Fr. Bruno Cadoré, who heads up the worldwide Dominicans. Photo by Michael Swan

Dominicans open up the conversation

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  • May 17, 2015

TORONTO - The biggest theological conference in Toronto since 1967 brought more than 200 scholars to the University of St. Michael’s College to look at the same subject theologians were wondering about then — the Second Vatican Council.

For the Dominican order, co-sponsors of the May 7-9 “Vatican II and the Promise of Renewal” with the University of St. Michael’s College and the Institute for Research of Vatican II, the three days of seminars and debate are exciting, said Master of the Order of Preachers Fr. Bruno Cadoré.

Cadoré, who heads up the order worldwide, said it was an opportunity for Dominicans to serve the Church in new ways.
“The Church has to be conversational, to become conversational, to be herself conversational,” Cadoré told The Catholic Register.

The Dominican vocation of preaching today comes mainly in the form of conversation, he said.

In the hallways of St. Michael’s, the conversation was about a new atmosphere of dialogue and open debate in theological circles since Pope Francis brought his own conversational style to the papacy.

“It generates a whole lot of interest and excitement and dialogue,” retired classics professor Sr. Mechtilde O’Mara of the Sisters of St. Joseph said.

The conference, the Second Vatican Council itself and Pope Francis are better understood once you notice that in the Gospels Jesus appears more often as a guest than as host, said O’Mara.

Though the conference is full of talk and sometimes difficult, abstract ideas, the thing that makes it exciting is a vision of the Church that’s more about how people relate to one another than how they define themselves in words, said Tashia Toupin, a St. Michael’s Master of Divinity student.

“In the early Church people were moved by the compassion and the work caring for the poor and the sick. We’ve lost sight of that,” said Taupin. “It can’t just be words. It has to be actions or it’s meaningless.”

Though it may seem that theologians have been picking over the Second Vatican Council for half a century, the Council itself was really about the future and it still needs to be understood, said PhD candidate John Gibson.

“There are so many among even the professionals who don’t understand what Vatican II was about,” he said.

Though he wouldn’t expect most parishioners to be able to follow along with conference papers such as “Thomistic Method in Trinitarian Theology,” Gibson is convinced academic conferences do matter to ordinary Catholics.

“This tends to trickle down to the laity,” he said. “This work we’re doing has to be done.”

If you understand the concept of the Trinity — that God is not a king in the sky but rather God is the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit — you begin to understand how Vatican II continues to remake the Church so that it better corresponds to a Trinitarian God, said Nicholas Olkovich, a St. Michael’s PhD candidate and lecturer in systematic theology.

“We’re being invited into a love relationship with God,” he said. “That’s the image that comes out of the Council.”

That’s going to mean a less hierarchical, more open Church that listens more often than it speaks, he said.

“The new way of the Church to be Church will be to give the floor to the members of the Church,” said Cadoré. “To give them the floor, to listen to them before we say something to them.”

The conference is the first of eight international conferences celebrating the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Domincans. There’s nothing strange about Dominicans celebrating their 800th birthday by coming together for conversation about the Church, said Cadoré. Eight hundred years ago the Church stood on uncertain ground surrounded by a shifting culture. Dominicans responded to all that uncertainty by going out on the road and talking to people about the Gospel.

“I think it’s today that we have to be creative, because it’s not so easy to find good ways for dialogue with sciences, technical sciences and the cultural knowledge we are developing — how to do that in a world where social networks are moving so quickly,” said Cadoré.

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