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15 March 2018

New evangelization in an intercultural context: “the path of cultural discernment”

“The path of cultural discernment” by Catherine Clifford

Most of our communities are living this interculturality. Catherine Clifford presented the vision of Pope Francis that is in line with Vatican II but also with his experience in Latin America: the mission has a Church (rather than the Church has a mission), because the Church is missionary by its very nature: the way we pray, we structure our relationships, we witness and work are missionary themselves.

New Evangelization, according to Pope Francis in the Joy of the Gospel, applies to all categories of people (practicing faithful, disaffected former Catholics and those who have never heard about Jesus Christ). All have the right to receive the Gospel – it does not consist of a pastoral plan but of discerning God’s presence in the world. In an attitude of humility, the Church recognizes that we learn from the world. We therefore need to listen and to discern the calls of the Holy Spirit in the world. This requires continuous discernment. Catholicity consists in this mutual enrichment of diverse cultures, even though it brings tensions and requires patience and time on our part.

By quoting the Theology of the people, Clifford said that we, the Church, should see ourselves from the starting point of the people (outwardly focused). Our vow of poverty helps us in this, because by becoming poor we recognize our need of others, our need of God. By living this radical poverty, we are called to change our relations not only with God but also with others: it allows us to live in community, to be aware of our need of others and of other peoples’ needs. When we are converted a whole world of relations is converted.

Cultural Discernment: we need to be able to discern all that is good in our fellow’s aspirations, to have a disposition of openness and capacity of being surprised.

Our culture is a very individualistic one – the message the Church can bring to the world is that we are interdependent upon one another, we need one another, a community. We need to respond to Internet culture by showing the beauty of relating to others.

The Evangelical council of poverty that religious men and women live is a prophetic sign for the world – we live it because it helps us to discover that we depend on God and on others. Our vows are a great space of evangelization.

The experience of interculturality is a norm in the Church – the Church is not European, White, or other – it is universal. We should help people to see interculturality as a gift that opens us to what the Church truly is, to what Catholicity is about.

We need humility to live this. We do not get to choose who we live with (it is the same in our communities) – Church is larger, we need to help people to commit to the larger community. We need to find a balance between assimilation and integration and mutual cultural enrichment. Catholicity is not Romanicity but the gathering of all traditions. The intercultural being together of different cultures in our communities is a challenge. We have to have the courage at times to say “I don’t know” and let time to discern and listen further.

The vision to which Francis and Vatican II is calling us is quite radical and it must challenge us – let us be challenged!

Sister Rachelle Watier shared the experience of interculturality they are living in her community: their new leadership team is composed of members from different cultures and different countries. They have decided not to live together but rather that each councilor reside in her province and that they meet in different places, around the world. In this way, they may also visit their communities at the same time, and better understand and welcome the richness of each culture. This experience has brought unity not only among the sisters of the Council, but to the whole Congregation. Sisters coming from other countries now feel at home when they visit the Motherhouse. The difference of culture is no longer an obstacle. Sister Rachelle insisted on the importance of being open and listening, this continuous discernment that Catherine Clifford mentioned in her presentation: “We must become “disciples” of the same congregation, not only members of the congregation”.

Father Jack Lynch picked up what Catherine Clifford had mentioned in the morning about Pope Francis’ larger vision of the Church – of what the Church is or is supposed to be – and the process he invites us to undertake to become a Church. In Father Jack’s opinion, the key to this is to recognize our need to be evangelized, the recognition of our own poverty. He gave several concrete examples, stories, encounters he had experienced. The Holy Spirit, he said, is present and facilitates the dialogue. We need to keep open and vulnerable in order to meet people where they are, to listen to them in a non-judgmental way and move forward by walking with them. It takes more time but it is important to process so that people feel they identify in it.

Participants appreciated both the presentation in the morning – a solid, enriching teaching on the theme – as well as the panelists in the afternoon who shared their experience, giving simple, real, concrete examples of living interculturality in a way that is evangelizing in itself. The sharing and dialogue on this theme was very enriching and stimulating: interculturality is a precious gift, an occasion to build and live communion and to incarnate a different, larger vision of the Church. For us, religious men and women, who live in community and who are called, by living the Evangelical councils, to witness to the Gospel, interculturality may become a Good News for the world and a means to evangelize by the way we live, we relate to others and get together.

Photos of the day are available on Facebook. Click here to go further.