What is the crucial agenda facing the church today? What issues should the church be addressing? The answer depends a lot upon one’s perspective.
Presently I am attending a General Chapter of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. This, month-long, meeting is being held in Rome and has brought together delegates from every region in the world. More than 65 countries are represented. One of the interesting things to observe is our differences. Each region comes with different needs, different priorities, a different mentality, and even a different rhythm of time. Perhaps the biggest difference of all however, the one that undergirds most of the others, is the different social, political, and economic world from which each of us comes. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what shapes what each of us considers important. We spent several days listening to various regions of the world tell us what they consider to be the major issues confronting them as church communities. I offer here a sampling of what each said:
The Latin Americans focused on the suffering of their people. This suffering, they told us, is exacerbated today by globalization and a world economy that is driven by unchecked neo-liberalism. In their words: ‘We are living a dark night of the soul and, at times, it feels like the resurrected Lord has taken leave of our land. For us the key virtue right now is hope.” They suggested that what we need to fight this amoral globalization of the economy is a counter, confederate, solidarity of global justice, a multi-national community of advocacy for those who are being victimized by globalization.
The Africa-Madagascar region told us that their churches were young and literally exploding with growth, how they have a surplus of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, but lack of facilities and resources to handle them. This is so bad that in some places, they have had to institute a quota system regarding receiving vocations; for example, in Nigeria, several hundred young men apply each year to join the Oblates and they can only accept about 10 of these. They spoke too of how globalization is adversely affecting them, especially since most of their countries have just come out of an era of slavery and imperialism and have only had a very brief recess before having to face globalization.
The Asian region too highlighted the tremendous negative impact of globalization. In their words: “Asia is being strip-mined for the benefit of the first world.” Their entire approach to church is coloured by that fact that, as Catholics, they are less than 2% of the population, dwarfed on the one side by Buddhism and Hinduism and on the other by Islam, both of the benign and militant variety. Religious life too is seen as being too much of a Western import, not yet truly Asian. They feel strongly a need for their own Asian theology and ecclesiology. They have not yet, in their view, been able to shape Christianity in a way that draws deeply on the rich wells of Asian religious tradition and is truly Asian in its temperament.
The United States centred their report on the need for a second evangelization in a post-Christian culture and the need to reach out to the new poor in the USA. Among other things, they openly addressed the painful issue of sexual abuse.
The group representing Europe, both West and East, spoke of how Europe is moving towards an economic and political unity, but the churches are lagging behind and are slower to form a “European mentality”, beyond their present national and ethnic mentalities. They spoke as well of the negative impact of globalization and triumph of neo-liberal economics. A new poor is developing, as the rich get richer. Also, they are faced with the problem of huge international migrations, including hundreds of thousands of refugees. Religiously the big issue for them is modernity, the absence of God in ordinary consciousness.
The Canadian region spoke of how the churches in Canada reflect the multiculturalism of the country, with the newer immigrant churches thriving while most of the others are undergoing a certain paschal death. It addressed the issue of women, stressing that there must be movement towards more mutuality of gender in the church, especially as regards decision making. It suggested that in the Canadian context the issue of women in the church cannot not (deliberate double negative) be talked about since the present ecclesial silence on the matter constitutes a certain negative taboo.
In those sundry statements one hears what, I believe, should be the agenda for the church today. One notices too that this agenda varies significantly, depending upon the social and economic conditions in the various parts of the world.