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International Conference Calls for New Church Council

Madrid “We Are Church” draws 500, Opposes U.S. War with Iraq

Bishop Tomas Balduino of Brazil, Theolphilus Bela of Indonesia and Dr. Leonard Swidler of the US. speak about the need for a new Council.

An international conference called Un Otro Iglesia es Posible (Another Church is Possible) was held in Madrid from September 19-22. An estimated 500 Catholics, about one third of whom appeared to be under 40,attended the event organized by Corriente Somos Iglesia (Movement for We are Church) which represents 20,000 Spanish Catholics. Participants heard presentations given by prominent male and female lay leaders, priests, nuns, and theologians hailing from Indonesia, Japan, Spain, Belgium, Argentina, Peru, the USA, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Mexico. Organizers Emilia Robles and Javier Malagon of Somos Iglesia worked for over a year to plan the event. They encouraged participants to help develop a new “conciliar process” and to add their signatures to a call for a new council found on the internet at www.proconcil.org

Sr. Filo Hirota of Japan (left) and Sr. Chris Schenk (right) pose with Fr. Raimundo Pannikar, the much revered father of Christian-Hindu dialogue.

The internet text calling for a new council has already been signed by over 8000 people including 35 bishops and one Cardinal, Brazil’s Paulo Evaristo Arns. Most bishops are from South and Central America including 26 from Brazil. The remainder are from Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Ecuador and Japan.

The potential U.S. war with Iraq hung like a thunder cloud over the weekend with frequent questions about what the Church could do to bring peace. A closing conference resolution joined U.S. Bishops in opposing any U.S. attack on Iraq.

During the three day event, five separate panels discussed topics chosen as potential starting points for any future council. These included: peace, the environment, church efforts to counter the poverty caused by “neoliberalism” the recognition of women’s full dignity and inclusion in all church and societal structures , optional celibacy, ecumenism, inculturation of the faith “without imposing any foreign models” and changes in church structures to enhance horizontal relations among Christian communities “in constant dialogue and communal search with respect for the diversity of faith experiences.”

Some of the over 500 attendees at the international “Another Church is Possible” conference held in Madrid, Spain September 19-22.

Pedro Gutierrez Jimenez, representing Mayan communities from Mexico, spoke eloquently of indigenous peoples’ need to worship in ways respectful of their culture. Learning about how indigenous people understand and express the sacred will enrich the whole church, he said.

The Madrid event was supported by an array of groups including the Assembly of the People of God from Latin America and the Caribbean, the Latin American Federation for a Renewed Ministry and the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests.

Representatives from two U.S. groups also spoke as panelists: Dr. Leonard Swidler from the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church (ARCC) and Sr. Christine Schenk from the Cleveland- based FutureChurch. Swidler spoke of the need for a Catholic Constitution and called on grassroots ecclesial groups to begin using the Constitution developed by ARCC, now available in Spanish and English on the ARCC website.

Schenk spoke about women’s roles in the Church, the inclusive practice of the historical Jesus and Catholicism’s potential loss of sacramental identity because of the international priest shortage. She quoted new statistics from the Vatican revealing a worldwide increase of Catholics to 1.045 billion while the number of priests increased by only 169 resulting in a decline of the priest to parishioner ratio to 5.5%. She noted there are 3.6 million catechists, nuns and deacons, as well as 150,000 married priests who could alleviate “Eucharistic famine” if only the heirarchy would open ordination to all of those called to it. The Vatican statistics show a wide disparity in the availability of priests, she said, noting that in Central and South America there is one priest for 7,000 Catholics while in North America the ratio is one per 1300 Catholics.

(left to right) Ms. Keiko Tanahara of
Peru, Dr. Swidler, Sr. Hirota and Mr. Theophilus Bela share a light moment
at the conference.

Theologian Juan Jose Tamayo who is Secretary of the Spanish John XXIII Association of Men and Women Theologians; reminded the group of two previous Church Councils. The Council of Constance and the Council of Basel affirmed that General Councils have authority for the whole church and even the pope cannot disobey their decisions. He noted that Councils are designed to protect against papal authoritarianism and believes this is why church bureaucracies fear them.

The gathering ended on a high note with words from the much beloved father of Christian-Hindu dialogue, Raimundo Pannikar. He reminded the group that “where two or three are
gathered, there Christ is among us,” and begged attendees to actually put the gospel
into practice as the world enters a new epoch of transformation.

At a vibrant and creative closing Eucharist the retired Bishop of Goais, Brazil Tomas Balduino, received conference deliberations for a new concilar process as a sign of the group’s desire to be “in communion with the bishops of the church.”

Fall 2002



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