When the peripheries welcome the universal Church

Casey at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on October 11, 2022 for the Mass to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the opening of Vatican II

Casey at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome on October 11, 2022 for the Mass to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the opening of Vatican II

It’s been said that Church councils can take up to 100 years to mature into their fullest expression. A seed of a vision is planted  — and then it takes several generations for that vision to grow its roots and extend its branches. This growth is not without tension as the People are God are stretched to live into the vision. The prophet Habukkuk reminds us that visions are worth striving for and waiting for; they will not disappoint. 

This week the Church celebrates the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council – a kairos moment when the Church proclaimed the call to holiness of all the baptized and envisioned a Church in which clergy, religious and laity are active participants in mission and evangelization. 

During the commemoration Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on October 11, Pope Francis urged the faithful to “rediscover the Council in order to restore primacy to God, to what is essential: to a Church madly in love with its Lord and with all the men and women whom He loves.”

We want to take note of several articles that remind us how Vatican II renewed the Church and is even now reaching a new kairos moment as we live into a synodal way of being Church through the global synod and as we are guided by a process which centers the witness of the peripheries.

First, in an essay re-published by America, John W. O’Malley, SJ reminds us that Vatican II, in dramatic fashion, abandoned for the most part the terse, technical, juridical and other punitive language of previous councils. Its style was invitational, inclusive, and extended a hand of friendship to anyone wanting to work for a better world. 

Fr. O’Malley anticipates what Pope Francis would bring to birth in calling for a “synodal style” of being Church – seeking to center the art of encounter, listening, dialogue and discernment. Indeed, Synod represents a fruit of Vatican II and is “one of its most precious legacies,” says the Holy Father. 

Second, in terms of centering the witness of the peripheries, the Amazon Synod celebrates three years this month, and last week the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) released a 12-minute video in Spanish exploring the topic of women deacons and the ministry and diaconal service of women in the Amazon today. The video includes photos of our joint journey to Rome last year – Discerning Deacons and members of the Núcleo Mujeres REPAM commission studying women and the diaconate. (These witnesses are outgrowths of the decision at Vatican II to restore the permanent diaconate for men. Deacon Bill Ditewig spoke with Casey last year about this history.)

A direct fruit of the Amazonian Synod and a historic first, Pope Francis recently approved an ecclesial conference that includes lay women and men instead of a bishops-only leadership body. The Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA) can be compared “to the small mustard seed that grows little by little and spreads its branches to welcome the entire universal church,” said Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, S.J. He expects similar ecclesial conferences to emerge on other continents, including Africa and Asia, as bishops from those continents have already shown great interest in the structural developments in the Amazon region.

As we head into the continental phase of the Synod, it’s inspiring to see the movement of the Holy Spirit from the peripheries of the Amazon speak to the global church – including North America. 

The vision still has its time…

In peace,
Casey and Ellie
Co-Directors, Discerning Deacons

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“I’m not sure I’m really called to be a deacon, but even the chance to have a platform in front of a parish during mass would be a revelation for folks, especially people who experience gender discrimination. The Church would start to live out a truer version of universality.”
Katie Laskey
Contemplative Leaders in Action -  DC Cohort 2021-23 
“Women have been the caregivers and great support of most churches. Why? Because we deal with the personhood of the ordinary. The everyday matters of living. To me, that is what a deacon is. She extends the Church to the common community: visiting the sick and dying, helping parents with family problems, attending as a lector at Mass, burying the dead, and comforting families.” 
Kathleen Carlton Johnson
Hospice Chaplain
“It is time for our Church to acknowledge the role of countless women serving the people of God in positions of ministry and leadership.”
Deacon Guillermo "Memo" Rodriguez
Facilitator of Diaconate Formation for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles

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