By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Less than a century ago who could have possibly predicted the tremendous changes that have since taken place in the Catholic Church? There are vernacular Masses, greater emphasis on ecumenism and interfaith relations, re-establishment of the permanent diaconate and a greater role for the laity, just to name a few.

While most Catholics would applaud all of the above, not everything was positive. Some of the challenging trends will be part of a Dec. 5 forum at St. Joseph’s University presented by Georgetown University-based Woodstock Theological Center titled “The Future of the Church: a Woodstock Forum on Sources of Hope.” {{more}}

“It’s a great opportunity for us to look at the future of the Catholic Church and evangelization,” said Jesuit Father Daniel Joyce, director of mission identity at St. Joseph’s. “The Holy Father is asking for creativity in evangelization, the sharing of the Gospel with the people, especially in North America and Europe. Hopefully our conversation will address this.”

The presenters will be Senior Woodstock Fellows Father Ray Kemp, S.J.; theologian Dolores Leckey; and Father Thomas Reese, S.J. Moderator for the program will be St. Joseph Sister Carol Jean Vale, president of Chestnut Hill College.

Father Kemp is a former secretary for Parish Life and Worship for the Archdiocese of Washington and former pastor of two inner-city parishes. He serves on the boards of several social outreach agencies and is an adjunct faculty member of Georgetown University.

Lecky is a former executive director of the of the Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops whose most recent books include “Just War, Lasting Peace,” “Grieving with Grace” and “Monika K. Hellwig: the People’s Theologian.”

Father Reese has written extensively about the Church, in America and worldwide. Among his books are “Archbishops: Inside the Power Structure of the American Catholic Church,” “A Flock of Shepherds: the National Conference of Catholic Bishops” and “Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church.”

The Woodstock Theological Center takes its name from Woodstock College, the Jesuit’s former seminary in Woodstock, Md. After the college closed in 1973, Georgetown University agreed to host its valuable library and the research center, which was formed at the same time.

Jesuit Father Gasper Lo Biondo, director of the center, explained of the forum, “We generally have two or three a year and publish summary results. We frame questions in advance and the panelists present in response.”

Most have been done at Georgetown and a few in New York, and there is a series in Baltimore.

“This is a first for Philadelphia,” he said. “The mission is to promote theological, ethical and moral reflection on the human problems of the day. Among them are, How will we minister? With whom? What will ensure vitality? How might political, population and cultural differences affect us? Are there challenges that may prove life-threatening? What opportunities for the Gospel are present?”

The forum isn’t a think tank in the sense that it isn’t political, Father Lo Biondo noted.

“We try to bring Catholic Church tradition to bear on current issues,” he said. “The questions are designed to get people to reflect for themselves.”

The Dec. 5 “Future of the Church” forum will be presented free in St. Joseph’s Wolfington Teletorium in Mandeville Hall from 2-4 p.m. and is expected to draw hundreds of scholars and other Catholics interested in the future Church. For more information call the Office of Mission Identity at St. Joseph’s University at 610-660-3290.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.