A University Leader's View of the Ecclesia in America

Thomas Aquinas President Shares Insights From Rome Conference

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Issues facing the various countries of the Americas are as diverse as the terrains of the continent, but Christians from north to south are taking up the same challenge: to respond to the Pope’s call to promote a new evangelization.

This was part of the reason that representatives of the local Churches from across the Americas were invited to Rome last December for a conference on the «Ecclesia in America.»

The Dec. 9-12 event was held to discuss regional challenges as well as the new evangelization; it also marked the 15th anniversary of John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation «Ecclesia in America.» 

The conference was co-sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus, with assistance from the Institute for Guadalupan Studies in Mexico City. 

Benedict XVI addressed the conference at a private audience on the feast of St. Juan Diego, Dec. 9.

One of the participants from the United States was Dr. Michael McLean, the president of Thomas Aquinas College in California. ZENIT asked Dr. McLean to share his impressions of the conference.

ZENIT: You have recently been in Rome for the Ecclesia in America conference. What do you think shall come from that event?

McLean: I think the Ecclesia in America conference was successful on several fronts. First, it succeeded in fostering friendships among participants from all over the Americas. We learned much about one another and the issues facing the Church in our respective countries. Second, I am confident that the participants’ devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was deepened by the excellent presentations that were given concerning her appearance in the Americas. The theological and ecclesial significance of her appearance were explained in clear and compelling ways. Third, while no specific action-items were formulated at the conference, members of the Church hierarchy were clearly listening carefully, and I am confident that further conferences will be held and that a set of action items reflecting a broad range of opinions will be formulated in the relatively near future.

ZENIT: The local Churches in Santiago de Chile or in Monterrey are perhaps facing issues quite different than, say, the Churches of Los Angeles or Toronto. What unites the «Ecclesia in America» in terms of common struggles or goals?

McLean: A great deal of effort on the part of the conference presenters and participants was devoted to finding areas of common concern. The principal point of unity, of course, is that we are all members of the Body of Christ with a common doctrine and a common sacramental life. We have all been exhorted by the Church to pursue the New Evangelization with vigor and, in general, the New Evangelization is the same for all — to bring Christ to a world hungering for His truth and love. A number of more specific issues of common concern were identified in the course of the conference: among these were migration, drug violence, outreach to the poor and marginalized, witnessing to life and traditional marriage, the economic advantages of free trade, and protecting religious liberty.

ZENIT: It has been observed that local Churches in the United States struggle to understand themselves as part of a bigger picture — a truly universal Church. Is that your impression?

McLean: I think it is true that Churches in the United States tend to be focused on the concerns of their parishes and dioceses. There is a tendency in the U.S. to see ourselves as independent and autonomous. Some, in fact, in the Church in America see union with Rome as a negative thing and pursue agendas which conflict with the teachings of the universal Church. I attended the Ecclesia in America conference partly to bear witness to the fact that we at Thomas Aquinas College are unified with the magisterium of the Church and that we appreciate whatever guidance and direction we receive from members of the Church hierarchy. A sign of this is that we have on numerous occasions hosted cardinals at our commencements and will do so again in 2013 (Cardinal DiNardo) and 2014 (Cardinal O’Brien). We take pride in our membership in the universal Church and want to help the universal Church in any way we can.

ZENIT: As the president of a university, you have a unique insight into the future of the Church in the United States. What’s your vision?

McLean: I think the Church in America is getting stronger. Some excellent cardinals and bishops have been appointed to leadership positions and in some dioceses, at least, the number of religious vocations is increasing. A number of colleges faithful to the magisterium are now operating in the United States — among these Thomas Aquinas College is one of the oldest and occupies something of a leadership position. The Church in the United States faces numerous challenges from an aggressively secular culture and an increasingly hostile government. Catholics are called to be witnesses for life, traditional marriage, religious liberty, and concern for the poor and disadvantaged in ways consistent with the time-honored principle of subsidiarity. I am especially proud of the role the alumni of Thomas Aquinas College are playing in the Church, in the country, and in their communities. This bodes very well for the future of the Church in America.

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Dr. McLean blogged about his participation here: http://thomasaquinas.edu/news/ecclesia-america-journal

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Kathleen Naab

United States

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