Bogotá 2016 Preview

Historic Encounter on a mountainside campus:

Latin American Regional Committee Meets in Bogotá, Colombia

By MT Dávila, Chair, Latin American Regional Committee

Mountainside views from the campus of the Universidad JaveriananGathering of the Regional CommitteeFull Regional Committee and members of CTEWC Planning Committee

From May 2-4 the Latin American Regional Committee of the CTEWC met on the campus of the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia. This historic meeting, the first for this group, focused on discussing the need for a network of Latin American theological ethicists, the need for a continental meeting of ethicists in the future, and what would be the best structures and formats going forward to foment a strong and productive network.

The current composition of the regional committee (available here) includes a broad range of experiences within the field of theological ethics in Latin America: lay and clergy, male and female, diverse ages, diverse areas of expertise, and representing seven countries throughout the Americas (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Perú, Puerto Rico). Members of the planning committee presented on various topics, specifying their own context for doing ethics. Immediately, we were able to identify concrete differences in how theological ethics is promoted or supported in different contexts depending on the countries’ histories in the past 200 years (and sometimes more!), but particularly during periods of anti-clerical political climates when religious or theological academic perspectives were discouraged.

The regional committee unanimously supported working toward a continental meeting of theological ethicists during the year 2016. While details such as meeting site and theme will be determined by the end of this year, we were able to generate grounding conversation on some of the concerns and issues that commonly affect a variety of contexts in Latin America:

–       Recognition of the voice of marginalized groups in the different spheres where power and decisions are made that affect entire populations. Part of this discussion included the witness of various ethicists at the meeting speaking to the transition from the church being an excluded entity from the political sphere of a number of their countries to now being present and consulted at very high levels of public health, labor, economics, and other political forums.

–       Attention on the challenges being voiced by “the other” and from below, lifting up the realities of excluded groups, while acknowledging that Latin America is a very diverse region, where challenges are expressed and lived out quite differently from people to people.

These central concerns serve to highlight and frame particular topics such as rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-American communities in Brazil, environmental concerns and drastic changes to civility and social engagement in urban and other settings. At the meeting ethicists agreed that there is always an urgent need to discuss themes such as hope, solidarity, and the option for the poor, but that these must be updated so that we are not repeating the same arguments of 40 years ago, but, rather, are contextualizing and actualizing them in ways that make them relevant and empowering for the communities we serve and inhabit.

For this purpose, we agreed to develop working groups that would meet, either in person or virtually, over the next months in preparation for the continental meeting in 2016. The goal is for this meeting to be culmination of work already in progress, where participants have already been at work together for some time.

Planning committee members Fr. Jim Keenan, SJ, and Fr. Andrea Vicini, SJ, were present during the meeting to listen to our discussions and support our efforts at building and enriching our network, something that we agreed was necessary both at the local, regional, and international level.

I have to express my deepest gratitude to all the members of the regional committee for their time and commitment to conversations that shared from their most sincere experiences and hopes for this network. And profound gratitude to our hosts at the Universidad Javerianan, Fr. Alberto Múnera, SJ, and Prof. María Isabel Gil Espinosa, who set a nourishing and welcoming stage for our conversations throughout the weekend. Generosity of spirit and intellect abounded during those days, and the Latin American network of the CTEWC will be all the richer for it!