Friday, July 24, 2015

Francis isn't enough

by Miguel Cruzado Silveri, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La República
July 16, 2015

Pope Francis' personal leadership is opening paths for renewal in the Catholic Church. At the same time, little by little, his words and gestures are turning into institutional changes in Church structure and teaching. However, the Church is above all a community of the faithful so changes must ultimately be manifested in the lives of the believers, in how they celebrate, value and give reason for the faith they share.

Is church renewal reaching the life and voice, the internal culture and the public voice of the faith communities of Peru? For now, one senses no notable changes. Isn't enthusiastic support for Francis -- now on the front pages of our newspapers -- or renewal of the Curia enough for this profound change? What does the reception of Francis and the church renewal process require to grow in the church in Peru?

Charismatic leadership like Francis' was necessary to break inertia and redirect courses in a time of ecclesial confusion and crisis. This was understood by the College of Cardinals when he was elected. The weight of papal authority in a charismatic-traditional institution like the Catholic Church is crucial to any change. So Francis' vision and personal leadership, coupled with the force of traditional papal authority, have opened the door for possible renewal.

This renewal is in continuity with the Second Vatican Council -- speaking of faith in dialogue with the realities of the world and the real concerns of the people. Biblical mercy and compassion not in the abstract but questioning a global culture of selfishness and exclusion. Dialogue and Christian love, accepting without judging those whom we used to despise. Renewal of biblical concern for the poor -- no longer focusing Christian morality on sexual morality alone. Openness to interfaith encounters at a time of raging religious violence in many parts of the world. Clarity in face of the limitations and sins the Church must acknowledge and confront. It's all Christianity as usual, made specific to today.

But charisma is not enough. It is necessary that the "gestures and words" become a sustainable institution and guide the ends, rules, and principles of the Church.

Indeed, the normative institutionalization of this renewal is also becoming evident. The Magisterium, or church teaching, has already incorporated new elements: the concept of "integral ecology" in the latest encyclical and the inclusion of urgent issues about the family in the October synod are far-reaching lines of thought. There are new leaders on the Christian altars such as Blessed Romero, John XXIII, and the martyrs of Pariacoto. The structure of the Curia is being reformed and new commissions are guiding institutional procedures and decisions. The Vatican financial system is being restructured. Prevention and action in situations of clerical abuse is more rigorous and professionals and victims are involved in it.

The changes are already evident, although it is true that there is some way to go in reshaping the ecclesial institutions to Francis' viewpoint -- the issue of collegiality and the exercise of authority, the involvement of the perspective of the faithful, the role of women in church reflection and guidelines. There is still a lot of "institution" to renew and build or rebuild.

However, the meaning and future of church renewal ultimately depend on its reception in the communities of the faithful. Reception is not just repetition, but embodying the renewal message and bringing it into dialogue with the specific situation of society and the Church of Peru. That is, it's not enough to repeat Francis but it's about thinking and speaking the message in our own words in our communities and contexts. This requires that voices emerge in Peru that take the risk of thinking and talking about it in their own words in our communities and contexts. Christian lay people in the various spheres of national life and in their own Christian communities as well as bishops, priests and religious communities have to take the risk of expressing themselves.

Ecclesial renewal in Peru will not come about only from scattered individual adherence to Francis' message, or from admiring the far-off renewal of the Roman Curia. Everything depends on the reception of the message for our context and therefore on the creativity and ability to risk that Christians of Peru are willing to assume. Ability to risk because it's a risk to preach and practice mercy in the context of the various kinds of violence we are experiencing.

It's a risk to welcome differences and clearly reject our forms of contempt -- our racism, our homophobia -- that have become so normal, remembering that all types of marginalization exist in our churches, sometimes being endured silently. It's a risk to sing "Laudato Si'" to nature and common life when it seems that development has to do with the values of "every man for himself" or "produce even if it's destructive." Church issues in the context of Peru today may sound like pessimism or mediocrity. The acceptance and mercy to which we are called may cause scandal in and out of our communities. We may have to take on difficult responsibilities and acknowledge our sin. None of this will make us popular in opinion polls.

Reception, by going beyond simply repeating and forcing us to rethink our way of being, opens the door to the unexpected. When being open to the mysterious dynamism of the Spirit, it is normal that -- like at Pentecost --there's no more room for silence or the single voice of fear, and different voices begin to resonate, hues and colors are diversified, the door opens to the surprise that opens to a new world in almost all the parables.

Therefore, Francis is not enough. Francis knows that Francis alone isn't enough.

*Fr. Miguel Cruzado, who is from Peru, is a General Counselor to the Father General and Regional Assistant for South Latin America for the Society of Jesus

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