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The prophetic way for thinking Catholics, thinking religious

By Edmond Nixon, C.Ss.R.

“Tensions and differences should be expected among thinking Catholics” says Redemptorist bishop Kevin Dowling. In a recent piece published in the January 11, 2010, issue of the National Catholic Reporter. Bishop Dowling of the diocese of Rustenburg, South Africa, explores the place of prophetic leadership in the Church.

Prophetic leadership is a call to all the baptised.  However, it is to religious orders and congregations that the call is particularly addressed. It is their role to provide clear and specific instances of prophetic leadership around events and issues affecting the people among whom they live.

In examining the role of prophetic leadership Bishop Dowling considers then and now – ‘then’ being the way Jesus related with people during his earthly life and ‘now’ being the way the followers of Jesus might relate with people today. He sets the Jesus paradigm as the Christian way of prophetic leadership.

I need to live with the tension of not having  answers, but only questions
- Bishop Kevin Dowling, C.Ss.R.


Redemptorist bishop Kevin DowlingA bishop for 23 years, Kevin Dowling has spent 20 of those years as Bishop of Rustenburg. During that time his mission has been guided by the prophetic call to which he responded as a Redemptorist missionary on the day of his religious profession, February 11, 1962.

It comes as no surprise then that Bishop Dowling’s recent remarks on prophetic leadership spring from specific events in the evolution of religious life in today’s Western culture. In particular they are in response to five articles written by Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister, Sandra Schneiders. Her five articles are part of an essay entitled “Religious Life as Prophetic Life Form” published in the National Catholic Reporter, January 4-8, 2010.

Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, is a well known lecturer and author. She is emeritus professor of New Testament and Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology, the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, United States.

Sister Schneider’s articles were written on the occasion of the “Apostolic Visitation” to orders and congregation of Religious women in the United States which is presently being conducted by the Holy See. The “Visitation”, under the leadership of Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart, is an initiative of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life led by Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rode, CM.

The “Visitation” has occasioned a wide range of reactions and responses. It is into this broad, free-flowing and occasionally vitriolic conversation about the future of religious life that Bishop Kevin Dowling speaks.  With the cooperation of the National Catholic Reporter we bring you Bishop Dowling’s response.

As a religious, who happens to be called to ministry and service as a bishop in the church and world, I have reflected with attention on the five articles of Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister Sandra Schneiders, my sister in religious life. I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for her courageous, faith-filled and insightful analysis and reflection upon crucial issues which are at the heart of the prophetic call and mission of religious in the church and world of today.

We walk on sacred ground when we are with the poorest and most vulnerable in society
- Bishop Kevin Dowling, C.Ss.R.

In the above article Bishop Dowling speaks out of his own prophetic life.  If you would like to listen to the bishop speaking of some of the work in his Rustenburg diocese, click on the video below.