Sr. Evelyn Monteiro, SCC, is the co-founder of Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA)—an association of Catholic women theologians in Asia—and vice president of the Indian Theologians Association. Monteiro was a faculty member and professor of systematic theology at Jnana-Deepa, Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Theology at Pune, India, for many years and visiting professor at other theological faculties in India and abroad. Monteiro has authored Church and Culture: Communion in Pluralism (2004), edited several books, and published a number of articles in national and international theological journals. Her research addresses ecclesiology, particularly in situating the conciliar and post-conciliar understanding of the Church in the pluri-religious and socio-cultural context of Asia and India, and contextual and liberation theologies. She holds a doctorate in systematic theology from Centre Sèvres, Facultés jésuites de Paris, France.
The Second Vatican Council represents a Catholic Church, hopeful and outward-looking, committed to the world’s progress. Undoubtedly, the council continues to be an inspiration and yet a task to be accomplished.
The Catholic Church is yet again at a crossroads. The challenges posed by scholars from both inside and outside the Church, by conservative and progressive groups, and world conflicts on several other issues demand its response. Clericalism and patriarchal attitudes continue to infect the progress of the Church and the spirit of synodality. Moreover, many social divides plaguing society have a bearing upon the Church, for instance the ever-growing gap between generations, the astounding decline of the number of Catholics the world over, and the disturbing scandals within the Church itself. Catholicism has, undoubtedly, become hollow and meaningless to many people of goodwill.
Following in the footsteps of Pope John XXIII, who showed a far-reaching ecclesial vision when he called Vatican II and presented to the world an inclusive self-understanding of the Church in 1962, Pope Francis initiated a Synodal project that can be another game-changing step in the Church. Reading the signs of the times, both concluded that the Church could not pursue her path of being Church without carrying out her Christ-given commission. Some thoughtful actions have to be taken based on the 16 conciliar documents regarding the Church’s life, governance, and mission.
Desiring to provide a much-needed forward impetus to Vatican II, while visiting Brazil in 2013 Pope Francis laid out his dream and agenda for the Church by saying, “We need a Church unafraid of going forth into their night. We need a Church capable of meeting them on their way. We need a Church capable of entering into their conversation. We need a Church able to dialogue with those disciples who, having left Jerusalem behind, are wandering aimlessly, along with their own disappointment, disillusioned by a Christianity now considered barren, fruitless soil, incapable of generating meaning.” This is an ecclesiology represented by the story of the Emmaus disciples.
Francis advocates a Church of the heart. Faith enters the Church through the heart of the poor, not through the heads of intellectuals or rational explanations. For him, the role of the missionary Church is to offer the beauty of God and to present Jesus as the compassion of God: “Mission is born precisely from this divine allure, by this amazement born of encounter."
Vatican II emphasized the need for collegiality and synodality. Francis seeks to make those dimensions integral parts of the Church today so that “consultation and dialogue [are] to be the norm in the Church.” Synodality, according to the pope, must guide the Church where everyone has a role to play in the process of the people of God. He sought to accentuate the basic equality and dignity of all (Lumen Gentium 9-17)—irrespective of territorial, sociocultural, and religious origins—and to re-assert that the Church “exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary” (Evangelii Gaudium 111).
The synodal process presents a positive and constructive way of being Church, a path for overcoming divisions through conversations in the Spirit, and a new way of making decisions through discernment. Pope Francis invites us to walk together on this synodal journey, looking, listening, and learning to discern how to be Church without excluding anyone from the Gospel and the Church. A mission of collaborating with God to co-create a human and cosmic communion is the wake-up call of today.
Pope Francis’ inclusive vision remains the undercurrent of his pontificate. That is evident in all his writings and homilies. He is known for crossing rigid boundaries by consistently appealing to build bridges, not walls. He casts wide his net to include even nonhuman creatures as his “brothers and sisters” (Laudato Si). Unity, harmony, universal communion, interrelatedness, and interdependence characterize his persistent call for a culture of encounter within the Church and around the world. The “dark clouds” hovering over the Church, humankind, and the environment make one realize the interdependence of the cosmos.
The inclusive, expansive, and universal message of the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, addressed to the whole of humanity, comprehensively spells out Pope Francis’ call for a culture of encounter within the Church and around the world. It is a call to transcend the categories “I-Me-Myself” in favor of “we,” “our,” and “us,” which is rooted in the truth that the whole human race has one single origin and one single destiny (Nostra Aetate 1).
Fratelli Tutti is a social statement that we are all co-pilgrims journeying together towards the kingdom of God no matter our cultural differences. It invites us to be co-partners in building human-cosmic communities of the kingdom towards universal communion. This Synod on Synodality calls for a metanoia—a change of heart and mindset, worldview, and models of governing institutions. Mere dialogue at this juncture may be inadequate. Practice, or walking the talk, is necessary. This vision of the kingdom which is tantamount to “human-cosmic communion” and “culture of encounter” is sought to be represented by the synodal Church today. Yes, cultural distancing must give way to “social friendship and fellowship.”
The immediate target group that could help to communicate and realize this synodal vision would ideally be children and the youth who are the “now” and also the future of the Church and society. They are searching for a more meaningful way of becoming human, Christian, and Church. The Church and society would reap a hundredfold if the youth were engaged as active collaborators in establishing human-cosmic communion through dialogues, encounters, and social friendships. They would represent a new face of the Church and humanity. Strictly speaking, every member of the Church and every human has the responsibility to communicate and realize this dream, or else the call for a synodal Church and the mission to establish human-cosmic communion will remain a feeble one.