Attending an International Conference of Theological Ethics

November 13, 2018 |

From July 26th to 29th of this present year, was held the third International Conference of Catholic Theological Ethics in the World Church (CTEWC) in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. I attended this conference invited by one of the chairs of this organization, James Keenan S. J. who I met in Bogota, Colombia. In Sarajevo, there were 500 ethicists from every continent.

The name of the conference was “Building bridges for the future”. In a world marked by a increasing suffering of innocents (migrants, refugees, the environment and the poor) and the lack of both national leadership and international cooperation, the need to create a network to counter the suffering of so many is evident.

One of my surprises was listening to the words that Pope Francis addressed to all the ethicists. He urged us to build bridges and not walls. Pope said: “Sarajevo is a city of bridges. Your meeting is inspired by this dominant motif, which warns of the need to build, in an environment of tension and division, new paths of closeness between peoples, cultures, religious, visions of life and political orientations”.

Christian ethics is not a set of rules or simply a science of sins.  As James Curran, in his lecture stated: “Indeed, it is not about just right or wrong; it is not about what is sin or not. It is about true, justice, we need to consider the person”. Ethics is not a barrier of mutual exclusion, but the possibility of being interested in mutual love for one’s neighbor. To love your neighbor you have to get close, breaking down all kinds of prejudices, fears, hatreds and feelings of superiority or inferiority. It is, in definitive, to fulfill the commandment of Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another “John 13: 34-36. At the same time, loving each other, it is not possible to live  exclusion and oppression as we are we experience in our times, because the Lord also told us: “But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” Luke 22,26.

The importance of having this Conference with that name, in that place was phenomenal. Not only for the various bridges that connect the city but also for its recent history. Sarajevo was at war during the nineties. The lack of tolerance and mutual acceptance between different ethnic groups (Croats, Serbs and Muslims) provoked a bloody war. In just 3 years (1992-1995) about 100,000 people were killed, including a genocide of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by the Serbian army in July 1995. Finally, they reached a peace agreement and have tried to build peace. The disposition to build peace was seen in the Conference through a group called Youth for Peace. This organization is made up of Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Catholics belonging to the different ethnic groups of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are young people who were born during the war or years after it and who want to create conditions for peace by breaking prejudices between them and opening up to mutual recognition and the building of their own identity while taking into account the other. They build bridges, it is the only way to achieve peace. The testimonies of several young women taught us the responsibility that stems from a new humanity that wishes to generate an inclusive society and eradicate all feelings of hatred and deep resentment. Also, To be in Sarajevo is to attend to the Pope’s call to go to the peripheries.

In this congress, I presented, together with two colleagues of the UCA (University of Central America) a poster alluding to the Theology that is being done in El Salvador. In this Theology, which pretends to speak of God from reality, we find ourselves with the theme of violence. Violence is present in femicides, in gang warfare and in structural violence. In the poster we showed what the victims of violence think, since the reflections must have their word and not only the theoretical word of the intellectual. In order to do so we need to listening to the victims. Bishop Romero is an example of listening to the word of the people and responding with all effort. He is also an example of prophecy in difficult times. Only with a utopian imagination we can make present the Kingdom of God, especially where there are many people suffering.

The objective of the Conference was also to create a network of moralists around the world. The possibility of mutual inspiration and support makes us realize that we are not alone in the task of reflecting ethically on reality. The Pope said: To create such a network, it is urgent first to build bridges among yourselves, to share ideas and programs, and to develop forms of closeness. Needless to say, this does not mean striving for uniformity of viewpoints, but rather seeking with sincerity and good will to convergence of purposes, in dialogical openness and the discussion of differing perspectives.

There are many colleagues who fight for a different world, and not only approach reality to decipher it with abstract theories, but, above all, to discover God in that reality. The task is to strengthen the network of moralists and continue to announce a new world, a world from the heart of God. For this, “we need concrete action in local ways. Thinking and acting locally. Surrounded of great crow of witnesses “as Emmanuel Katongole said, another speaker in the Conference.

Being in the Conference has opened my mind to explore other experiences of suffering and reconciliation in different parts of the world. Learning from these experiences and sharing the knowledge generated by our contact with reality is what I treasured most in those days, that were a Kairos time for me.

Luis Jesus Paz Acosta, O. Carm.
Fr. Luis Jesus Paz Acosta, O. Carm., is a Carmelite priest living at Xiberta Center in El Salvador.
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