This dissertation examines the model of Church promoted in Liberation Theology with a view to anticipating the possibilities this unique ecclesial vision presents to the Catholic Church in Ireland. This branch of theology has its origins in the efforts of communities of the poor across Latin America to break free from the stranglehold of poverty and create a more equitable social order that reflects their needs and aspirations. Liberation Theology interprets the oppressive societal conditions that the poor have to endure in light of the liberating power of the Gospel message and provides the stimulus for those once consigned to the margins of society to become a collective force for change in the world. This thesis provides a probing analysis of the core theological convictions that underscore the activities of the ‘Communidades Ecclesiales de Base’ and reflects on the potential of this paradigm of Church to reverberate beyond the time and place of its genesis and generate a new momentum into the mission of the Church throughout the world. The aim of this dissertation is two-fold; to provide greater theological legitimacy to each defining feature of a Base Christian Community and to ascertain a deeper insight into how this dynamic of Church can be adapted to an Irish context. This dissertation is structured in accordance with the stated aims and the focus moves from determining the theological basis to this model of Christian community to examining how this ecclesiological vision can give renewed meaning and purpose to the activity of the Church in Ireland today. The Literature Review is integral to the process of establishing a theological framework against which the activities of a Base Christian Community can be more clearly understood. The research then widens the lens of theological inquiry to encompass the views of Western progressivist theologians and Irish social justice activists on the themes explored in the literature review. Theological inquiry throughout this dissertation develops in correspondence with rather than in isolation from the distinctive dynamics of these communities. The inquiry identifies the recurring patterns that exist between these diverse theological perspectives and illustrates how they combine to further consolidate the identity of a Base Christian Community. The research then explores how this paradigm of Church can be integrated into an Irish context. To achieve this, the researcher follows 3 distinct methodological routes; case studies with Irish social justice activists who call for a radical new departure for the iv Catholic Church in Ireland at this time, ethnographic research among members of Base Christian Communities here who have experienced first-hand the appeal of this emerging ecclesial dynamic and Action Research with a team of participants in Waterford who reflect on the process of initiating a Base Christian Community in the city. The goal of this phase of the inquiry is to give further clarity to the distinctive dynamics of a Base Christian Community and to devise specific strategies to advance the promotion of this model of Church in Ireland today. This research is built on the premise that reflection on action can provide the gateway to knowledge, and, as such, arrives at its conclusions in consultation with people who have direct experience of these grassroots Christian communities in Ireland. The researcher, in his role as reflective practitioner, adapts the findings that emerge through this stage of the inquiry to the activities of a Base Christian Community that he is actively involved in. This dialogue between theology and the lived expression of core theological principles grounds the inquiry in the practical considerations that are integral to the growth and development of these communities in Ireland. The concluding chapter of this thesis provides a synthesis of the theological understanding that gives credence to the activities of Base Christian Communities around the world and reflects on the implications of this ecclesiological vision for the Catholic Church in Ireland today. The research indicates how the Base Christian Community provides a template for a new way of being Church in the world, one that is animated by the creative energies of the people as they discover meaningful ways of bringing the Gospel to life in their communities. The conclusions call for a new climate of dialogue and consultation between the hierarchy and the people so that those on the fringes of the traditional ecclesial paradigm become integral to the process of renewal in the Church here. The research emphasises how Christian communities synonymous with the promotion of social justice discover in their solidarity with those on the margins those very qualities needed to sustain them through each phase of their evolution. In summary, the research offers a probing appraisal of the need for a more inclusive and more compassionate model of Church and points towards the role those once sidelined in the Church can play in making this happen.
|Publication status||Submitted - 2013|
- Liberation theology