Last weekend, November 9-11, Call To Action held its annual gathering in Louisville, KY around the theme "Justice Rising." Over 400 participants converged on the Galt House Hotel to hear speakers from a variety of backgrounds.
The conference opened with an address from veteran civil rights activist Diane Nash, a Catholic, who spoke about what she called "agapic energy", her talk amply illustrated with specific examples from her experience with the lunch counter sit-ins to desegregate restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee. She laid out the principles of active nonviolence such as "people are never your enemy" and "oppression always requires the cooperation of the oppressed." Then she offered the 6 steps in an agapic energy campaign: 1) Investigation and goal-setting; 2) Education; 3) Negotiation; 4) Demonstrations; 5) Resistance, that is, the withdrawal of cooperation through such measures as economic boycotts and the creation of parallel structures; and 6) Taking measures to ensure that the problem doesn't reoccur. Finally, Nash reminded us that "freedom is not something you get and then you've got it. It's an unending struggle."
Conference participants also heard from Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez who spoke about the impact of Arab Spring. He viewed it as positive in that it "humanized Muslims" in American eyes and that it "carries the potential to eradicate terrorism once and for all." Another benefit would be that increased stability and democracy in the Middle East would lead to reduced migration from those countries. He urged participants to study the life of the Prophet Mohamed and look more critically at their own country. "America needs an American Spring," Abdul-Azeez opined.
Smaller workshops were offered on a wide variety of subjects ranging from the work of Border Angels which saves the lives of border crossers, Homeboy Industries which helps young people get out of gangs and into gainful employment, and Mary's Pence which provides grants for women's economic development, to issues of gender justice and feminist theology.
Roman Catholic Women Priests and other groups that support women's ordination such as the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests and Women's Ordination Conference had a strong presence at the conference. On Saturday morning they led a vibrant liturgy and also hosted a caucus reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the Danube Seven. Three of the Danube Seven, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Ida Raming, and Dagmar Celeste (who was ordained under the pseudonym "Angela White"), were present at the CTA meeting.
The final keynote speaker also came from this movement -- Roman Catholic woman bishop Patricia Fresen, a theologian and former Dominican nun from South Africa, who was ordained a priest in 2003 and a bishop in 2005 and now lives in Germany. Echoing the words of fellow theologian Hans Küng, Fresen gave a resounding call for a Church where there would be "Less Pope, More Jesus". She referred amusingly to her official excommunication and being called a "heretic" according to Canon 1024. She now uses the epithet and the canon law reference number as part of her e-mail address.
Fresen offered a stirring recollection of the role of women in Vatican II, holding them responsible for some of the strong language on discrimination that emerged in Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes. Like Fox, she emphasized the need for the Church to return to the Gospel. And she offered a virtual verbal slide show of all the recent forms of resistance within the ranks of the consecrated, ranging from the "Call To Disobedience" of the Austrian priests and the subsequent formation -- or reactivation -- of priests' associations in other countries, including the United States, to the solidarity shown to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious after their "doctrinal assessment" by the Vatican, to Fr. Roy Bourgeois' courageous defense of women's ordination, to the Nuns on the Bus. "It's OUR Church!", Fresen thundered.
She also led participants through ways in which the Church has changed since Vatican II: 1) We have a broader understanding of the Church as the "People of God" and, as a result, we are claiming the end of a male patriarchal and hierarchical model of Church; 2) We are realizing that we are not the only people of God. We do not accept Pope Benedict XVI's notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church; 3) We have a new understanding of priesthood and priestly ministry and are exploring different models, including the idea of ordaining a community's natural leaders who would keep their regular jobs after ordination and having a variety of priests both full time and part time with different levels of theological formation; 4) Our understanding of women's place in the Church has changed. We want inclusivity in language and we see women ordained in other denominations and faiths and women in leadership positions in secular society; 5) Environmental and economic justice issues are much more prominent concerns of the Church today. In response to the question of whether we need a Vatican III, Fresen opined that the next Vatican Council would have to be a council of democratically chosen representatives from "all the baptized", not dominated by the ordained, much less by the hierarchs. She also said that it should not be held at the Vatican but in another location, maybe even in Latin America or Africa.
Fresen also spoke about the Pact of the Catacombs, a little known agreement signed during Vatican II by 43 bishops, most of them from Latin America, who promised to shun the trappings of their positions and live simply, committing their funds to helping the poor. "I think Jesus would have signed the Catacomb Pact", she said.
Women religious were celebrated in various ways throughout the CTA conference, beginning with a candlelight procession and blessing of the sisters who were present. Sr. Pat Farrell, OSF, who was president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious at the time it received the visitation and subsequent criticism from the Vatican, was the recipient of this year's Call To Action Leadership Award, and Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS, the executive director of NETWORK and mastermind of the "Nuns on the Bus" campaign against failed Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's budget proposal that would have made significant cuts to the safety net for the poor, was the homilist at the closing liturgy. Sr. Simone urged participants to fight for what her group is calling a Faithful Budget, one that truly reflects our values as Christians and Catholics.