The papacy in the new millennium

On Feb. 26, 2001, Pope John Paul II announced that an extraordinary consistory or meeting of all the Church's cardinals would be convened in order to discuss and explore the ministry of the papacy and its meaning and relation to the collegiality of the bishops. Some elements of the press have already begun to misreport and misunderstand the aims of this meeting. Several reports have suggested that Pope John Paul II wishes to begin "downplaying" the primacy of the papacy; that he wants to decentralize the role of the Bishop of Rome in the leadership of the Church. It is fair to say, clearly this is not his purpose. As with all else he has written and accomplished, Pope John Paul II has laid the intellectual and theological groundwork for this consistory for the last 17 years in his public addresses, his commissioning of a special symposium on the subject of the Petrine ministry, and with the writing of an encyclical on the office of bishop and ecumenism.

In May of 1995, his encyclical "Ut Unum Sint" ("That They May Be One") was promulgated. One of its purposes was to shed some necessary light on the essential characteristics and functions of the papacy for the new millennium and the new evangelization. In it, he extends for our modern context the understanding of St. Augustine's famous exhortation concerning the papal ministry: "May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only one; in him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices, but the only one free of all division." Pope John Paul II extends this understanding by describing the Bishop of Rome as the "first servant of unity," ecumenical unity, whose mission is to unite the various Christian communities, under the paternal watch and one true voice of Christ. Hence, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, he is the initiator of this service of unity, and therefore, he possesses a particular responsibility "in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation" [emphasis added] (n. 95).

Throughout the 19th century, beginning with Napoleon, many identified the papacy with the temporal rule of its lands, namely the Papal States. They predicted that if this were to end the papacy would be finished; yet no one would argue that the papacy has been diminished in the 20th century because of the loss of the papal states. In fact the contrary has been true - the 20th century papacy has been a powerful beacon in the darkness of modernity.

We do not know what this "new situation" might look like. But we can be secure in our belief that the papacy will not be diminished but enhanced, fulfilling more perfectly its mission as servum servorum Dei, servant of the servants of God.

Globalization and the human person

Someone throws a brick through the window of a sneaker store that has factories in Southeast Asia likely to be exploiting workers, including children. "Protesters" tear down a fence and throw rocks at police because of a meeting being held to negotiate world trade agreements. Such events taking place in Seattle and Canada in recent months should give us pause. The violence is never justified. But might not there be a just anger?

Most of these people are reacting to (or say they are reacting to) issues of world trade as further intensified by what is called "globalization." Globalization is the rapid movement of people, products, wealth and culture across the world. Throughout history, we have seen small-scale globalization - think of the trade routes to India or the New World's development. Now, with the advent of advanced technologies of travel and information transfer, globalization is taking place at breath-taking pace. More is possible - for good or bad - more quickly, in more places than ever before.

Good people don't throw bricks or tear down fences. They think about issues, they posit arguments and peaceably take action. Often they suffer greatly. Occasionally they see some good accomplished because of their efforts. As Catholics, we can take the lead of our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, who recently said: "Globalization is (in itself) neither good nor bad. It will be what people make of it. (Globalization) must be at the service of the human person; it must serve solidarity, and the common good."

So, as for globalization, what are the possibilities? Many considerations of globalization center on the issues of trade, commerce and economy - we must turn these considerations back to the human person and the common good.

Some people worry that globalization will impact the job market and lead to the exploitation of workers in other parts of the world. We should look at these issues through the lens of improving all people's lives - not simply American lives. Others fear that globalization will degrade the environment; we should push for an understanding of good stewardship (with humanity at the center of creation). Still others fear globalization will foster the spread of the moral relativism (and other cultural aspects) from the Western industrialized nations to other parts of the world; we must respect the face of truth in other cultures and awaken the seeds of the Gospel within our own!

We should remember that we welcome cultural exchange and new people, rejoicing at the differences of people and places. Our Holy Father has talked about a right to migrate to where work and family may live better. Time and time again, it has been shown that the best way to improve the conditions of the poor is to promote jobs and economic development. Faith-filled economic development promotes the good of all involved.

When it comes to globalization, we must be advocates of a painstakingly thoughtful application of Gospel principles. We must bring moral truth to bear on the market and the world - truths emphasizing the inherent dignity of the human person and the common good of all humanity.

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