Parishioners dance during Mass in Dhaka
The Catholic Church celebrates 50 years of the Second Vatican Council, popularly known as Vatican II, this year. Opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October, 1962, and closed under Paul VI on 8 December, 1965, the 21st ecumenical council of the Church is considered the most significant event in the Catholic Church in centuries. The Church as a whole, and particularly in Bangladesh, has seen revolutionary and mostly positive changes as a result of Vatican II. It has fostered liturgical, social, cultural and economic changes and developments, say a number of Church leaders and laypeople, who also have cited specific changes still needed as the council marks 50 years. “Vatican II promoted inculturation of liturgy. Before the council liturgy and prayer were done in Latin but now everything is done Bengali and tribal languages (Garo, Santal, Oraon, Khasia etc). This is a huge change for the faithful who now can internalize what they recite or sing,” said Holy Cross Bishop Ponen Paul Kubi of Mymensingh, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Liturgy and Prayer. The prelate noted that Vatican II has given rise to participation by laypeople in Church activities. “Laypeople have taken responsible roles in Catholic parishes and are involved in decision making in parish councils. Once most of the directors in the Church’s social arm, Caritas, were priests, but now all of them are laypeople.” However, 55-year-old tribal Garo bishop sees the need for more changes. “Many changes have taken place and many are overdue that need more time. Not all Catholic dioceses see mass participation of laypeople in Church activities. Local parishes need to be socio-economically self-reliant. Many Catholics largely depend on clergy and religious for almost everything. This should be reduced.” The prelate pointed out that formal education and catechism in light of Vatican II are essential for the people to build a ‘New Church.’ “We need to strengthen existing child and youth formation in various phases to help them become bearers of the spirit of the council.” Fr Tapan D’Rozario, 53, parish priest at St Christina Church in Dhaka and assistant professor of world religion and culture at Dhaka University said, “Inculturation of liturgy is the most significant change brought by Vatican II. It has helped traditional local means of popular devotions, such as religious folk drama, Lenten songs of suffering, devotional songs of St Anthony and other cultural traditions to find a place and meaning in the Church.” The priest, who also heads Bangladesh Diocesan Priests’ Fraternity, regretted that many Catholics don’t have sufficient knowledge about the council documents, so they don’t know how to live the spirit of the council. “I think for their lack of knowledge, we the Church leaders are to be blamed. Now it’s time to take the documents to them and help them play the role they are supposed to,” Father Rozario said. Fr Francis Gomes Sima, 71, chief editor for the Bengali translation of Vatican II documents (1990) also pointed out changes and inculturation of liturgy over the years for the local Church. “Before Vatican II the Church was too Roman, but now it’s local. Once people used to pray in Latin without realizing what they were saying. Inculturation has enhanced faith in liturgy and made it livelier. Surely, it instigates satisfaction for the faithful,” said Fr Sima, former ECLP secretary. The priest emphasized that the local Church has duly internalized the spirit of Vatican II and is moving forward with it. But he also sees the need for more changes. “The local Church has not become equally participatory in all the Catholic-inhabited areas. Still today there are parishes without parish councils. Catholics don’t have proper catechism formation and theological learning.” Fr Gomes said he feels that the Church should introduce institutional theology and pastoral training for laypeople in major seminaries. “When people don’t know about Church teaching well, they eventually get entangled in conflicts with clergy and religious.” The priest added that a truly participatory Church involves contributions from laypeople, who take part in decision making. “Catholic parishes in Dhaka archdiocese are self-reliant but in other dioceses things are different.” Politics could be another area for Catholics to help grow the Church, he added. “We’ve only one Catholic lawmaker and state minister in the country. If we had more people in politics and government offices the Church could enjoy more privileges.” Tribal Garo priest Fr Niren Norbert Mrong, chancellor of Mymensingh diocese said, “Vatican II has helped preserve our distinct culture and traditions. It’s an inexplicable joy for tribal Catholics to use their own language, music, dance and costumes in Church liturgy. Many tribal traditions have found a home in the Church, which was possible because of Vatican II.” The priest regretted that now priests often become helpless when people come to them with modern-day challenges. “The local Church needs to revise religious formation to help future clergy and religious gain practical knowledge about the present-day world. They need to learn better how to interact more closely with laypeople and also people of other faiths.” Vatican II brought many changes for religious congregations too, says Sister Mary Anita, 60, superior general of Bangladesh’s largest local women religious order, the Associates of Mary Queen of Apostles. “In the past we used to wear different types of clothes, which is no more, except our veil. Church was too conservative before Vatican II; now it’s liberal. Eventually it has become participatory with laypeople coming to take up responsibilities.” Sr Anita noted that both Church leaders and laypeople need to work according to the signs of the time. “Bishops need to emphasize using modern media and technology, which are very useful for all. Young people are getting spoiled misusing media tools and technology. The Church needs to provide ‘formation of conscience’ for them.” Jharna Rozario, 61, a Catholic laywoman and secretary of Nagari parish near Dhaka said, “Vatican II helped priests and religious become friendly with laypeople. Church rituals and rites were very strict before the council, but now things are relaxed.” However, Rozario also mentioned several changes taking place that she refuses to accept. “Vatican II has given priests so much freedom that often they roam without wearing cassock and cross. People can’t identify them as priests. It should change. Like many elderly people I also don’t like boys and girls to dance inside the Church as part of liturgy. I think it distracts public attention from solemn liturgy.” Holy Cross Auxiliary Bishop Theotonius Gomes of Dhaka, 72, said, “Vatican II has enhanced the importance of religion in people’s life. In the local Church Catholics are more or less self-reliant thanks to the council’s teaching on financial empowerment that endorsed the credit union movement across the country. It has now become a way for financial independence.” The prelate, current Caritas Bangladesh president, added that the local Church is duly promoting catechism and socio-economic teachings. “Vatican II clearly defines the responsibility of laypeople in the Church, but unfortunately many people don’t know that. They need to understand that the Church doesn’t just belong to bishops, priests, and religious but also to them. A good domestic Church grounded in spiritual well-being will help live the spirit of Vatican II as a whole.” Subol L Rozario, 59, an NGO consultant and former parish council vice-president from Bonpara parish in northwestern Rajshahi diocese said, “Present-day participatory Church shows that in the past when people were poor and helpless, the Church used to aid them and now the time has come to return the favor to the Church.” He added, “I really love to see people wholeheartedly contribute when the Church needs them, no matter if that’s a construction work or priestly ordination. Vatican II empowered small Churches to flourish with guidelines for development and now we enjoy the fruits.”
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