18 July 2019, The Tablet

View from Rome

View from Rome

Direct your focus away from the declining congregations in Europe for a moment, and you’ll see a Catholic Church that is undergoing dramatic growth in Africa and Asia. Sunday Masses are overflowing, vocations booming.

Numbers only tell part of the story, and, as Jesus warns in the parable of the sower, the seed which springs up without roots withers away in the hot sun. But in parts of Asia, the seed of the Gospel seems to have fallen on good soil, and it’s this continent that is yielding many of the emerging leaders of the Church. On 13 July, the Order of Preachers elected Fr Gerard Timoner, 51, a friar from the Philippines, as their new Master. He will be the first Asian leader of the Dominicans in the order’s 803-year history.

The election took place in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. Among those who took part was former Master of the Order, Fr Timothy Radcliffe. He told me that in Vietnam alone, there are 400 friars, 2,500 Dominican sisters and 117,000 lay members. Fr Gerard, he explained, is a “joyful preacher and a qualified theologian” who was chosen by Pope Francis to sit on the International Theological Commission, a high-powered advisory body to the papacy. Up until now, he has been working in Rome as a socius, or assistant on Asia Pacific. Of Fr Timoner’s election, Fr Radcliffe said: “It is significant that he is Asian, though that is not why we elected him.”

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