Afterlife Is Focus of Theological Videoconference

Initiative of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2001 ( Literature of the 20th century was «impregnated by constant fear,» a sign of man´s longing for the transcendent, a cardinal said at a videoconference on the afterlife.

It was one of the insights raised at the event, the third such conference that electronically linked theologians from around the world.

The Vatican Congregation for the Clergy promoted the event, a chance to reflect on the ultimate questions of death, judgment, hell, purgatory and heaven.

Video screens linked theologians in Rome, New York, Sydney, Johannesburg, Manila, Taipei, Madrid and Bogota. Internet users could follow the event live. A recorded version can be seen at

Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, opened the discussion. The cardinal referred to last century´s literature, «impregnated by constant fear» — the existential void, the folly of life — which evidences contemporary man´s thirst for the transcendent.

The cardinal said that, without this transcendence, death becomes just another «chapter in the drama of life.»

Catholic theology, on the other hand, presents a God who, «when reached, is heaven; when lost, is hell; when discerning, is judgment; when purifying, is purgatory,» the cardinal explained. In this regard he cited the 1992 document of the International Theological Commission, entitled «Current Problems of Eschatology.»

Father Bruno Forte, member of the International Theological Commission, replied to the question of how to harmonize individual and collective salvation, personal and last judgment.

Salvation brought by Christ´s resurrection «is at the same time redemption of the individual and new life for the Church and the world,» the theologian said. «Therefore, more than underscoring the dualism between individual and collective destiny, paschal eschatology calls for rethinking the individual´s future in solidarity with that of the community and the whole cosmos.»

From New York, theologian Michael F. Hull tackled another question: Are Christians the only ones saved or are all men saved?

Hull, professor of sacred Scripture at St. Joseph´s Seminary in suburban Yonkers, said that hell is a reality, confirmed by divine revelation. To deny the reality of eternal damnation would be tantamount to denying human freedom, he said.

Hull said that non-Christians of good will can be saved. Yet, «incorporation into Christ and his Church through the sacrament of baptism, does matter in the end and in the end times,» he added.

Christianity is not merely a «first among equals» among religions, Hull asserted.

From Sydney, professor Julian Porteous of the Catholic University of Australia said that since the Second Vatican Council, eschatology is no longer relegated to the end. Rather, there has been a rediscovery presented as «a radical dimension of the life of faith,» he said.

According to this vision, Porteous added, «neither the world nor our humanity is sacrificed in God´s gracious design.»

If man´s final end is heaven, one should ask what is heaven — a question that professor Alfonso Carrasco Ruoco, dean of the St. Damaso School of Theology of Madrid, tried to answer.

Heaven is «to see the face of God,» Carrasco said, «to know him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the mystery of Unity, in the love and infinite freedom of personal relations.»

«We will see him face to face, but not as external observers, which would be impossible, but as children, as the Son sees and knows the Father,» Carrasco added.

«We will know him as filial humanity, assimilated and united to Jesus Christ, because by him, with him, and in him humanity participates in divine filiation, receives the Gift of the Father, and responds filially with the total Gift of self,» he said.

Cardinal Castrillón announced that the text of the addresses would be sent in five languages to the 10,000 priests registered in the electronic mail distribution list of the Congregation for the Clergy.

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