VOTF at AUSCP 2016 Assembly

By Svea Fraser

Donna, Mary and I were warmly welcomed by a group of nearly 200 priests, none of whom wore a Roman collar and all of whom seemed to share our Vatican II upside-down model of the church as the People of God. We knew we were “preaching to the choir” but found the 20 or so priests who came to our workshops were interested in sharing their views and seeking ideas to better collaborate with their parishioners. Of note was the reality that different cultures (notably the Hispanic/Latino) are deeply imprinted with the notion that the priest is always Padre … even when invited to a first-name basis.

Concerns about the newly ordained who exhibit a sense of “separateness” were raised as well.

In our workshop on Clericalism, we offered anecdotal evidence of clericalism on the part of both clergy and laity, and challenged each of the attendees to make one small change in the way they related to the laity in order to strengthen the slow crawl towards cultural change.

We also attended some of the other events at the Assembly. The Tuesday night Vespers was a very moving experience, and we were pleased that Donna not only contributed to its preparation, but took part as one of the leaders during the service.

Donna also attended Sister Carol Zinn’s address (she was the first keynote speaker) and one by theologian Massimo Faggioli, and we all enjoyed the report from Fr. Peter Phan, who challenged us with a metaphor of God as migrant—which is particularly timely right now. For me it offered a whole new paradigm of relating to our Triune God, whose very life on earth began on the move as the Holy Family escaped to Egypt.

The earliest days of VOTF found those of us committed to our “Support Priests Goal” encouraging listening sessions and opportunities for dialogue with priests. But dialogue at any level was discouraged (seen suspiciously as dissent), and it was very difficult to engage many priests in conversations about clericalism, celibacy or collaboration. Now, with the passage of time, the award-winning Spotlight movie, and most of all the election of Pope Francis the tide has turned.

For me, being together in Chicago, working together as disciples on a mission to change from “ranking” to “connecting” was delayed gratification!

We closed our workshop sessions with a blessing, from we the laity upon the priest attendees:

Go forth in peace and courage
to make our church a
communion of holy collaboration,
so that together we might
share the joy of the Gospel
in our thoughts, in our words, and especially in our actions
through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God bless us all
in the name of
God, the Migrant,
and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ
and in the love of the Holy Spirit.

We had a good time together, and were three of only a small number of women attending.