Friday, August 9, 2013

The Church of Francis -- 'Going back to the roots and walking slowly at the pace of the people': An Interview with Paulo Suess

IHU - Unisinos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (Português)
August 6, 2013

"Mission, participation, proximity to the poor, dialogue, structures at the service of the people of God -- these are the pastoral concepts being launched again by Pope Francis," the theologian states.

"Pope Francis' theology is missionary, pastoral and spiritual, guided by proximity to the poor at the various peripheries of the world -- geographical, social, cultural and existential peripheries," states Paulo Suess in an interview granted to IHU On-Line via e-mail. For him, Francis' most important speeches "are his gestures", so that "his trip to Lampedusa was more important than his encyclical Lumen Fidei...His methodology of seeing and discerning reality before making speeches and acting, could now be taken up again by the bishops' conferences all over the continent."

In the following interview, Suess assesses the speeches given by the Pope during his visit to Brazil and emphasizes that the message to the Brazilian bishops is "a retelling of the Aparecida document...Beginning with the story of the two disciples of Emmaus who are fleeing Jerusalem and the 'bareness' of God, Francis makes an interpretation of the Exodus from the Church, examines the reasons for it, to then give the message to the shepherds. 'Are we a Church that's capable of bringing the people who are fleeing back to Jerusalem, where are our roots are? Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty? What is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love!'"

Paulo Suess was born in Germany. He holds a doctorate in fundamental theology with work on popular Catholicism in Brazil. In 1987, he founded the Graduate Course in Missiology at the Pontifícia Faculdade Nossa Senhora da Assunção in São Paulo, where he was the coordinator until the end of 2001. He has received honorary doctorates from the University of Bamberg (Germany, 1993) and the University of Frankfurt (2004). He is theological adviser to the Conselho Indigenista Missionário ("Indigenous Missionary Council" - Cimi) and professor in the cycle of postgraduate missiology at the Theological Institute of São Paulo - ITESP. Among his publications, we can cite the Dicionário de Aparecida. 40 palavras-chave para uma leitura pastoral do Documento de Aparecida (São Paulo: Paulus, 2007).

IHU On-Line - There have been many comments about Pope Francis' way of being, but what might be the broad lines of his pontificate theologically? It is possible to glimpse anything along those lines?

Paulo Suess - Pope Francis' theology is missionary, pastoral and spiritual, guided by proximity to the poor at the various peripheries of the world -- geographical, social, cultural and existential peripheries. His theology is rooted in that proximity. His theology emerges from a biographically based Mariology and a Christology shaped by the Society of Jesus.

Mario Bergoglio lost his mother early, which made the Mother of God become very important in his life. In the Church, which was born in Jerusalem, Mary, Francis says, is more important than the apostles. Within this perspective, he will foster the dignity of women in the Church, whom he considers more important than the hierarchy.

When his superiors sent Mario Bergoglio to do postgraduate studies in Frankfurt -- soon interrupted by other responsibilities in the Society -- on the way back to his homeland he didn't bring scholarly writings in his suitcase, but a Marian devotion in his heart -- "Mary Untier of Knots" that he had found in Augsburg. That devotion, which responds to the sufferings of the common people, we find scattered today throughout Latin America. It's the devotion to Mary Immaculate that Bergoglio found again at Aparecida. Pope Francis will always begin important events in his life at the feet of the Immaculate Untier of Knots, at the foot of the Cross.

With Mary, Pope Francis finds himself in Jerusalem. God's love was bared in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, says Francis, are the roots of the Church: Scripture, catechesis, sacraments, community, the friendship of the Lord. The sources of its authenticity, humility, and proximity are also found in Jerusalem. The proximity reaches its peak in the incarnation. The sources flow along with the river. No one has permanent residency status, neither in Aparecida nor in Jerusalem. They're icons that accompany the journey that is action in contemplation. They're starting points for an incarnated Christology, a mysticism lived out in action anywhere, always "to the greater glory of God" (St. Ignatius). His name is Francis, but Francis' theology and spirituality are Ignatian.

IHU On-Line - Among the Pope's speeches, which would you point to as the most important one in his pontificate? Why? What does it say in terms of identification with the Church?

Paulo Suess - Pope Francis' most important speeches are his gestures. His trip to Lampedusa was more important than his encyclical Lumen Fidei. The gesture of visiting the Varginha community was more important than the "standard" speech he uttered there. His methodology of seeing and discerning reality before making speeches and acting, could now be taken up again by the bishops' conferences all over the continent. Mario Bergoglio calls himself a "son of the Church." He doesn't confuse Christological radicalness with pastoral adventure. "Feeling with the Church" is part of Ignatian spirituality. But "discernment" is also part of that spirituality.

IHU On-Line - What is your assessment of the speech the Pope gave to the bishops of Brazil on Saturday and, subsequently, to the bishops of CELAM? What can be understood by strengthening and reforming the structures of the Church?

Paulo Suess - The address to the Bishops of Brazil is a retelling of the Aparecida Document. After a spiritual interpretation of the finding of the image of the Immaculate Conception as God coming into the life of the people in the raiments of smallness, the Pope turned to the message of Aparecida 2007. Beginning with the story of the two disciples of Emmaus who are fleeing Jerusalem and the 'nakedness' of God, Francis makes an interpretation of the Exodus from the Church, examines the reasons for it to then give the message to the shepherds.'Are we a Church that's capable of bringing the people who are fleeing back to Jerusalem, where are our roots are? Are we still able to speak of these roots in a way that will revive a sense of wonder at their beauty? What is more lofty than the love revealed in Jerusalem? Nothing is more lofty than the abasement of the Cross, since there we truly approach the height of love!'"

Going back with the people to Jerusalem, going back to the roots, and walking slowly at the people's pace! "Is the Church still able to move slowly: to take the time to listen, to have the patience to mend and reassemble? Or is the Church herself caught up in the frantic pursuit of efficiency?," the Pope asked. Then he returned to the challenges of the Aparecida document, like formation, collegiality and solidarity, the permanent state of mission and Amazonia.

Also in his speech to the bishops of CELAM, Francis again follows the Aparecida document and covers a Church that sets "in a missionary key all the day-to-day activities of the Particular Churches." As a consequence of this, obviously, there's a whole dynamic of reform of church structures. A "moving of structures" (from outdated to new) is a consequence of the mission dynamic. What topples outdated structures, what leads the hearts of Christians to change, is precisely the missionary spirit. Not just the Roman Curia. Every diocese, every parish has structures that need to be adjusted.

Because of this missionary spirit, the Pope envisions a church devoted to the people, a proactive one, participation of the laity and the functioning of participative structures -- "I think we're way behind in it." We can't just continue within the parameters of the "traditional culture," fundamentally a rural-based culture. A decontextualized ministry "will end up nullifying the power of the Holy Spirit. God is everywhere: we have to know how to find him in order to be able to proclaim him in the language of each and every culture; every reality, every language, has its own rhythm."

Mission, participation, proximity to the poor, dialogue, structures at the service of the people of God -- these are the pastoral concepts being launched again by Pope Francis.

IHU On-Line - What's the impact of the CELAM bishops on Francis' pontificate?

Paulo Suess - Pope Francis has already shown that he's seeking to strengthen collegiality and synodality in the Church. On the first day of his papacy he sought to adjust the relationship between the Bishop of Rome and the Pope of the whole Catholic Church: "The Pope is a bishop, the Bishop of Rome, and because he is the Bishop of Rome he is the Successor of Peter, Vicar of Christ. There are other titles, but the first title is 'Bishop of Rome' and everything follows from that," he told reporters on the plane that brought him back to Rome, and added that "there is always the danger of thinking oneself a little superior to others, not like others, something of a prince. [...] The bishop ahead of the faithful, to mark out the path; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to foster communion; and the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful can often sniff out the path. The bishop must be like that."

Later, the Pope spoke of the temptations of self-referentiality, functionalism and clericalism. He criticized pastoral plans that are "distant", disciplinary pastoral plans that emphasize principles, forms of conduct, organizational procedures ... obviously without nearness, tenderness, warmth. The "revolution of tenderness" that is caused by the incarnation of the Word, is ignored. Here are the goals of "pastoral conversion" indicated in the Aparecida Document. He concludes his speech, including himself, with an assertion about the lag: "We are lagging somewhat as far as Pastoral Conversion is concerned."

We certainly need a reorientation of the canonists, the nuncios and a new generation of bishops who support the proposal of divestiture and let go of their disciplinary and organizational orientations with no pastoral nexus.

IHU On-Line - What's Bergoglio's theology and how does it differ from the liberation theology that's practiced in Latin America?

Paulo Suess - Liberation theology isn't a school but a theological-pastoral practice linked to a variety of cultural contexts and social realities. Therefore, there's a wide range of theologies of liberation. Mario Bergoglio, coming from the Argentine context, is part of this range that unites the option for the poor with the "see-judge-act" methodology that builds theological thought linked to the socio- historical and cultural reality of the common people. Bergoglio's path shows that he's keen to test his theological and spiritual reflection in physical proximity to "the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties" (GS 1) of those who suffer discrimination and hunger. Bergoglio is a practitioner of liberation theology.

IHU On-Line - In his speeches, Bergoglio touched on another point: the backwardness in the Latin American Church. How do you view this criticism? What was implied in the Pope's words?

Paulo Suess - When talking about the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, we need to distinguish between the various sectors of this Church. The backward ones are those sectors that believe they can improve the lives of the people through alliances with the elites, with their Pelagian and Gnostic theologies. The backward ones are those who sense the problems but are afraid of prophetic stances. Pope Francis, in his dialogue with the board of directors of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious (CLAR) on June 6, asked them to have courage and take their mission to the limits and frontiers: "In these risky steps, you might make mistakes. You might even get a letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reproaching your attitude. Don't worry! Explain, but keep going forward. Open doors and do something wherever life calls you! I prefer a Church that makes mistakes to one that sickens because it remains shut in." Bergoglio the Jesuit, in his 76 years of life, has learned that the primary virtue of episcopal collegiality and ecclesial communion is not obedience, but dialogue. So he's asking the local Churches for a radical solidarity with the poor and a critical but dialogical loyalty to Rome: "Don't be afraid to denounce're going to have a hard time, you're going to have problems, but don't be afraid to denounce things; that's prophecy in religious life..."

IHU On-Line - In your opinion, why didn't the Pope emphasize moral issues in his speeches, especially when it comes to abortion, considering that [the Brazilian] Congress approved the bill to legalize abortion in Brazil?

Paulo Suess - In a flash interview, Francis would probably answer like this:

1. "Who am I to judge people who have had abortions? Who am I to judge gays? Who am I to judge a single mother?"

2. "My position is that of the Church. I'm a son of the Church. Abortion is bad."

3. "We need to go to the causes, the roots. Behind the law expanding the possibilities of abortion, there are special interests, money ... We can't just focus on the symptoms."

4. "In dealing pastorally with these issues, don't be some sort of "pastoral customs official" or legalistic, but followers of the Good Shepherd! The Church should not close the door to anyone. Baptize the child of a single mother, welcome gay people as Our Lady of Aparecida would welcome them! Take time to visit the home of the woman who has committed abortion and listen to her story! Don't cast the first -- or the last -- stone against these people!"

These were the answers that Pope Francis gave to the participants in the Mass at Casa Santa Marta at the end of May, to the staff of CLAR, and to Brazilian journalist Patrícia Zorzan on the return flight to Rome on the 28th, taken together.

IHU On-Line - What is the significance of the Pope's speech at the Municipal Theater, where he proposes the rehabilitation of politics as charity?

Paulo Suess - At the Municipal Theatre we are with a pope who gives us an example of an approach to non-ecclesial environments. Francis doesn't approach people with a raised finger (remember a papal visit to Nicaragua?). He's accustomed to living with saints and sinners, among whom he includes himself, asking for prayers. Francis is a pope who asks permission to be able to enter the house of the poor and the assembly of the elites. At the Municipal Theater, the Pope gave a concise lesson on the following points:

- Christianity unites transcendence and incarnation. Therefore it seeks to unite and revitalize thought and life, and give a "moral connection" to scientific and technical reasoning.

- Life charges us with social responsibility that we take on through politics. Therefore we need to "rehabilitate politics, which is one of the highest forms of charity."

- Politics should avoid elitism in representative democracy, often imprisoned in the mere balancing of vested interests; it should encourage "greater and better participation on the part of the people" in order to guarantee "dignity, fraternity and solidarity" for all.

- Participation and dialogue between the various rich cultural components make the country grow. The only way to make the lives of the people progress is through dialogue and the culture of encounter. In this dialogue, "all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return." This dialogue requires the "social humility" to let go of cultural and social hegemonic demands.

- The "great religious traditions" can play a key role in the harmonious coexistence of a nation, now that the secularity of the state ensures their peaceful coexistence.

Pope Francis' speech had three messages for the Church itself:

- When you're traveling around the world, don't scare people with an identity argument about your Catholicity. Francis did not speak once of Catholic superiority during his whole trip to Brazil.

- Don't be proud of being outside of politics! We need to rehabilitate politics - not politicking or partisan politics - in the Church as one of the highest forms of charity. It's not enough to be good and poor. We need to be politically educated, fearless, prophetic, good and poor.

- The Church is grateful to the State for its secularity which is a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence between religions.

Gaps in Pope Francis' speeches? There will always be gaps. I want to bring up only one. Because the Argentine Pope only spoke of the "great religious traditions." Might not the religions of the Guaraní and Mapuche, the Quechua and the Aztecs have a fundamental role for the harmonious coexistence of a nation? We must ask Pope Francis to complete the work of Anchieta which could be the miracle that's still lacking for his canonization. Might not the sumak kawsay -- the right living of the Andean world -- play a key role in rethinking the elitist democracies and destructive development on our continent?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Living as a minority

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 11, 2013

Luke 12:32-48

In his gospel, Luke has compiled some words, full of love and affection, that Jesus addressed to his followers. Often, they go unnoticed. However, read attentively today from our parishes and Christian communities, they regain a surprising currency. It's what we need to hear from Jesus in these times that aren't easy for the faith.

"My little flock." Jesus looks with great tenderness upon his little group of followers. They are few. They have a minority vocation. They don't have to think of greatness. That's how Jesus always imagined them -- like a bit of "yeast" hidden in the dough, a little "light" in the midst of darkness, a fistful of "salt" to give life flavor.

After centuries of "Christian imperialism", we disciples of Jesus have to learn to live as a minority. It's a mistake to yearn for a strong and powerful Church. Seeking worldly power or aiming to dominate society is a delusion. The gospel is not imposed by force. It's spread by those who live like Jesus, making life more humane.

"Be not afraid." That's Jesus' big concern. He doesn't want to see his followers paralyzed by fear or drowning in dejection. They must never lose trust or peace of mind. Today too, we are a little flock, but we can remain very united to Jesus the Shepherd who guides and defends us. He can help us live through these times calmly.

"Your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." Jesus reminds them once again. They are not to feel like orphans. They have God as Father. He has entrusted them with His plan for the kingdom. It's His great gift. The best thing we have in our communities: the task of making life more humane and the hope of directing history toward its ultimate salvation.

"Sell your belongings and give alms." Jesus' followers are a little flock, but they must never be a sect that is locked in its own interests. They won't live with their backs turned to anyone's needs. They will be open door communities. They will share their goods with those who need help and solidarity. They will give alms, that is, "mercy." That was the original meaning of the Greek term.

We Christians still need some time to learn to live as a minority in the midst of a secular and diverse society. But there's something we can and must do without waiting: change the atmosphere in our communities and make it more gospel-centered. Pope Francis is showing us the way through his gestures and lifestyle.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Opening new windows on the world: Fr. Miguel Cruzado, SJ talks about Pope Francis

by Jonathan Coronado Flores (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola Boletin de Noticias
July 2013

On Tuesday July 23rd, Pope Francis inaugurated World Youth Day in Brazil with the attendance of more than two million Catholic youth from all over the world, among them three thousand Peruvians. In this context, the Provincial of the Jesuits in Peru, Father Miguel Cruzado Silveri, SJ analyzes the first four months of his papacy and the overwhelming effect that his message and unusual way of being have generated. With more that 8 million followers on Twitter and countless followers on his Facebook accounts, the first Jesuit and Latin American Pope is a point of reference today for youth in the social networks, but also a Church revolutionary by bringing the Gospel of Christ closer to all nations, to the ends of the earth.

Four months have gone by since a Jesuit took over as Pope. How do you view his development in this short time?

I view it with much optimism, and I think people in general see it that way too. Pope Francis is a presence that renews and revitalizes life in the Church. He's a Pope who is very close to everyone, who, beyond the protocols, communicates trust and the Church's closeness to the lives of the people. He asks of us the simplicity and austere lifestyle that he himself practices. He encourages us to dialogue with everyone, with believers and non-believers, with people of other religions, and on Holy Thursday he knelt and washed the feet of young prisoners, Catholics and Muslims, men and women. He himself celebrates the Eucharist every morning with the workers at the Vatican and through it, he communicates a word, every day, for the whole of humanity. These gestures that accompany his words, his doctrine, speak to us of what he hopes for the Church, the directions in which he wants to take it.

And where does he want to take it?

The Pope, guided by the Spirit and maintaining Benedict XVI's concern for the internal problems of the Church, clearly wants like John XXIII to open new windows on the world in its diversity and problems. There is  a very deep pastoral concern in Pope Francis to communicate with renewed vigor the message of the gospel to the men and women of today. It's not a message that's just for those of us who believe. It's not a message to leave us in peace. It's a message that challenges believers on their lifestyle. From the Christian message, he also wants to have a word for non-believers and believers in other religions. He has reminded us almost every day since he was elected Pope to turn our eyes to the world of the poor, to care about them and to commit ourselves as Church -- and with us, all of humankind -- to fighting against poverty and violence.

What are the differences between Pope Francis and his predecessors Benedict XVI and John Paul II, who will soon be declared a saint?

The popes, in the historical context in which they have had to exercise, have responded to what the Church needed from them at the time. Naturally,  there are special charisms in the Church, with distinct ways of proceeding and that put special emphasis on given matters according to specific circumstances being experienced by the Church and humankind. Some have focused special attention on apostolic zeal and bringing the gospel to every corner of the world, like John Paul II, who took the Church out of Rome and carried it throughout the world. Others, like Benedict XVI, have focused on theological reflection and deepening the doctrine. Benedict XVI renewed us spiritually and with his act of resignation gave us a message of humility, that we need to change but that he could no longer accompany us in that process. Today we have a missionary Pope again -- one sees his Jesuit training clearly in him -- with a broad vision of the Church and its mission in the world, with a clear concern for the poor and justice.

Pope Francis has said that Vatican II is irreversible and has presented several political leaders with the final document of Aparecida, which they also say he always has at hand. What does this mean?

It means what it should mean to all us Catholics: Vatican II was a marvelous gift of the Holy Spirit for the life of the Church. The Lord inspired it, it's a gift of His grace and of course, there's no turning back. Opposing the Council would be opposing the Holy Spirit. The Pope has urged us not to be "stubborn", not to remain stuck in the past. The Council has allowed the Church to take new paths of renewal and openness. Thanks to the Council we haven't experienced a major crisis in the Church. The Council initiated a path of dialogue with the modern world that should be continued and deepened. The Council invited us to an ecumenical attitude. The Council invited us to liturgical renewal which the Church is continuing.

With respect to Aparecida, it's normal that the Pope would stress it, not just because it's also a breath of the Holy Spirit, but moreover because Pope Francis himself, as Archbishop, headed the commission that drafted the final document six years ago now. It's a message of hope for our people and a call to the Latin American Church to commitment to the poor, to concern for native cultures, to evangelizing renewal.

If we talk so much about the poor, why isn't liberation theology accepted by the Church?

You're mistaken. Liberation theology is accepted by the Catholic Church. It's already part of Catholic orthodoxy. It's a theological perspective that's studied in all the serious schools of theology in the whole world. Fr. [Gustavo] Gutiérrez has given courses at the Pontificio Colegio Angelicum, in the heart of Rome. It's a theology that has contributed a lot to Catholic thought, that also has immediate practical implications. That's probably why uninformed individuals may still question it -- because the perspective of the poor from theology might have immediate and specific implications for specific economic, political, and social situations or choices. It's not easy to embrace feeling challenged about one's own lifestyle or ways of thinking through which we inadvertently legitimize unjust situations. It isn't easy to embrace the radical nature of the demands of the gospel. We have to work at it every day and help each other with it.

But you're not going to deny that there was or is persecution by his predecessor against Gustavo Gutiérrez...

The current Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, is a personal friend and has publications co-authored with Father Gustavo Gutiérrez. Archbishop Müller is the highest person responsible for doctrine in the Church after the Pope. His job is to guarantee the healthy doctrine of our theologians. So we can conclude that Fr. Gutiérrez's theology is fully within the healthy and correct doctrine of the Catholic Church. There is no official controversy in the Church with the thought of Gustavo Gutierrez. If there was any confusion at a time, that has been cleared up. Gustavo Gutiérrez is a great priest, admired and recognized, with a deep sense of Church. He is without a doubt the most famous Peruvian theologian, and currently one of the most important Catholic theologians in the world.

The cause of the beatification of Monseñor Romero has finally been unblocked. Was he treated unfairly during John Paul II's papacy?

John Paul II knelt at his tomb and prayed before it when he visited El Salvador. There's a very strong gospel message in Monseñor Romero. Mons. Romero faced years of political convulsion and a terrible dictatorship. He used to say that the dictatorship wasn't in tune with the gospel, that the peasants had rights to the land, and that human rights shouldn't be violated. Death and violence should never be means to development. He was very concerned about social justice. His message for Christians in Latin America and throughout the whole world is huge.

Are the Jesuits reds? Progressives? We Jesuits are priests and brothers, missionaries, trained to go into frontier situations, there where the message of the Gospel is challenged, at the crossroads of ideologies, in the social trenches, where the answers aren't clear, where the demands of humankind challenge us. That's what we were born to do as an order. So I would prefer to say that we are at the forefront, that we're on the edge. "Progressives" has multiple connotations and "reds" makes no sense to those who know us. Since our founding, popes have sent us to hard places where others couldn't go, amid conflict situations. At the beginning, they were geographic places; now they're also social and cultural places. Jesuits are sent to dialogue with science. For decades we were asked to understand the world of unbelief. Even today we are sent into areas of violence and social unrest. Some people don't understand it. They ask us why we're not just in the parishes, what we're doing in places where there aren't any believers, why we study professions or perform jobs that aren't directly religious. So they think we're "progressives", or something like that. We're there because the Church asks us; it's what it expects of us.

As a former student of the Colegio San Ignacio and the PUCP [Pontifical Catholic University of Peru], what has that training left in you?

In June, Pope Francis met with Jesuit students and among the messages he gave were two very strong ones -- one explicit and the other implicit. The explicit one was: poverty is a scandal, work for there to be more justice in the world. That message that I received at Colegio San Ignacio marked my life -- being a person for others, the value of service. The Pope's implicit message by not reading the speech and asking the students to ask him freely about any issue, was that Christ's message is something close to people, that we must feel free before God, without putting on appearances, without gimmicks or fears, just as we are. From the Jesuits at the high school and university I learned that I should always be myself before God, and that God wants my freedom and my happiness above all, the freedom and happiness of any human being.

And as a Piurano, what message would you leave to our local Church?

That we experience intensely this moment in the Church. Let's try to read what Pope Francis is saying to us with his gestures and words. Let's feel challenged by his message. Let's be faithful to what the Spirit of God is showing us today through him. Let's hope that solidarity, joy, welcoming others, go on being what people who come to Piura remember about us.

Fr. Miguel Cruzado, SJ studied at the Jesuit Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola in Piura, and is a graduate in Sociology from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, where he became more enthusiastic about the work of the Jesuits, and so, having recently graduated, asked to become a member of the Society of Jesus. He did his Theology studies at the Centre Sèvres in Paris, and got a graduate degree from Georgetown University (Washington - United States). Before being appointed Provincial for Peru by the Superior General Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, he worked in the social sector of the Society of Jesus and from that, it's clear that he has a view of God and the Church from the world of the poor that's quite deep and true.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Pope Francis and the theology of women: some concerns

by Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital (Español / Português)

In view of the general acclaim and positive evaluation of the first visit of Pope Francis to Brazil on the occasion of World Youth Day (WYD), any critical essay may not be welcome. But, after so many years of struggle, "woe to me if I keep silent!". So, here are a few lines and brief reflections to share some insights from the place of women.

I don't want to comment on Pope Francis' speeches or the joy that many of us had when we felt the friendliness, affection, and closeness of Francis. I don't want to talk about some of the coherent positions announced in relation to the structures of the Roman Curia. I just want to knit together two brief commentaries. The first is about the Pope's interview on the plane returning to Rome, when he was asked about the ordination of women and answered that the question was closed, so NO. And he added that a "theology of women" needed to be done and that the Virgin Mary was superior to the apostles, so nothing of longing for a different place for women.

The second comment has to do with the identification of the new youth Catholicism with a certain charismatic trend very much in style in the Catholic Church today. This should lead us to very serious questions apart from our thirst to have inspired leaders who speak to our hearts and dispense with the rationalistic dogmatic theological discourses of the past.

How can Pope Francis simply ignore the strength of the feminist movement and its expression in Catholic feminist theology for more than thirty or forty decades, depending on the place? It also amazes me that he stated that we can even have more spaces in ministry when, in fact, in all the Catholic parishes, it's women for the most part who are carrying out the many missionary projects. I am aware that these words about women -- few words certainly, limited to a trip back home -- can not and should not overshadow such a successful visit. However, it's our stumbling, our faulty acts which reveal the hidden side, the dark side that is also in us. It is these small acts that open the doors of reflection to try to go a little beyond first impressions.

Feminist theology has a long history in many countries in the world and a long history of marginalization in Catholic institutions, especially Latin American ones. Publications in Biblical Studies, Theology, Liturgy, Ethics, History of the Church, have populated the libraries of many schools of theology in different countries. They have also circulated in many secular environments interested in the novelty so full of new meanings. But these texts are not studied in the major schools of theology, especially by the future clergy in training, or in the institutes of consecrated life. Church officialdom doesn't give them citizenship rights because women's intellectual production is still considered inappropriate for male theological rationality. And besides, it's a threat to male power existing in the churches. Most people don't know what alternative publications and organized training exist, just as they don't know the new paradigms proposed by these diverse contextual theologies. They don't know their inclusive strength or the call to historical responsibility for our actions. Most of the men of the Church and the faithful still live as if theology were an eternal science based on eternal truths and taught mainly by men and, secondarily, by women according to established male science. They deny the historicity of the texts, the contextuality of positions and reasons. They're unaware of the new philosophies that inform feminist theological thought, biblical hermeneutics and new ethical approaches.

Pope Francis, please, inform yourself through Google about some aspects of feminist theology, at least in the Catholic world. Perhaps your possible interest could open up other paths to noticing the diversity of genders in theological production!

As far as saying, perhaps as a sort of consolation, that the Virgin Mary is greater than the apostles, it is, once again, a male theological expression of abstract consolation. One loves the distant Virgin focused on personal intimacy, but doesn't hear the cries of flesh and blood women. It is easier to write poems to the Virgin and kneel before Her image than to pay attention to what is happening to women in many corners of our world. Meanwhile, if men want to affirm the excellence of the Virgin Mary, they ought to fight for the rights of women to be respected through the eradication of the many forms of violence against women. They even ought to be aware of the religious institutions and the theological and moral content they convey that might not only strengthen, but generate other forms of violence against women.

I fear that many faithful and pastoralists needing the figure of the good Pope, the spiritual father, the Pope who loves everyone, are yielding to the friendly and loving figure of Francis and reinforcing a new male clericalism and a new form of adulation of the papacy. Pope Ratzinger led us to a critique of clericalism and the institution of the papacy through his rigid stances. But, now with Francis, it seems that our ghosts of the past are returning, mellowed now by the simple and strong figure of a pope able to give up the luxury of the palaces and privileges of his state. A pope who seems to put a new public face on this institution that has made history, and not always a beautiful history, in the past. The moment calls for prudence and critical alertness, not to discredit the Pope, but to help him be more and more with us, the Church, a diverse Church, respectful of its many faces.

My second brief commentary is with respect to the need to identify the majority of the groups of young people present at World Youth Day and warmly acclaiming the Pope. What Gospel and what theology are they being trained in? Where are they coming from? What are they looking for? I don't have any clear answers. Only suspicions and intuitions with respect to the marked presence of a trend that is more charismatic, more conservative and celebratory along "Gospel" lines. The demonstrations of passion for the Pope, the sudden intense love that leads to tears, wanting to touch him, to experience sudden miracles, to dance and shake the body, are also common in the neo-Pentecostal movement in its many manifestations. Without wanting to engage in sociology of religions, I think we know that these movements seek social stability apart from political change regarding rights and justice for all citizens. I think it matches the current times in which we're living and responds to some of the immediate needs of the people. However, there's another face of Christianity that almost wasn't able to manifest itself during World Youth Day. The Christianity that still inspires the struggle of the social movements for housing, land, LGBT rights, the rights of women, children, the elderly, etc...The Christianity of the base communities (BCCs), of the initiatives inspired by liberation theology and feminist liberation theology. The latter, though present, was almost suffocated by the force of what the press wanted to strengthen and therefore was in their interest. All this invites us to think.

It hasn't been a week since the Pope traveled here and already the newspapers and the TV networks talk little about him. And what has been happening in the Catholic communities after this apotheosis? How are we continuing our daily journeys?

Beyond the Pope's visit and Francis' possible new form of papacy, we are being invited to think about life, to think about the current course of our history and regain what is most precious and strong in the liberating ethical tradition of the Gospels. It's not enough to say that Jesus loves us. We need to figure out how we love one another and what we are doing to grow in building more just and supportive relationships.