Just Good Company
A Cyberjournal of Religion and Culture
Link to Text-only Table of Contents


To the readers of Just Good Company, Jon Sobrino needs no introduction. Most of us know him as a Jesuit from El Salvador, and one of the architects in Latin America of liberation theology. Maybe some of us do not know that he belonged to the community of Jesuits from the University of Central America who were executed by military goons in November 1989, and would have been killed with them if he had not been in Thailand at the time. He wrote the following article in 2002, when bishops from the Third World were calling for a new ecumenical council.

A New Council

Jon Sobrino, SJ

Some 31 cardinals and bishops, almost all from the southern hemisphere, or, in other words, from the world of the poor, want a new ecumenical Council. They have written this clearly to John Paul II, and they have signed it in a petition that is spreading rapidly to their brother bishops in Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, and Japan. This is what they say.

The signers of this petition, followers of Jesus of Nazareth, ask the Pope, the bishop of Rome, in following with the spirit of Vatican II, to convoke a new ecumenical Council, to help our Church respond evangelically, in fraternal dialogue with other Christian churches and other religions, to the serious challenges of humanity, in particular those of the poor, in a world that is ever more globalized and in rapid transformation.

1. They ask the universal church to offer a positive space for the dialogue and communion that are being expressed in a great part of the ecclesial community. Undoubtedly, in it there is a prophetic undercurrent against the current centrist, Roman tendency, but the petition goes farther than that. It is sincere, evangelical, and positive. And it is done for serious reasons. It’s not just a tribute, post-modern or wise, to dialogue, but a recognition of the necessity and urgency to combine energies, lights, and dynamisms, given the gravity of the reality of the world, that is, of the creation and family of God.

It isn’t about flights of fancy, but of “responding” and of doing so among all churches and religions, since the challenges of humanity-no small inter-ecclesial or inter-religious actions – are of such caliber, that it is necessary to mobilize – to speak graphically – the blowing of the Spirit of God in all humanity.

The “dream” of Cardinal Martini, who made so much noise in the European Synod in autumn of 1999, and dreamt year after year by the bases of the Catholic world, struggles to become a reality. “I have had a dream,” the Cardinal said then, the dream of a new Council, a space where “in the full exercise of episcopal collegiality” they can “confront with freedom those disciplinary and doctrinal knots” that are so important “for the common good of the Church and all of humanity.” Knots, Martini explained, like the shortage of ordained ministers, women in society and in the Church, the role of the laity, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, penitential praxis, relations with sister churches.

“We are being impelled to ask ourselves,” dreamed the Cardinal, “if forty years after the inauguration of Vatican II, and for the next decade, the awareness of the utility and almost of the necessity of a collegial and authorized confrontation among all the bishops about some themes that have emerged in the past four decades isn’t maturing little by little.”

It is the same dream that Cardinal Karl Lehmann, then bishop of Maguncia, repeated exactly one year after the Synod, during the course of the Book Fair of Frankfurt, openly invoking Vatican Council II. And also the dream of the Cardinal of London, Basil Hume, many years before: a more fraternal church.

2. Before them Jacob, Samuel and Joseph of Nazareth also dreamed . . . And after them, Martin Luther King dreamt, “I have a dream . . .” It is noted that “the dream” is language used by God and by men and women to say good things, “utopian” things, as is the Reign of God.

In our days, those that dream most are the poor and the victims of this world.

These dreams of the poor, besides of fraternity inside the People of God, are those that should be in the center of a new council: the poor and victims should be the axle around which turn all humanity and divinity, the secular and the ecclesial.

In that council the voice of Africa must resonate, and the voice of a universal Church in solidarity with its victims. The voice of the indigenous, wordless and nameless, and the voice of all those fearful of God who pass through the world doing good. The voice of the martyrs, and the gratitude to them on the part of the world of abundance whose sin they carry. The voice of women, not vengeful but jubilant because – finally – in the Church there is no longer male or female, only that we will be one in Christ Jesus.

3. Some think that to ask for a new council is premature – risky, provocative, defiant. It could be, but this opinion sounds more like fear that the idea will flourish. But if in the Church there is a minimum of common sense – not to mention evangelical freedom – what’s the harm in it? It would be oversimplification to wait for a council day after day, but it would be blindness to not see its necessity and not prepare, from above, the hierarchy, and from below, the majorities. Above all from below. And there should not be fear. In 1979, months before his assassination, Archbishop Romero decided--he, from above – to write a pastoral letter about the situation of the country of El Salvador and what the Church should do. The first thing he did was to ask those from below in a long survey. He read the answers with attention, discernment and love. The letter was his and everyone’s. And it turned out magnificently.

Why shouldn’t we all prepare ourselves? Why fear what God can say to us today? Why not open ourselves to following Jesus, the one who passed through the world doing good, comforting the afflicted, bursting with mercy toward the poor and suffering?

Isn’t that, deep down, what a new council would be about? Won’t this be well received by the immense majority of humanity today if, together with others, we Christians do it – even though the suspicious and threatening look of the powerful will remain?

In this number the reader can read some of the themes with which the Council can be prepared: women, the tragedy of humanity, hope, sin and grace in the Church.

In this age of globalization, all those, both clergy and laypeople, who share this desire to prepare themselves in a Christian way for a new council are invited to speak up and also suggest a theme to which they want to call attention. In this way, they can become part of a kind of long-term “conciliar process” with a “participative and responsible” path, and one which has its roots in local churches, in each diocese and in each religious movement or congregation.

June 26, 2002


Jon Sobrino is a Jesuit theologian living in El Salvador.