NCR Today

To religious: Don't 'wait for death,' be 'spirit-led' people

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's only "one question worth asking" about religious life today, Holy Spirit Fr. Anthony Gittins told a crowd of some four hundred gathered for the Religious Formation Conference's congress here this morning.

Amidst continuing talk of diminishment of religious orders, and worries about how ministries will continue with fewer numbers, the professor, social activist, and hospital chaplain put it bluntly:

“Numbers and age are of little consequence," said Gittins. "The only question worth asking…is whether we are running, standing still, or just twitching nervously as we wait for death.”

Instead, Gittins, who is a professor of mission and culture at the Catholic Theological Union, said “now is the moment for religious to stand up and to stand fast." Otherwise, he said, “it remains a serious danger that the church of poverty and prayer will disappear.”

Offering concrete examples for how to do forward, Gittins said members of religious communtities must seek out the markings of "spirit-led" people to answer their call, including "looking for trouble" and leading lives that are "full and worthwhile and never boring."

Africa sees 'Occupy Wall Street' as positive sign, leading prelate says

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Cotonou, Benin

tArchbishop John Onaiyekan of Abuja, Nigeria, has long been one of Africa’s most visible, and most influential, Catholic prelates. He’s a former president of SECAM, the umbrella group for bishops’ conferences on the continent, as well as a former president of the Nigerian bishops. He’s also a member of the Vatican council of the Synod for Africa, which means he had a hand in drafting the post-synodal document, Africae Munus, or “Africa’s Commitment,” which Benedict XVI presented today in Benin.

tOnaiyekan, 67, is on hand in Benin, part of a cross-section of African bishops taking part in the papal trip. He sat down this afternoon for an interview with NCR, following a lunch in his Cotonou hotel which amounted to an informal reunion of bishops from up and down the continent.

tThe conversation with the always-outspoken Onaiyekan included the following highlights:

    Benedict's Africa plan: Stay spiritual, and stay Catholic

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    Ouidah, Benin

    Pope Benedict XVI came to Africa this weekend primarily to deliver his conclusions from a 2009 Synod of Bishops for Africa, representing a papal game plan for the faith in the region of its most explosive growth. He chose an evocative setting – the city of Ouidah on Benin’s Atlantic coast, a onetime slave port known as the spiritual capital of the Vodun religion, referred to in the West as voodoo.

    The pontiff has repeatedly touted Africa as a source of hope, and he came it again today, repeating a 2009 line that Africa represents a “spiritual lung for a humanity that appears to be in a crisis of faith and hope.”

    In voodoo capital, Benedict blasts 'occultism and evil spirits'

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    Ouidah, Benin

    In a West African city widely regarded as the spiritual capital of voodoo, Benedict XVI today urged Catholics to resist a “syncretism which deceives” and to uphold a Christian faith that “liberates from occultism” and “vanquishes evil spirits.”

    The pope was speaking this morning to an audience of priests, seminarians, religious and laity gathered in the St. Gall Seminary in Ouidah, on day two of the pontiff’s Nov. 18-20 trip to Benin.

    Located on Benin’s Atlantic coast, Ouidah is a onetime major slave port that today has a population of roughly 80,000. Benin is historically the cradle of the Vodun faith in West Africa, better known in the West as “voodoo,” and Ouidah is more or less its Vatican, hosting an annual international conference on Vodun. The city also boasts a famous voodoo python temple.

    From a Eurocentric pope, a remarkably African message

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    By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
    Cotonou, Benin

    tIf one were to survey African Catholic leaders about their most pressing social challenges, responses would likely focus on their struggles against corruption and religious intolerance. As it happens, those were precisely the two themes raised today by Pope Benedict XVI, in a highly anticipated speech to government and religious leaders at Benin’s Presidential Palace.

    tFor an octogenarian German pontiff often accused of being Eurocentric, it came off as a remarkably ‘African’ message.

    (The charge of Eurocentrism continues to dog the pope. Just last week, veteran Italian journalist Marco Politi published a new book, Crisis of a Papacy, arguing that Benedict is insufficiently attentive to the “global and geopolitical” dimension of his role.)

    At Religious Formation Conference, theme is transformation

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    KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The key theme of religious life in the 21st century is not diminishment but transformation, says Marist Br. Sean Sammon.

    In face of reduced numbers of vowed members, and with many religious growing older, orders have a unique opportunity to reexamine their identities -- breathing new life into the charisms of their founders and challenging the church to stay true to the central precepts of the Gospel, Sammon, the former Superior General of the Marist Brothers, told a crowd assembled here this afternoon for the Religious Formation Conference's congress.

    "The future of religious life is in our hands," Sammon told the crowd, which was composed mainly of leaders and formation directors of religious orders, gathered from across the country for the weekend conference. "Let us choose to renew ourselves, to reexamine the charisms of our orders, and to be nothing more and nothing less that the presence of the Holy Spirit."

    Toxic charity vs. redemptive charity

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    This is the season for giving. There are parish food drives, adopt-a-family programs and toys for needy children. Many of us jump on board as enthusiastic givers.

    But one of my guests this week on Interfaith Voices, Bob Lupton, says many charitable efforts hurt people more than they help people. He discusses this idea in a new book with the provocative title Toxic Charity. And I have to say, he made me think and recall some of the better efforts I've seen.

    His basic thesis is this: Givers almost always feel good. But receivers have, at best, mixed feelings. Too many are like the parents he has seen in homes when a "gift-giving family" delivers toys to children at Christmastime. The children are excited, the mother is gracious even if she feels a bit distant, but the father is often absent because he feels that this action exposes his inability to provide for the family.

    Lupton speaks from long personal experience. He has lived in the inner city of Atlanta for more than 30 years.

    The political nerve of Catholicism in Africa

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    Cotonou, Benin

    A core motive for Benedict XVI’s trip to Benin this weekend is to honor the late Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, yet it's actually another former Archbishop of Cotonou whose memory may be most helpful in grasping one key feature of African Catholicism: Its brazen disregard of Western notions of church/state separation.

    If American Catholics already think their bishops, or the Vatican, sometimes get too involved in politics, the rise of Africa in the global church suggests they probably haven’t seen anything yet.

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    February 10-23, 2017

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