CONTINUING CHALLENGE TO RENEW THE CHURCH

A REVIEW: A VISION OF A CHURCH RENEWED, Living The Ecclesiology of Vatican II and PCP II

Fr. Amado L. Picardal  CSsR, Claretian Publications, Foundation Inc., 2022

Amidst the disturbing news that the highly esteemed Holy Father, Pope Francis’s health is deteriorating (most of his photos these days show him seated in a wheelchair and needs to be lifted up), there are all kinds of speculations as to the consequences if he decides to resign.

            First, there is the question who can then be elected in the papal conclave where cardinals all over the world gather in Rome to elect his successor. Luis Cardinal Tagle has been named as one possibility along with a few others.  Only time will tell, however, who the next Pope will be and if he will be continuing the reforms that Pope Francis has earnestly pushed despite objections from the Roman Curia. Or following – the usual pendulum that takes place with social institutions –  the movement will be to return  to the conservative mindset of an institutional Church characterized by the likes of St. John Paul II.

            Since he got elected on March 13, 2013 – almost a decade ago – replacing Pope Benedict XVI who resigned from the papacy,  Pope Francis has opened the windows of the Vatican so that the Church can co-exist with the complexities of the post-modern world. He has issued some of the most important pastoral documents to come out of the Vatican from the Apostolic Exhortation of  Evangelii Gaudium to Laudato Si! to Fratelli Tutti.

            There was even a rumor earlier that he was set to convene Vatican III in the hope that all the recommendations that were approved by Vatican II can be more seriously pursued by Local Churches especially those who have remained indifferent to the concerns of Vatican II. As it proved to be far too controversial to organize, Pope Francis shifted two years ago to convening a Synod on Synodality.

            In order to facilitate the active participation of the laity – including those who are not practicing Catholics or even those who may feel completely alienated from the institutional Church – all Local Churches (BECs, parishes and dioceses) across the globe were tasked to hold local consultations on the theme “Journey with the Church in the Contemporary Times.”  This Synodality asks the question – what does God expect of the Church in the 21st century?  A ten-minute report was to be submitted by BECS/parishes to their Diocese and all dioceses around the world are to submit to the Vatican their 10-minute summary report.

            October 2021 to April 2022 was the allotted period for the Diocesan Phase. A second continental phase began in September 2022 until March 2023. And finally, the third or the universal phase will begin with the XVI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the theme “For the Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” to be held in the Vatican in October 2023. An Apostolic Exhortation will then be issued by the Pope. The question remains: can Pope Francis hold on to his Chair until then to preside over this Assembly?

            Meanwhile, organizers for the 17th Mindanao Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC) on the theme – THE GIFT OF FAITH AND NEW EVANGELIZATION AS A SYNODAL CHURCH – are gearing up for the Conference to be held from November 7 to 11,  2022 at the Chali Beach Resort & Conference Center, Cugman, Cagayan de Oro.  Once more the delegates will again assess where the Local Churches are in their quest towards their continuing renewal. Once more the focus will be what is happening at the level of the grassroots Church, namely the hundreds of BECs spread across Mindanao.

            Now comes, Fr. Amado L. Picardal’s continuing effort to provide the Philippine Church with a textbook on understanding its ecclesiological in these contemporary times. As the author writes in the book’s Prologue: “Ecclesiology is the discipline that reflects in a systematic manner the self-understanding of the Church in the light of faith. It seeks to answer the question about the Church’s identity, nature and mission. It is  a theological reflection on the mystery of the Church which is distinct from Church history. While it is possible to study the history of the Church even without faith, Ecclesiology requires a faith-perspective. It is the work of a believer for the sake of the community of believers.”

            The author contends that this book does not promote new and radical ideas about the Church. What he intended to do was “to explicate the vision of a renewed Church espoused in Vatican II and received by PCP II and explore its meaning and implication in the Philippine context.”  The writing of this book goes back to when the author was doing his dissertation – An Ecclesiological Perspective – with the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome way back in 1995. Most of what appears in this book is the product of his research and the updating and revisions he has made through the years.

            There are 11 Chapters in this book, covering 377 pages. Before presenting again his thoughts of BECs, the first chapters involve an explanation of the ecclesiological models of the Church (Church as Communion, Institution, Herald, Sacrament and Servant); the Church as People of God (Prophetic, Priestly and Kingly People) and The Church of the Poor. After the  Chapter on the BECs, the remaining Chapters include an explanation of the Family as a Domestic Church, the Church in Dialogue (with the world, Inter-religious Dialogue, with the poor) and a Renewed Clearly in a Renewed Church.

            Across the pages of this book are quotes from the Decrees of Vatican II,  various apostolic exhortations issued by the Popes and CBCP statements. At the end of each Chapter there is a long list of citations, a testament to the persistence of the author to do rigorous research before writing the manuscript. Concrete examples of pastoral practices cover all corners of Mindanao and the rest of the world.

            There are, however, Church workers – especially in Mindanao who were witnesses to the glory days of the Mindanao-Sulu Conference – who could not help but compare how the Local Churches and BECs were in the 1970s-80s compared to how they function during the contemporary period. Then most of the bishops, clergy and religious – and a growing number of lay leaders – were actively collaborating to make their BECS truly kingly and prophetic. As a result, a number of lay leaders and priests and religious got red-tagged by the military, consequently a number of them were arrested, imprisoned and even killed.

            Today one can hardly hear of any single story of a BEC or a lay leader being harassed by the military in the same manner that indigenous communities opposing mining and other development projects have been subjected to. What is this indicating? That the State has become more tolerant of a militant Church or the fact is that the militant Church has disappeared to give way to a conservative model interested only in providing spiritual care to the faithful? For gone are the days when BECs were in the forefront of struggles for justice and peace and the integrity of creation!

            Towards the end of this book, the author contends that: “The pre-Vatican II model of the Church appears to still persist in the mind of many… There is still a gap between the vision and the reality. There are still some dioceses and parishes where Vatican II and PCP II vision of the renewed Church has not yet been fully implemented. For the new generation, Vatican II seems to be ancient history and the documents remain unread, gathering dust in the libraries.”

            The book offers some suggestions to pursue the project of a renewed Church, but it will require a pro-active commitment on the part of all – from bishops down to the BEC leaders – to break the  impasse that seems to make the members of the Church complacent and apathetic to the social and ecological issues that are only worsening. The economy is in shambles and poverty levels are again on the upsurge. Indigenous communities remain at the periphery with little assistance from the State.

While there is peace in Mindanao for the moment, there are still conflicts that cause the eruption of violence. Corruption remains well entrenched in the State agencies demanding good governance practices. Our place in the planet remains precarious as mining, logging, expansion of plantations and inefficient waste management combine to worsen climate change.

            For the BECs to once more become fully alive and contributing to the transformation of our society, we need to double our efforts at renewing the Church. Otherwise, the future may not be too bright for Roman Catholicism in this country if and when the general population think of the Church as irrelevant in responding to the challenges of a complex society today and the days still to come!

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