Ecumenism could be the Christian response to secularism in New Zealand and the world that would spark an awakening of a desire for God against the numbness that has permeated society.
This was proposed by theologian Dr Rocio Figueroa at a public lecture given at the Pompallier Diocesan Centre in Ponsonby, Auckland, on February 23. The lecture was part of a series of talks sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Auckland Commission for Ecumenism in celebration of the 25th anniversary of St John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint — That They May Be One.
Dr Figueroa, a lecturer at Te Kupenga-Catholic Theological College, said Christians of whatever denomination or faith tradition have one mission: to spread the Good News.
“We have two million around us, in our schools, work and families, who have no faith. Their lives have no transcendental vision,” she said. “We have now a situation in which people can have no reference to God, and feel that they are satisfied, that they are happy, and they feel they don’t need religion.”
Quoting Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age, Dr Figueroa said we cannot blame secularism on modernity, technology or even science.
“What has happened in our world is the lack of sensitivity towards the spiritual dimension, towards God. So, it’s the lack of imagination, he says. To be a believer, you need to imagine, you need to use symbols. To believe in Christ, we need to think of ourselves as holy persons,” she said.
“That [thinking ourselves as holy] would take lots of imagination,” she quipped.
She said that, in a materialistic society, people are unable to touch their innermost selves, that thirst for God.
“So, really, our work as Christians, and that is why I think ecumenism is really an answer for our times, . . . [is to] spark an awakening of that desire for God, because people are numb,” she said.
Coming from Peru, where 98 per cent of the people are Catholics, Dr Figueroa said she had a culture shock meeting people in New Zealand who were accepting of the idea that there is no afterlife.
However, she said, it has made her so happy to meet and work with Christians of different faith traditions, but who, basically, share her faith in Jesus.
“Here in New Zealand, I feel incredibly connected [to other Christians],” she said.
She has been working with theologians from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Protestant and Evangelical churches. “We united for one cause,” she said.
Dr Figueroa also said ecumenism and multiculturalism come hand in hand. She said theologian John Mackay aptly noted “both ecumenism and multi-culturality underline the diversity within the unity of the Church. Both point to the nature of Catholicity”.
There is a challenge here, Dr Figueroa said. “We have the challenge . . . to create a Church that is open to the different cultures, and does not isolate the communities.”
Dr Figueroa said that, in Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis outlined his model of ecumenism, the polyhedron.
In this document, the Pope explained the polyhedron “reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness. Pastoral and political activity alike seek to gather in this polyhedron the best of each”.
“I think this is much more flexible,” Dr Figueroa reflected. “It is a vision that brings a little bit of hope [for] how we can understand unity. Because unity is not uniformity.”
“We can have different visions, different traditions, different approaches, but there is something that is the essence, that is the beautiful diamond, that we have in common: the belief in Jesus Christ as the Saviour. That’s the most important thing.”