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The Church actively engages the world

The Church actively engages the world

As the new year of 2020 begins to unfold, our local Church, under the leadership of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), begins a new year in its nine-year journey to celebrating the five hundredth anniversary in 2021 of the arrival of Christianity in these islands.  The designated theme for this year focuses on three topics: Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue, and Indigenous Peoples.

These three themes clearly reflect the vision of Church engagement with humanity and the wider world that emerged from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).  Faithful to her mission of evangelization, the Church is to “engage” and interact with diverse people in the same manner as Christ totally shared our humanity through the mystery of the incarnation.

This profound vision is captured in the opening words of the Vatican II document on The Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes): “The joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”  In a word, as Christ’s disciples, as Church, we “incarnate” ourselves and “become one” with God’s many peoples in the world.  

Turning Our Gaze to the World.  Undoubtedly, the Second Vatican Council was a pivotal turning point in the Church’s 2,000 years of history.  Epitaphs by respected theologians have described the Council as “the most significant Church assembly of the twentieth century” and as “the most important event in the history of the Roman Catholic Church since the Protestant Reformation” in the 1500s. 

Vatican II had among its participants five popes (John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI).  Three of these popes (John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II) have been declared “canonized saints” by the Church under the leadership of Pope Francis.

Pope John XXIII, following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, summoned Vatican II on January 25, 1959, the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.  He coined a new Italian word to capture his vision for the Council: aggiornamento.  This term envisions a renewed, updated openness on the part of the Church toward the world (all peoples), other Christian churches (ecumenism), and other world religions (interreligious dialogue).  Through this engagement with people and the world, the Church seeks to share and promote her teachings and wisdom, her Gospel values, her faith in Jesus Christ.  

“Communion Ecclesiology” of Vatican II.  The transforming Second Vatican Council can validly be described as “a council of the universal Church about all aspects of the Church.”  This phrase captures the fact that all the world’s bishops were invited to attend; it also asserts that the central agenda of the Council was the renewal of the Church, both in her inner life (ad intra) and in her relations with the wider world (ad extra).

This ecclesiological vision has been termed “communion ecclesiology.”  This means that the fundamental reality of the Church is community and communion.  The New Testament captures this concept with the Greek word: koinonia.  Note also that the three fundamental Biblical images of Church are all focused on community/communion: People of God, Body of Christ, and Temple of the Holy Spirit.

Living “Communion Ecclesiology.”  In this year of 2020, the CBCP asks Catholics to direct their focus to Ecumenism (relations with other Christian believers and churches), to Interreligious Dialogue (relations with the followers of other living faiths), and to Indigenous Peoples (the numerous cultural communities in our nation).  We are to grow in understanding, appreciation, dialogue, and mutual “communion” with members of these groups; they are truly our neighbors.  We seek to practice “good neighbor-ology” with these people, who are truly our brothers and sisters!