by little, many prophets have appeared who have said that it is dying for 200 years now. But the facade is so strong ... There is so much resistance to the death of Christianity that a constant tension is maintained. But now I think that Christianity is entering its final stages.
You want a sign? The encyclical Caritas in Veritate. I don't know how many people here have read the encyclical. If you look at what impact it has had in the world: an impressive silence. Perhaps a respectful silence but more probably a silence of indifference. Nobody is impacted by the social doctrine of the church which has also moved away from being interested in what is happening in the real world.
Some years ago a very important Jesuit sociologist, Fr. [Jean-Yves] Calvez, who played an extremely important role in the creation, the maintenance of the social doctrine of the Church, published a book titled "The Silences of Catholic Social Doctrine" [Les Silences de la doctrine sociale catholique]. It's still silent. It no longer gets strongly into current world problems, the letter ... stays at such vague, abstract, general theories. The letter Caritas in Veritate could be signed by the International Monetary Fund without any problem. Or by the World Bank. There is absolutely nothing that makes those people uncomfortable. Then, what for? That's a sign. That's a sign.
Want another sign? The [CELAM] Conference in Aparecida has said many good things. It wants to transform the church into a mission, to go from a "conservation" church to a "mission" church. Except that it thinks that this is going to be done by the very same institutions that are not into mission but into conservation. That this will be done by the diocese, parish, seminaries, and religious orders. Here, suddenly and miraculously, those are going to become missionaries.
It's been three years now and what's happened in your diocese? How has the option for the poor been applied? I don't know how it is here, but in Brazil, I don't see much change. That is, Christianity is gradually dissolving, but the problem is later. Then what? Hence the uncertainty because we don't know what's coming next. But in the end let's stay with what Saint Teresa says: "Let's not be disturbed." This has happened many times in history and probably will happen many times still. We must learn to resist, to endure, not to be discouraged or lose hope because of what is happening.
What's happening is that in Rome, they are not convinced that Christianity is dead. They think that encyclicals illuminate the world; they believe that the church institutions light up and guide the world. In other words, it's a closed world. They actually live in a medieval castle, surrounded by water. And then what happens? Let's see how to interpret, how to view what is happening. And then which "theological method" is appropriate for that.
We must start with a basic distinction that many theologians have already proposed between the gospel and religion. The gospel comes from Jesus Christ. Religion doesn't come from Jesus Christ. The gospel is not religious. Jesus did not found any religion. He did not found rites, He did not teach doctrines, He didn't organize a system of government, none of that. He devoted Himself to proclaiming, to promoting the kingdom of God. In other words, a radical change of all humankind in all its aspects. A change and a change the authors of which would be the poor. He addresses the poor, thinking that only they are capable of acting with this honesty, with this authenticity to promote a new world. Is this a political message? It's not political in the sense that it proposes a plan, a way -- human intelligence is enough for that, but like a political goal, because this is guidance given to all humankind.
And religion? Aah...Jesus didn't found a religion, but his disciples have created a religion based on Him. Why? Because religion is indispensable to human beings. One can't live without religion. If the current religion disintegrates here and now, there are 38,000 registered faiths in the United States! In other words, there is no lack of religions; they are constantly appearing. Human beings can not live without religion, even though they are moving away from the great traditional religions.
So religion is a human creation. Between Christianity and other religions, the structure is the same. It's a mythology. Well, there's a Christian mythology, just as there is a Hindu, or a Shinto, or a Confucian mythology. This is an indispensable part for humankind. That is to say, how to interpret all that's incomprehensible in humankind through the intervention of beings, of supernatural entities, outside of this world, who are really in control.
Second, religion is rites, rites to avert threats and bring benefits. All have rituals. And they all have separate people, prepared to administer the rites, to teach the mythology. This is common to all. So this had to happen to Christians too. It must have happened. How could they live without religion?
So how did that religion begin? It must have begun when Jesus became the object of worship. Which happened fairly early, especially among the disciples who had not known Him, who had not lived with Him, who had not been close. So for the next generation or for those who lived farther away, farther from Him, Jesus became an object of worship. With that, He was progressively de-humanized. The worship of Jesus replaced the following of Jesus. Jesus never asked his disciples for an act of worship, He never asked them to offer a rite to Him, but He wanted them to follow, to follow Him.
This duality begins to appear early -- 30 years, 40 years after the death of Jesus. It appeared strongly enough for Mark to write in his gospel precisely to protest against these tendencies towards de-humanization, that is, towards making Jesus into a cult object. That gospel exists precisely to remember a word of a prophet: "No! Jesus was this. He did that. He lived here in this world! He lived here on this earth."
With the development of the Christian religion as it happened -- here's the problem for theologians -- then, this temptation gradually reappeared. The beginnings of a doctrine were born! The Apostles' Creed. And what does the Apostles' Creed say about Jesus? Aah. That He was born and died. Nothing more. As if the rest didn't matter, as if God's revelation were not precisely Jesus' life itself, His actions, His projects, all His earthly destiny -- that is the revelation, but that is being lost from view. The same for the Creeds of Nicea and Constantinople. Christ was born and then He died. The Council of Chalcedon stated that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature. But what is a nature? A human being is not a nature. A human being is a life, a project, a challenge, a struggle, a coexistence among many others. This is what is fundamental if we want to follow Jesus.
Starting with the early councils, a rift gradually appears within the religion that is forming itself... With Nicea and Constantinople,there is a core teaching, there is a core theology, and the church will devote itself to defending, promoting and building on this theology. The great liturgies of Basil and others had already been organized, and a clergy had already been organized. The clergy as a separate class is an invention of Constantine. That is to say, up until Constantine, there was no distinction between sacred persons and lay people. All laity. Because Jesus had not provided for -- on the contrary, He removed the priestly class -- and He did not provide any way for another priestly class to appear, because everyone is equal. And there are not sacred and non-sacred people because for Jesus there is no difference between sacred and secular. Everything is sacred and everything is secular.
Now, there is a basic distinction in religion between sacred and secular. All religions. And there's a clergy dedicated to what is sacred. And the others who are in the secular [world], well, in religion, they are receivers, not actors; they have no active role. To have an active role, one must be truly consecrated. That started at the time of Constantine.
And then the following evolution: two lines will appear in Christian history after that. Those who, like Mark's gospel, want to remind us: "No. Jesus came to show the way, for us to follow." That is basic, fundamental. A line that will renew itself, that will apply to various historical eras -- what the life of Jesus was and how He taught. And throughout history, can we follow? Of course we don't know everything, because the vast majority of those who followed the way of Jesus were poor, those who were never spoken of in the history books and so they have left no documents.
But there are people who did leave documents and so with this we can know where in the history of the Christian church, where the gospel appears. Where gradually, [people] sought to live out the gospel. Those who radically sought the way of the gospel were always minorities, "Abrahamic minorities" as Dom Helder Camara used to say...always, throughout history.
Most are at the other pole, in religion. That is, dedicating themselves to doctrine, teaching the doctrine, defending the doctrine against heretics, heresies, that was one of the major tasks; practicing the rites and forming the sacred class, the priestly class. Well, that leads us to a distinction that will manifest itself throughout history: the "gospel" pole is at war with the "religion" pole and the "religion" one with the "gospel" pole. Throughout Christian history.
Christian history is a permanent and constant contradiction, because there are those who are devoted to religion and those who are dedicated to the gospel. Of course, there are intermediaries and thus there isn't total purity, neither on one side or on the other. But within the history, there are obviously two histories, two groups that are manifested. The official history: the one that, when I was young, they gave us in the history of the church which was "the history of the ecclesiastical institution" and then only religion was talked about there, on the assumption that religion was the introduction to the gospel. But that is an assumption, that is to say, it can make you think that everything that is born in the Catholic system comes from Jesus, as was stated in traditional theology in the Christian era -- that everything in the Roman Catholic Church, in the end, comes from Jesus.
With much theological juggling, they have managed to show that everything is ultimately rooted in Jesus. It doesn't have roots in other religions, in other cultures. As if Christians who converted to the church were completely pure of any culture or religion. Everyone brings their culture and religion, and introduces elements that are from their former religion and culture into their Christian life, and therefore it results in a religion that is always ambiguous and complex. It's inevitable because human beings entering the church are not angels. They are loaded with centuries of history and cultural transmission and all that comes in naturally.
Hence, an opposition that in politics, for example, is clearly demonstrated. It is said that the gospel is from God and therefore can not change. Religion is a human creation, therefore it can and must change according to the evolution of culture, the living conditions of people in general. If the religion stays attached to its past, it's gradually abandoned in favor of another more suitable, or more comprehensible religion.
The gospel is lived in real, physical, and social life. Religion lives in a symbolic world; everything is symbolic -- doctrine, rites, priests -- all are symbolic entities that don't come into physical reality. The gospel is universal, because it doesn't carry any culture and is not associated with any culture, with any religion. Religions are always associated with a culture. For example, the current Catholic religion is linked to the Roman clerical subculture that modernity has marginalized, which is in decline because its members didn't want to enter modern culture.
The gospel is the renunciation of power and all the powers that be in society. Religion seeks power and support of power in all forms of power. This is so obvious...power. I remember at the time of the imprisonment of the bishops in Riobamba, the nuncio said: "If the church doesn't have the support of the rulers, it can not evangelize." (laughter) One might think the opposite: that if it has the support of the powers, it will be difficult to evangelize.
But that's the mentality that is in the rest of Christianity within the Church that was founded on a politico-religious unity and then, naturally, all the authorities were united -- the clergy and the government, the clergy and the military, everybody together. Giving this up is very difficult. Giving up the association with power.
I'll give an example. My current bishop in Barra, in the State of Bahia, Brazil, is a Franciscan. His name is Luís Flávio Cappio. He became famous in Brazil for a hunger strike...two hunger strikes held to protest a lavish project of the government, based on a huge lie. Well, this is for general context because there isn't time to tell the whole story, but he became well-known and was invited last year to the German Church Kirchentag. After the invitation, he spoke in several cities in Germany. A group approached, saying that they had come to give him a donation, some aid for his work. And it was quite a lot. It was $ 100,000 or so. He asked: "Where did this cash come from?" They told him: "Some companies, some executives." So he said: "I don't accept. I don't want to accept money that was stolen from the workers, that was stolen from the buyers of material." He did not accept any alliance with economic powers. I don't know how many in the clergy would not have accepted. (applause) Well, this bishop is a Franciscan equal to Saint Francis. He has been like that all his life. So I went to live there, to sanctify myself a little, in contact with such an evangelical person. (laughter)
OK. So how was the Church born? The Church we talk about, that is when you talk about Church, that specific historical reality which we have experienced. To the people at large, the Church is above all the Pope, the bishops, the priests, the men and women religious, but, in the end, this institutional grouping that we talk about and that also causes much uncertainty, as we saw yesterday. How was the Church born? Obviously, Jesus didn't found any Church. The disciples and Jesus Himself thought of themselves as Jews; it was the people of Israel renewed, and so were the first disciples; the twelve apostles are the patriarchs of the Church of Israel renewed. The first awareness was that it was the continuation of Israel, the perfection, the correction of Israel.
But once the gospel penetrated the Greek world, Israel didn't mean much to them there and so Paul invents a new name. He gave the communities he founded in the cities the name ekklesia, which has been translated as "church". What is the ekklesia? The only meaning of ekklesia in Greek is "the assembly of the people gathered together that governs the city". In practice, "the people gathered together" were the most powerful people, but in the end the idea is that in the Greek city, the people govern themselves and they do so so in meetings that are ekklesias.
That is to say, Paul does not give any religious name to the communities; he just sees them as a group intended to facilitate the message of transformation of all cities, so that they constitute the beginning of a new humanity, and a humanity in which everyone is equal, all govern all. Then comes the letter to the Ephesians in which he speaks of the church now as a translation of the Jewish kahal, that is, it's the new Israel. And the ekklesia, that's also the new Israel. In other words, all the disciples of Jesus together in many communities, but not institutionally united, united by the same faith. All are the ekklesia, the great church that is the body of Christ. Institutions do not yet exist.
But of course it could not continue like this. The Jews who accepted Christianity did not all forsake their Judaism just like that. And then when the number of Christians grew -- the number of communities -- some structures began to penetrate there. In Paul's time there are still no priests, even though Luke says otherwise, but Luke has no historical value -- everybody already knows that. So he attributed to Paul what was being done in his time, so he imagined that Paul naturally founded priests, priestly councils...Then he said to himself that bishops ordain priests -- you don't see any who don't do this...So it seems clear to him -- but in this case, the beginnings of a separation, but still very simple, because there is no sacrality, there is nothing sacred. Priests are not holy, just as the priests of the synagogues were not holy. They had a function, a mission, but a mission of government, of administration, but not a ritual function, or a function of teaching a doctrine.
Then came the bishops. It is now believed that the schema of bishops was widespread by the end of the second century, but it took a while. Clement of Rome, when he published and wrote his letter to the Corinthians, speaks of "presbyters". This is not a bishop. There was no bishop in Rome yet, so "presbyters". But the episcopal schema was organized. It is likely that the struggle against heresy, against Gnosticism, required a stronger authority in order to properly deal with Gnosticism and all new syncretistic religions that appeared at that time.
And the Church as a universal institution, when did it appear? In the third century, there were regional councils, bishops of various cities who met, but an entity to institutionalize everything didn't exist. Emperor Constantine was the one who invented the universal Church. He assembled all the bishops in the world with travel paid by him, food too, and the entire organization of the council was directed by the emperor and the delegates of the emperor. This is a historic precedent. Up to today we are not free of it...that the universal Church as an institution was born through the emperor.
Later in Western history, the Roman emperor fell and the pope gradually made it to the imperial role. There were many struggles in the Middle Ages between the pope and the emperor, but the pope always thought himself superior to the emperor. In the Crusades, the Pope was the generalissimo of all the Christian armies, he was a military person -- commander in chief of the Christian army. And in the lineage of the Papal States, this continues still.
When the pope lost temporal power, he then reinforced his power over the churches, and he ruled the Church like an emperor, i.e., all the powers are centralized in one hand and with all the advantages of a court, because, yes, there is no democracy in the Church. Who are those that guide the pope? The court! The courtiers, those who are nearby. Of course he can't do everything, but finally, a court that is separate from the Christian people. We are still suffering the consequences of that.
Pope Paul VI said in some moments that the current role of the pope -- what the pope does -- really had to change. John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint also says that we must realize that the great obstacle in the world today is the concentration of all powers in the pope, that there must be another way to exercise that. This to say that all that belongs to religion.
Starting from that, what is the task of theology? It's complex, precisely because it has a task in the Gospel and a task in religion. Theology was the Church's official ideology for centuries. Its role was to justify everything the Church said and did with Biblical arguments, with arguments of tradition, liturgical ones, and a lot of things I learned when I was in seminary. Of course I didn't believe it (laughter), but most still believe it. So what happens?
First: The first task, the Gospel. What does it say? What is of Jesus, that is not a penetration from Judaism, penetration from another culture, penetration from another religion? What comes from Jesus according to the New Testament? The entire New Testament does not come from Jesus. No. There are the pastoral epistles, for instance, that talk about priests -- that doesn't come from Jesus. But the task of theology would be precisely to ask: What did Jesus really want? What did He actually do? And so what is involved in really following Jesus?
Looking at history: What were the manifestations? Where? In different forms, because the cultural situations were different. In different forms, where can we recognize the continuity of this evangelical line? Because if we want to penetrate the world of today and present Christianity in today's world, everything that's religious doesn't matter. What could be interesting is precisely the gospel and evangelical witness. Nobody is going to convert because of theology. You can do all the best classes; no one will become Christian because of theology. So I wonder: why, in seminaries, do they think that priestly formation is teaching theology? I don't understand, I don't understand. Is there nothing else to do to evangelize? Isn't it much more complex? So 30 years ago, I decided in the presence of God that I will never again work in a seminary. (laughter) Because I won't do that any longer.
Then this is the gospel line! Saint Francis. Saint Francis was an extremist. He didn't want his brothers to have books. No books. The Gospel was enough; nothing else was needed. He said himself: "What I teach, I didn't learn from anyone, not even from the pope. I learned it from Jesus directly, through His Gospel." Well, this is what can convince today's world, that is totally disturbed and is distancing itself more and more from the old, traditional institutional churches. All the great religions were born around 1,000 to 500 years before Christ, except Islam that appeared later -- but it's like an off-shoot of the Judeo-Christian tradition. So, first this.
Second, religion -- what to do with religion? So we must examine the entire system of religion: what helps, what really helps to understand, to comprehend, to act according to the Gospel. Was this born through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in monks, for example? But if you look at the life of the monks in the desert in Egypt...that's not a message. It's not a message and it doesn't come from the Gospel either. So, many things come from who knows what tradition, perhaps things that may have come from Buddhism or other such things. So, examine what still has value today...and [do it] honestly.
Jesus didn't institute 7 sacraments. Up until the 12th century, there were arguments about whether there were 10, 9, 2, 5, 4...there was no agreement. Finally, they decided that there were 7. Well, the reasons: the 7 days of Genesis, the 7 planets, that's why the number 7, but there are things that obviously no longer speak to people today. For example, the sacrament of penance with confession to a priest. How many go to confession now? Twenty years ago, during Holy Week in a popular parish, I would receive 2,000 confessions and the pastor, 2,000 confessions too. Today: 20, 30, that is, people no longer respond. This was defined in the 12th or 13th century. Why keep something that no longer has any meaning and, conversely, that causes a lot of rejection? So you need to talk to someone, the sinner likes to talk to someone, but not specifically to the priest. There are many people, many women who can do that job much better, with more balance, without scaring [people] like priests do. (laughter) That's one thing.
But there are a ton of things that need to be reviewed because they have no future. So it's useless to want to defend or maintain something that's an obstacle to evangelization and absolutely no help at all. So, in the liturgies, there are many things that need to be changed. The theory of sacrifice was introduced by the Jews, of course. In the temple, sacrifices were offered. Priests were the holy people who offered the sacrifice. All that theory doesn't mean anything today: that the priest is devoted to the sacred, to offering the sacrifice, and that the Eucharist is a sacrifice...Does all this come from Jesus? Aah, it doesn't come from Jesus. So you have to see if it still has value or not. Why keep something that has no value?
And then there's also the other part: what doesn't help, what has been infiltration of other trends, other trends. For example, the ascetic life of the Irish monks. Ireland was the island of monks. The bishops had no authority there; they were only useful for ordaining priests, but otherwise they could rest. The monks were those in command -- the monasteries were the centers, what the diocese is today. Those Irish monks lived an ascetic life, but so extremely inhuman that to us it's impossible that that came from Jesus, it's impossible that it helps, because those men there were really super-men, but there are no more men like that today. One exercise of penance they did, for example, was going into the river -- in Ireland, the rivers are cold -- and stand there naked to pray all the Psalms. (laughter) Well, that way of viewing life...no. We must consider that that isn't Christian, nor is it a sign of holiness. That's not how holiness is manifested...Examining everything that comes from there.
But all the women's congregations know how much we have to fight to change customs, traditions that are not evangelical. So many debates! I know a number of women's congregations and so much time is spent on discussions, disputes between those who want to preserve everything and those who want to abandon what no longer works and find another way of life that is better suited to the current situation.
The task of theology -- sure, it changes. It changes the tradition. It ceases to be the ideology of the whole Roman system, but that has no future. That kind of theology was progressively abandoned some time ago.
In Latin America, something appeared. We experienced a new Franciscanism, or rather, a new stage, but a radical one, of gospel life. When was it born? I have spoken about the bishops who participated in that and who facilitated Medellín and the option for the poor, the holy fathers of Latin America. You know them. If we have to pinpoint the origin of the new evangelism in the Latin American church, I would say -- don't forget it -- November 16, 1965.
On that day, in the catacombs of Rome, forty bishops, mainly from Latin America, urged on by Helder Camara, got together and signed what was called "the Pact of the Catacombs." In it, they pledged to live like the poor, in food, in transportation, in housing. They made a commitment. They didn't say what should be done, they made a commitment, and in fact they did it later, once they got back to their dioceses. And then, to give priority in all their activities to the issues of the poor, that is, leaving a lot of things aside to give immediate priority to the poor and a number of things that go along the same lines. These were the ones who facilitated the Conference of Medellín. So, it was born here.
And they had a favorable context: the Holy Spirit already at that time had raised a number of gospel people. The Base Ecclesial Communities had already been born. There were already nuns embedded in the working class communities. But they were few, small, and felt a little like outcasts among the others. Medellin gave them legitimacy and great encouragement at the same time, and it expanded. Was it the whole Latin American Church? Of course not. It has always been a minority.
One day, I remember, they asked Cardinal Arns, a saint, with whom we had a good relationship, a friendship...so one day, a reporter asked him: "Your Eminence, here in Sao Paulo, you are very lucky. The whole Church has now become the Church the poor, all the nuns in the service of the poor -- what a wonderful thing!" Then Dom Paulo said: "Yes, well, here in Sao Paulo, 20% of the nuns went to the poor communities, 80% stayed with the rich." (laughter) So...but that was already a lot - 20%. There aren't 20% today. It was already a lot. That was a time of creation, one of those times that occur occasionally in history, so there was a large outpouring of the Spirit. But we have to live off that heritage; it's a heritage that must be maintained, preciously preserved because it will not reappear.
Sometimes they ask me: "Why aren't today's bishops like those of that time?" I say: "Because that time was the exception, that is, it's the exception in the whole history of the Church and from time to time the Holy Spirit sends exceptions.
And who's going to evangelize today's world? For me, it's the laity. And now many small groups of young people are appearing who actually practice a much poorer life, free from any outside organization, living in permanent contact with the world of the poor. There are some already. There would be more, if it were more talked about, if they were better known. This could also be an auxilliary task of theology: revealing what is really going on, where the Gospel is being lived out at this time, to publicize it, so that they can know about each other, because otherwise they may lose enthusiasm or not have much hope. Once they get together and form associations, each with its tendency, its mode of spirituality...but beyond that [inaudible] because I don't expect much from the clergy. So it's a new historical situation.
But it happens that, at this time, the laity are no longer illiterate, haven't been for a long time: they have a formation in the humanities, a cultural formation, a formation of their personality that is far superior to what is taught in seminaries. In other words, they are more prepared to act in the world, even without much theology. One thing: they could also be given more theology, but that's another matter. We shouldn't think that the priests are going to be the ones who will carry out the program of Aparecida right away tomorrow.
I don't know everything, but the seminaries that I know, the diocese that I know...it would require 30 years to train new clergy, and who will train them? For the laity, it's different. There are many people willing, and people with training in the humanities, able to think, to reflect, to enter into relationships and contacts, to lead groups, communities...But many still do not dare; they don't dare. But the future is there.
To conclude with an anecdote: One day I was called to Fortaleza, in northeastern Brazil. Now, Fortaleza is a big city -- a million inhabitants. The Holy See had removed -- marginalized -- Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider, sending him into exile in Aparecida, which is a place of punishment for bishops who have not pleased [the Holy See]. Then there came a successor, Dom Claudio Hummes, who is now a cardinal in Rome.
Claudio Hummes eliminated everything social in the diocese there; he fired all of them -- 300 people with a long record of service, humane capacity -- simply like that. One day they called me -- there were 300 of them, weeping, lamenting: "And now we can't do anything. And now what happens? And now what?" I said: "But you are perfectly humane people, trained, with strong, developed personalities. You've succeeded in your families, you've been successful in your careers, in your professional work. Why are you worrying now about what the bishop wants or doesn't want? Why are you worried about what the pastor wants or doesn't want? You all have sufficient training and capability. Why not act, form an association, a group, act independently?"
Because canon law, as many Catholics don't know, allows the formation of associations independent of the bishop, independent of the pastor -- that isn't taught much in the parishes, but it's precisely something that IS important. "Then," I said, "you may very well put together 4, 5 people to organize a communication system, a system of spirituality, a system of organizing presence in public life, in politics, in social life -- 300 people with that courage. If you pay, if you have to pay five people, each of you will not even spend 2% of what you earn, that's to say, you may very well maintain five people dedicated to that. And you should choose those between 25 and 30 years in age because that's the creative period. Until 25, the human being is trying to find himself. From that moment, he has finished his studies, or he has almost finished his studies, has found a job, so now he wants to define his life -- those are the ones who have the capacity to invent. All great inventions have been made by people at that age. But to impose their invention on the whole world? They have spent their lives doing everything but they really have persevered in that same tendency to [inaudible]. They didn't do it. "Why? What happened? Why? Why so shy? You who are so capable in the world...nothing in the Church!" They don't feel capable, they need the bishop to tell them what to do, they need priests to tell them. How is this possible? Maybe they weren't taught. They can be adults in civilian life but children in religious life.
But we can! We can do it and multiply it in all the areas we are going to get to know. So the future depends on similar lay groups that already exist but are still very scattered. The future is there. It's the task of all of us, starting precisely with young people. There are currently 6 million college students in Brazil. Two million are from poor families -- "poor" meaning those earning less than 3 times the minimum wage, because with less than 3 times the minimum wage you can't live decently... so, but with the help of the government and all the systems that the Brazilians can explain...two million. And what is the presence of the clergy? Very few, some men religious. From the diocese? Nothing. And therein lies the future. It's young people who are discovering the world.
Sure, there are some who become corrupt, who fall into drugs, but they are a minority, i.e., most are people who want to do something in life. If they don't know the Gospel, they won't live as Christians. We have to tell them, we have to explain, but not explain with theology courses, rather explain by doing, participating there in activities that are in fact really services to the poor. Yes, that can be done.
So you have to change the task of theology a bit: less academic, more oriented towards the outside world, all those who are no longer in the network of influence of the Church, those who do not receive. But, present there. And a theology that can be read without scholastic training, because otherwise, if you didn't have training in Aristotelian philosophy, you couldn't understand any of this traditional theology. Well, Aristotelian philosophy is dead, that is, the philosophers of the 20th century have buried it. So now we are free to see how we will open ourselves to the world. Thank you for your attention. (Applause)