by Ermanno Allegri (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (Español / Portugues)
Dom Tomás Balduíno, bishop emeritus of Goiás and permanent adviser to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra ("Pastoral Land Commission" -- CPT), is in Fortaleza, Ceará, where he is participating in the symposium on "The 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 40th anniversary of liberation theology -- what is the Spirit saying to the churches?" The event ends tomorrow and is being organized by the Movimento por uma Formação Cristã Libertadora.
In this interview with Adital, Dom Tomás talks about the changes in the Church generated by Vatican II, emphasizes the important role played by lay people, and puts the Latin American scene in context.
The Second Vatican Council was the moment when Sacred Scripture was the central focus. It again became the central concern of the Church and, above all, started to get into the hands of the people, into the hands of Christians, of the laity. Did this cause any change in the Church?
It caused many changes. I'm talking about the case of Latin America, where people were already seeking contact with the Bible, with the word of God in the communities, above all, which were considered at a disadvantage relative to the believers who struggled quite well with the Bible. So, among us, we had the great opportunity with Carlos Mesters, with his group -- with the CEBI -- to read the Bible popularly. That was simple as pie and the Bible spread widely among us.
The Church as the People of God also emerged, if not in contradiction, almost as a new value of the Council. The Church on the hierarchical side didn't support this change. How do you view this issue, thinking, above all, of the future with so many theologians who are almost removed from it?
The question of the People of God became a proposal directed within the Church, one that messes with the structure. That's why there was more reaction from the Curia. They didn't expect that scheme that would put the People of God ahead of the hierarchical Church. And that, then, with the 1985 Synod already programmed by John Paul II, went bankrupt, it was over, it was suppressed. That means, theoretically, it was then suppressed by the Curia. In fact, it's our strength; it's the strength of our ministry in Latin America. It's the People of God with all the consequences of participation, contribution, presence, and contradiction.
About the Latin American situation, we can say today that there are clear signs of specific initiatives that indicate not only a future, but show continuity. Having seen the past, thinking of these signs and looking at the future, how do you assess the experience of those sectors of the Church?
Before talking about those signs, which are luminous signs, I want to show the strategy used especially by Pope John Paul II of encompassing the whole Church structure. He took charge of everything from seminary formation to the naming of bishops, passing though canon law and the repression of liberation theology too. He also took collegiality, as the appointment of bishops was done according to the Roman system, so collegiality disappeared and church provinces reappeared. It was a strategy that lasts heavily up to today in the whole Diocese, in the whole worldwide Church.
There are clear and specific signs of life from Vatican II that continue, living out that charism in Latin America. First the fruits of Medellin which are the social organizations of peasants, indigenous people and women that exist today. We are experiencing the desired consequences planned by Medellin in the sense of the communities, their agents who are subjects, authors, and recipients of their own journey.
This is happening more in some countries than in others. I am thinking, for example, of Ecuador and Bolivia as countries where this is very blatant. Then, within the Church itself, the strengthening of the BCCs, the meetings of the BCCs is a call. The people come. It's a minority group but very representative and significant in all of Brazil.
Also the social ministries, how they've grown, how they've gotten stronger now in communion or interchange with the various popular social organizations. Then, the congresses, the organizations of theology leaders, the campaigns show that the seed wasn't destroyed, the seed is producing fruit. It's very interesting. I think it's interrelated worldwide with the various attempts to break the monolithic structure of the Church.
What's missing today for lay people to be more autonomous, for them to make their own decisions? This Theological Symposium we're having should be multiplied in the sense of giving lay people the means to feel more secure in their stands and to take more initiative. What's needed for them to act?
For 20 years or more I've been thinking about this and trying to move forward. The first thing is that the future is in the hands of the laity of the Church, not the hierarchy. The banana tree that has already given its cluster, doesn't produce more. It has its role, but the Church's strength is the laity. And the Council raised it a little timidly, but the way to overcome these dependencies, these thousands of dependencies on the parish or the bishop -- a path to create autonomy -- is the school of theology, the Bible school.
It's true that we have autonomous ministries. We have an autonomous ministry that is the Pastoral Land Commission, which I consider to be a lay structure. It has a bishop in the leadership because the CNBB ("Brazilian Bishops Conference") demanded it, but what counts here is the presence of the laity. And when the latter are trained, when they have a theological base and know how to see the future, they not only serve as advocates for the people or group, but they also serve as a pathway of service to the world, a necessary service because it's not just the hierarchy or the missionaries who are going to do something but the laity, and even more effectively, with leaven in the dough.