Pope Francis makes a strong appeal for a theology of welcome based on dialogue and proclamation, that contributes to building a fraternal society among the peoples of the Mediterranean.
The Pope’s speech concluded two-day conference in Naples on the theme “Theology after Veritatis gaudium in the context of the Mediterranean.” With that Apostolic Constitution, Pope Francis provided for a renewal of theological studies in the context of a Church that goes forth.
Pope Francis began his reflection by recalling that “the Mediterranean has always been a place of transit, exchange, and sometimes even conflict” and today it is a place that “poses a series of questions, often dramatic. To face them – he observes – we need “a theology of welcoming,” aimed “at developing an authentic and sincere dialogue (…) for the construction of peace in an inclusive and fraternal society and for the protection of creation.”
Dialogue and kerygma
The Pope indicates two elements, kerygma, that is, the proclamation of Christ who has died and risen, and dialogue, as “criteria” for renewing studies for a Church that puts evangelisation at its centre. Dialogue is above all a “method of discernment” and of proclamation, capable of relating to every human situation. It is Saint Francis of Assisi who outlines how dialogue and proclamation can take place, by witnessing to God’s love for all men and women. It requires docility to the Spirit, that is, “a style of life and proclamation without a spirit of conquest, without a desire for proselytism and without an aggressive intent to refute.” It is a dialogue with people and their cultures that also includes witnessing to the point of sacrificing life as did, among others, Charles de Foucauld, the monks of Tibhirine, and the bishop of Oran, Pierre Claverie.
Dialogue with Muslims and Jews
This dialogue was established by encouraging courses in Arabic and Hebrew language and culture in the theological faculties to foster relations with Judaism and Islam in order to understand common roots and differences. With Muslims, he says, “we are called to dialogue to build the future of our societies and our cities,” “to consider them partners to build a peaceful coexistence, even when there are shocking episodes by fanatical groups that are enemies of dialogue, such as the tragedy of last Easter in Sri Lanka.
“Yesterday the Cardinal of Colombo told me this: “After I did everything I had to do, I realised that a group of people, Christians, wanted to go to the Muslim neighbourhood to kill them. I invited the imam with me, in the car, and we both went there to convince the Christians that we are friends, that these are extremists, that they are not our own.” This is an attitude of closeness and dialogue.”
With Jews, we are called to “live our relationship better on the religious level.” The Mediterranean – the Pope observes – is a “bridge” between Europe, Africa and Asia, a space in which to build a “great tent of peace” where the different children of the common father Abraham can live together.
Theology of Compassion
The Pope launches an appeal to theologians: “In this continuous journey of going out of oneself and meeting with the other, it is important that theologians be men and women of compassion, touched by the oppressed life of many, by the slavery of today, by social wounds, by violence, by wars and by the enormous injustices suffered by so many poor people who live on the shores of this ‘common sea’. Without communion and without compassion, constantly nourished by prayer, theology not only loses its soul, but loses its intelligence and ability to interpret reality in a Christian way.”
Therefore, it deals with the complex events of “aggressive and warlike attitudes”, “colonial practices”, “justifications for wars” and “persecutions carried out in the name of a religion or a claimed racial or doctrinal purity.” The method of dialogue, guided by mercy, can enrich a reinterpretation of this painful history by promoting also “by contrast, the prophecies of peace that the Spirit has never failed to arouse.”
“Now that Western Christianity has learned from many errors and criticisms of the past, it can return to its sources, hoping to be able to bear witness to the Good News to the peoples of East and West, North and South. Theology (…) can help the Church and civil society to get back on the road in the company of many shipwrecked people, encouraging the people of the Mediterranean to reject any temptation to reconquest and to identitarian closure.”
The task of theology is to tune in to the Risen Jesus and “reach the peripheries”, “even those of thought.” In this sense theologians must “encourage an encounter of cultures with the sources of Revelation and Tradition”; but the Pope warns, although “the great theological syntheses of the past” are mines of theological wisdom, they “cannot be applied mechanically to current issues”: “It is a matter of treasuring them to seek new ways. Thanks be to God, the first sources of theology, that is, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, are inexhaustible and always fruitful; therefore, one can and must work in the direction of a ‘theological Pentecost’, which allows the women and men of our time to listen ‘in their own language’ to a Christian reflection that responds to their search for meaning and full life.”
To do this, it is necessary to “start again from the Gospel of mercy” because theology is born in the midst of concrete human beings, met with the gaze of God who goes in search of them with love: “Practicing theology is also an act of mercy (…). Even good theologians, like good shepherds, smell of the people and the streets and, with their reflections, pour oil and wine on the wounds of men. Theology should be the expression of a Church that is a ‘field hospital’, that lives its mission of salvation and healing in the world!
The Pope emphasises that “theological freedom” is necessary because without the possibility of experimenting with new paths, nothing new is created: “everything must be oriented” to “encourage as much as possible the participation of those who wish to study theology,” such as lay men and women, in addition to seminarians and religious. “I dream of theological faculties where one lives the conviviality of differences, where one practices a theology of dialogue and acceptance; where one experiences the model of the polyhedron of theological knowledge in place of a static and disembodied sphere. Where theological research is able to promote a challenging but compelling process of enculturation.
The theology after Veritatis gaudium, concludes Pope Francis, is therefore in dialogue with cultures and religions “for the construction of the peaceful coexistence of individuals and peoples.”
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.