Church should be like ‘humble rabbits’

March 6, 2024 in News

‘New Models of Solidarity and Collaboration’ was the title of a talk given by Fr Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orabator, to Jesuits and colleagues who gathered in the Arrupe Room, Milltown Park, Dublin on Monday 4 March 2024 at 7pm. His friend and fellow Jesuit John Guiney SJ, Director of Irish Jesuits International, warmly welcomed him to Ireland to give this talk and the Trocaire lecture the following evening.

Fr Orobator is the dean of the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University. He is widely known for his scholarship and talks on the study of the Church, and for his specific focus on ethics, human rights, and human dignity.

Fr Orabator is a former Provincial Superior of the Jesuits of the Eastern Africa Province. Today he serves on the board of directors of Theological Studies and on the board of directors of Georgetown University, Washington, USA. He is also a well-known public speaker. He was invited to speak in Dublin by Irish Jesuits International. Their communications officer Joe Munnelly attended the talk. You can read his report here. You can also listen to Fr Orobator’s talk, followed by a probing question and answer, below the report. The text of the talk can be accessed here ».

How We Can Build a Future of Hope

On a wet and blustery ‘spring’ evening, Father Orobator gave an intimate talk that left listeners with food for thought, reflecting on the role everyone has as people of God in shaping how we can build a future founded on solidarity, peace, and action mirroring the good Samaritan.

Renowned for his perceptive thoughts on the future of the Jesuits, of international development and solidarity, his evening talk was testament to his insightful reflection on the Church and where it should be heading in the future.

At the core of his talk, Orobator spoke of collaboration, real collaboration, which wasn’t about ‘taking space’ but active listening where everyone is of value, not as elitist teachers but learners. As he explained, ‘collaboration, solidarity and synodality’ are not easy virtues but we can make an effort to embrace the mentality that understands that we don’t have all the answers and that through reflection and collaboration, we can learn and discern from each other.

With a beautiful metaphor, Orobator talked about the chief totems of Western Africa. The Manja tribe, he explained, did not have totems of fierce lions or warriors with spears, instead, the humble rabbit is the chief totem chosen for its big ears – big ears that can listen to the thoughts and perspectives of all community members.

Orobator calls for the Church to be humble rabbits and to realise a new vision of synodality that is more than simply hearing but “is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. The faithful people, the college of bishops, the Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth”.

Listening and collaboration is of course not going to be easy, but Orobator spoke of these necessary tensions, these difficult conversations, and the need to grapple with issues and address them. On this note, he spoke potently of the role of women reflecting on the day-to-day reality of the role and actions of women within the church despite non-recognition. To deny or ignore these voices or perspectives would be unwise, he said.

Quoting Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich SJ, Orobator spoke of welcoming tensions, these ‘processes’ which make us learners, reflectors, and listeners, saying: “We are not afraid of tensions. Tensions are part of the process, as long as we consider ourselves to be brothers and sisters, walking together”.

The takeaway message from the talk, for me, stems from Fratelli tutti, which Orobator champions seeing solidarity and collaboration as processes where: “Goodness, together with love, justice, and solidarity, are not achieved once and for all; they have to be realized each day” (Fratelli tutti, 11).

Solidarity, then is a constant process of listening, reflection, and learning. Our mission lies in shaping a peaceful, inclusive, and ‘new humanity’ that should take form not just by doing good as a passerby, like the good Samaritan, but by deliberately being on the path, working with others, to make that positive difference.

Joe Munnelly