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The way of listening

· Dialogue at the Gregorian on challenges to evangelization ·

Listening, Discerning, Welcoming and Serving, these are the four verbs weaving together the working sessions of the International Conference “Renewing the Church in a Secular Age: Holistic Dialogue and Kenotic Vision” taking place at the Pontifical Gregorian University under the High Patronage of the Pontifical Council for Culture as a key milestone in a project of The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP), 4-5 March 2015. With keynote addresses by Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi focussing on the “Word was made flesh” – theme of the Holy See’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2015 – and the kenosis (Philippians 2:5-11) and Charles Taylor who will be speaking on authenticity, the organisers foresee a series of conversations outlining these characteristic verbs of the Church today.

Taylor (Templeton Prize 2007) is best known for his tome A Secular Age now required reading for academics worldwide. Distinguishing between secularity (positive affirmation of the secular sphere), secularism (ideology desiring to remove religion from public life) and secularisation (historical process which once foresaw the decline of religion) following Taylor allows those interested in the New Evangelisation­ – that is all of us – to read better the signs of the times and establish stronger bonds with our contemporaries; trying to make an alliance with men and women in their cultural contexts, the accusation is often raised that the post-conciliar church either imitated the secular or closed ranks in a conservative reaction following defensive identity processes. Instead, a third way, an approach balanced on the basis of the recognition of the complexities of the current historical situation, allows for multiple processes and different and various strategies, drawing on rich theological resources, in an engaging effective dialogue, such as will take place in the Courtyard of the Gentiles on “The Piazza and the Temple” (American Study Center, 6 March) analysing the coexistence of spiritual and secular needs, with Giuliano Amato, Charles Taylor, José Casanova, Alessandro Ferrara, Giacomo Marramao and François Bousquet.

Modernisation does not lead to religious decline, but to a pluralisation of the how we believe. A study of modernity teaches not so much about the separation of religion from the public square, or changes in ecclesial practice, but the emergence of a preference for subjective choice and personal, spiritual options. It is in light of this latter category, certainly in the West, that members of the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy (RVP), an organization founded and presided by George McLean, OMI that in the past had the support and contributions of men of culture such as Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer and today is helped by thinkers such as Charles Taylor, Jose Casanova, Tomáš Halík and other intellectuals coming from different continents, have identified four disjunctions whereby the People of God, they affirm, has suffered: between seekers and dwellers; personal, not just individual, responsibility playing against the aurora of a hierarchical call for obedience; praxis and ethics as historicised issues rather than universals; and finally a sphere of spiritual pluralities against certain rigid Christologies. To break out from the constrictions of the Western viewpoint, the scholars are now launching a series of research projects looking at the different secularisations taking place in Africa, Asia and Latin America. If the processes of diverse secularisations are the necessary starting points for our quests for self-understanding, growth and holiness, then it is necessary to turn to the support of the social sciences who give us that historicity: we are who we are, as much as who we would be and who we were.

The working sessions at the Pontifical Gregorian University, organized by members of its School of Philosophy, are put into a dialogical frame and will count on input from thinkers such as José Casanova, Hans Joas, Tomáš Halík, William Desmond, Adela Cortina, Juan Carlos Scannone and Louis Caruana just to name a few. The focus will be on how we listen and to whom we listen, and how we understand the human person in midst of the ongoing scientific, digital and communicational revolutions. There is to be discernment on a biblical basis, particularly the beatitudes, and a stance of welcoming shaped into an embracing of both the enjoyable and the harsh realities of existential peripheries, using narrative, imagination and literature in an act of kenotic service. Concluding the conference Taylor will deliver a keynote developing the theme of “Authenticity: The Life of the Church in a Secular Age” indicating pastoral ramifications for the People of God. Criticised as disjunctions in earlier times, these are rapidly becoming conjunctions, trademarks of the holistic Church in the era of Pope Francis; but further overcoming, renewing the Church, will require a stance of authenticity.

Richard Rouse

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