Soon it will be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Catacomb Pact, in which 40 Bishops and Council Fathers of the Second Vatican Councils committed themselves to a Church of the Poor. An occasion which has been all but forgotten for some time, but whose groundbreaking character manifests itself again in view of the disputes recently initiated in the Catholic Church by Pope Frances. Following the motto „Remembering and renewing the Pact of the Catacombs“ it is the aim of a congregation of more than two-hundred Christians to bring this pact to the attention of the public once more and at the same time highlight the importance of a Church standing alongside the poor and excluded.
On 16 November 1965 – three weeks before the end of the Second Vatican Council – 40 Bishops from all over the world met at the Domitilla Catacomb on the outskirts of Rome. In 13 commitments they promised to lead a simple life, to renounce the insignia of power and enter into a pact with the poor. What those bishops did later became known as the Option for the Poor: „Because there are poor people we have to make a new decision. The poor are the living proof that there is something wrong with society. Because of the poor we have to take an option. From this point of view the Church has to fight against injustice,“ explains Norbert Arnzt (Münster/Germany), who has researched the Catacomb Pact and the history of its effects on the development of Liberation Theology. For the Bishops of the Catacomb Pact it was all about a certain image of the church which reappears when Pope Francis writes, „With its words and gestures the 'awakening' Church places itself inside the daily life of others, shortens distances, lowers itself if necessary to the point of humiliation and embraces human life by touching the suffering body of Christ within the people.“ (Evangelii Gaudium 24)
Building on this image of the Church the congregation Remembrance and renewal of the Catacomb Pact organised by the Institute of Theology and Politics (Münster/Germany) in cooperation with project group Pro Konzil will take place from 11 to 17 November at Casa La Salle in Rome. 250 people from all over the world, from different initiatives, orders, universities, and movements will come together to engage with the processes leading to the creation of the Pact and those which have derived from it.
The contributors to the gathering, which include - among others - Bishop Luigi Bettazzi (Italy), one of the last initial signees of the Pact still alive, Bishop Erwin Kräutler (Brasil), the theologian Jon Sobrino SJ (El Salvador), and the Muslim liberation theologian Kacem Gharbi (Tunisia), advocate changes in society and Church to secure a life in dignity for everybody. Together we are going to update the concerns of the Catacomb Pact for the current situation.
A day of study of the Justice and Peace Commissions (14 November) and the convention of the Church reform movement Council 50 (20 to 22 November) are among further initiatives in Rome remembering and drawing on the prophetic tradition of the Catacomb Pact. The universal highlight of the Pact's commemoration will be a Church service at the historic location of its signing in the Domitilla Catacomb on 16 November. Together the initiatitives wish to take a stand in support of a Church which - just like Francis in many of his statements - has a critical view of social conditions and opposes structures that make life impossible.
For information regarding the programme see: www.pro-konzil.de
There will be two press conferences, during which contributors to the convention will be available for interviews:
Monday, 9 November, 11:30
UISG, Piazza di Ponte Sant'Angelo, 28 00186 Roma
Monday, 16 November, 12:30
Domitilla-Catacombe, Via delle Sette Chiese, 280/282 00147 Roma
Please send a short reply if you wish to attend.
Cordula Ackermann (German, English, Spanish)
Benedikt Kern (German, French, English)
Press telephone on site: +49 157 809 452 39 and +39 366 2784490
Press release on the convention Remembering and renewing the Catacomb Pact! by Radio Vatican: