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All seats vacant as conclave approaches

The Vatican looks to heal and move on

  • Sophia Lizares Bodegon, Manila
  • Philippines
  • March 4, 2013
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For all intents and purposes, this ought to be a time of discernment. It is sede vacante – all positions in the Vatican are now vacant.

Benedict VI, now “Pope Emeritus,” has been flown by helicopter as a “pilgrim” – in his words – into retirement. The Church will be run by a caretaker until a new Pope is elected, hopefully before Easter. While there is no body to bury, however, wounds from the Pope’s unexpected departure have to be healed.

A Vatican official confesses to being “terribly, terribly, terribly shocked” and blood from collateral damage, including that of a cardinal’s resignation, still has to dry. It feels like Black Saturday – at least it ought to.

Yet the Catholic Church is in campaign mode, and electioneering has started. After a comment by Australian Cardinal George Pell about “the destabilizing effect” of the Pope’s resignation, journalists were told not to take advantage of cardinals “who are not media savvy.”  

With Facebook and greater interactivity, never has a papal election gained this much attention in the secular world. Even the Arabic news agency Al Jazeera has put out an infograph on how the elections will all unfold.

Old-style politicking is played out just as fiercely in the Philippines particularly in the Diocese of Bacolod, where the Church has lost its way in the run up to national elections. Recently, the diocese hung large tarpaulins outside San Sebastian Cathedral listing the names of senators who voted for and against the recently passed reproductive health bill.

It urged Catholics to vote for “team buhay” (Team Life), those who tried in vain to stop its passage into law, and warned against “team patay” (Team Death), listing those who supported the bill.

After the Commission on Elections rapped diocesan knuckles for the oversized tarps, smaller versions were hung out. Criticized for violating the principle of non-partisanship in politics, Father Felix Pasquin, cathedral rector and head of the Diocesan Commission for Social Communication, was quoted as saying that the extra step had to be taken because “the doctrine of life is being challenged.”

Exasperated by the continuing harangue in churches, a Catholic blogger suggests the formation of “team tak-an” (Team Fed Up).  

Putting up lists in more churches and hammering on contraception as the single election issue will not transform the Catholic conscience. Nor it is timely in the life of the Church.

If the Church wishes to have an imprint on the 21st century conscience, it will have to speak to the Zeitgeist, the signs and the spirit of the times. It will have to offer the hospitality of listening and not the warmed up porridge of hectoring from the 16th century when friars taught Christian doctrine in a foreign language.  

More than anything, dioceses will have to think of themselves not as outposts of doctrines, but springboards and heralds of the coming of God’s Shalom in full.

So enough already. Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger has left us with a lesson in humility and courage by stepping down when he realized that he could no longer lead his team.

The Seat of Peter is vacant and during such times of waiting, tradition – not convention – counsels us to enter the tomb, the space for prayerful listening and intercession.

Some generation Y’ers have taken the lead with an online campaign dubbed ‘adopt a cardinal’ to pray for a specific cardinal before and during the conclave.

Prayer is not salacious, it will not bring headlines, but this is what the time requires. Contrary to the general opinion that it is passive, prayer entails a heroic dancing with the Spirit, the one who empowers and inspires, who celebrates the many gifts that come with difference.

Let the vision of the Trinity, of mutuality, interdependence and collaboration guide us, God’s pilgrim people, out of the tomb. Do not be distracted – Nada te turbe. Easter will come.

Sophia Lizares Bodegon is a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and currently works in lay and continuing education

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