In the Philippines, Asia’s first predominantly Christian country, the line between church and state is oftentimes thin. Thus when the pope abdicates and elections loom for his successor, parallels are quickly drawn. With inimitable Filipino humor, a columnist has asked his readers to “imagine a papal election, Philippine style,” a parody based on the irregularities of Philippine polls from the illegal display of campaign posters to faulty smoke machines that programmed out the wrong colored smoke.
Excitement heightens as it is touted that Antonio Luis Cardinal Tagle counts among the forerunners to succeed Benedict. Tagle would be “a new JP II - though an Asian version and a Filipino version,” says Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado. His preference for Tagle is founded on the hope the new cardinal would communicate that “we Filipinos have a great mission for the entire planet earth!”
Many doubt the youthful Tagle will make it, considering the byzantine Vatican structures and politics that led to the rise and resignation of the current pope. To them it is clear that it is more than just having a new pope, a heroic figure to lead the Church to glory. Embedded in the meron (spectator) culture, however, many Filipinos will be observing how the papabili weigh in on issues of gender and personal ethics such as contraception, sexual abuse, same gender marriage, women’s ordination and celibacy. The cohort that grew up during Vatican II are now in influential positions to authoritatively advocate for the fresh winds that blew through the Church. They will want to see a new agenda.
Theologian Percy Bacani calls for “a new and determined focus on the social traditions of the Church, if need be the mainstreaming of all the social encyclicals over rubrics and rituals and over the restoration of the bygone days of medieval liturgy and theology and thinking.” Aware of the changing demographic within Catholicism around the world, Bacani says it is “high time to open to the spirit and truly discern new ministries." He also makes the point that" the call to become ministers beyond the traditional and pledging clerical class is NOT sustainable anymore.”
Flushed with the success of the One Billion Rising campaign, protesting over violence against women, Lilith Usog says “it is high time women's full participation and leadership in the church be recognized. By full participation, I mean the recognition of women's gifts as ministers, in education, pastoral work and rituals.”
The call for decentralization and participation resonates with a movement of 150 Catholic scholars across the globe, who stress that that the role of the papacy needs to be clearly redefined “in line with Christ's intentions.” In a declaration issued on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, the scholars said that while the pope is “supreme pastor, unifier and prime witness to faith,” this authority must "never obscure, diminish or suppress the authentic authority directly given by Christ to all members of the people of God.”
It is more than just “high time." For those seeking renewal in the Church, it is kairos, a turning point that must be seized if anything is to happen. Simmering beneath the surface is a call for Vatican III.
Bacani says “we need the incisive reflections from the local churches to contribute and enhance the participation of all, in searching for creative ways of being Church in the 21st century. We need to move away from a eurocentric church to a world church.”
These are the same people of God who were honed in the struggle against repression during the Philippines' martial law years, when Basic Christian Communities were targeted in counter-insurgency campaigns. These are women whose words have fallen on deaf ears but nevertheless go on resolutely. These are people who use the word “glocal,” reflecting how global and local realities entwine.
The Church must seize the moment, remember who it is and whose it is. If it forgets, it can always refer back to its name - Catholic, Universal, Inclusive – the way God envisioned it to be, God’s reconciled people.
Sophia Lizares Bodegon is a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and currently works in lay and continuing education