How it all began: The DOCAT and its Lent reflections

Stefanie BrossNews

Interview with Dr. Marco Bonacker


Lent is almost over. Easter is coming!  Perhaps you have already discovered through our social networks the DOCAT reflections and you use them to prepare for Easter. Today I would like to share with you the idea behind the project in a short interview with Dr. Marco Bonacker. He is not only very much involved in the daily reflections, but is also co-author of DOCAT.

How did you learn about the DOCAT project and what was your first thought when you first heard about it?

Marco Bonacker: The DOCAT is almost an extension of the YOUCAT. I already knew the book from World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid. The YOUCAT was exactly what we needed at the time: The foundations of faith must be communicated clearly as well as authentically. Then some young Americans asked how we could put into practice the faith that YOUCAT teaches us. At that time I was then scientific advisor at the Central Office of Catholic Social Sciences in Monchengladbach, the Central Institute of the German Bishops’ Conference for Social and Ethical Affairs. Bernhard Meuser contacted Prof. Peter Schallenberg, the Director and also us as an institute and asked if we would like to contribute to the content and development of the DOCAT.

Dr. theol. Marco Bonacker, Coautor of DOCAT

Why are issues of ethics and social doctrine so important to you? 

Marco Bonacker: I decided to study theology due to my faith. It was particularly the moral theology and social doctrine of the Church that interested me. This is because these are simply the two issues that are most widely discussed, they are the most open to dialogue and the most relevant in society. The social doctrine of the Church, which is now more than 125 years old and has been in constant development ever since, is a complex subject. But it contains principles that are universal and promote a just society. A great challenge in writing DOCAT was to make it attractive to young people. That’s why I was immediately enthusiastic about the project. The fact that the Pope has written the foreword and that DOCAT has already been translated into more than 20 languages clearly demonstrates the great relevance of the Book.

You are the one who initiated the reflections for Lent. Why is it worth discussing parts of DOCAT during Lent and digging deeper into the subject?

Marco Bonacker: The question is how to translate an topic into small, achievable steps. Lent is a time of reflection. In it it is important to reflect on ourselves, on our environment, on our duties and on our weaknesses and mistakes. DOCAT clarifies which aspects we should take into account when dealing with different social issues, both in our daily lives and in society as a whole. It is valuable to have a sentence or two to hold on to and reflect on throughout the day. So the idea came up to take up the basic ideas of DOCAT during Lent and make them available again in an attractive way and in digital format. With the Lenten reflections, we wanted to arouse interest, especially among the young people who were not yet familiar with DOCAT.

If you say in your circle of friends that you want to change something, you are quickly labeled as naive, because this is considered impossible. Do you think it’s naive to want to change anything?

Marco Bonacker: Obviously, major changes, especially at the global level, are complicated. But everything in life begins with small steps. It would therefore be fatal not to look for a way to improve conditions. In seeing what has been achieved through the social teaching of the Church, it must be said: Yes, change and development are possible. The question of justice, that is, the fundamental question of social teaching, also concerns people who have nothing to do with faith. DOCAT offers the opportunity to get in touch with and share with them. It is a completely different approach to faith and progress in the world – even for people who are not interested in YOUCAT.

There is currently a trend towards an ecological and healthy life. But what is the added value if you do this on the basis of faith?

Marco Bonacker: We can learn a lot from the trends of the environmental movement, because they reflect the hunger for justice, peace and a life in harmony with nature. On the other hand, as Christians we have a certain image of man and creation, we can rethink the approaches of these movements, clarify and correctly evaluate certain blind spots. For example, we think that, despite the importance of animal welfare and the environment, etc., we must also emphasize that, in the end, man is always the only one who acts responsibly. He alone has rights and duties in the true sense. In fact, there is nothing else in the world, and no one else. The theological thought behind it is: In the end it depends above all on man, because he alone is an ethical being. He’s the one responsible. So this is both a burden and an honor.

You have already prepared and ran several workshops with young people. How was the response? What were the issues that most interested young people?

Conference on the Book and Social Teaching of the Church for young adults at Bonifatiushaus, Fulda- Germany

Marco Bonacker: That surprised me very much. We chose some questions that we felt were of particular interest to young people. One of them was to preserve creation: the environment. The numerous conflicts on earth also raised the question of what the Church can do to keep the peace: The question of peace is also strongly emphasized in DOCAT. Bioethics was also discussed. What really surprised me, however, was that the principles of the social doctrine (common good, solidarity, personhood, subsidiarity) were of particular interest. So not only the very concrete and contemporary issues, but also the basic theory behind the Catholic Social Teaching.

What would you recommend to people who want to work with DOCAT but don’t know where to start?

Marco Bonacker: First of all, you have to ask yourself what the basic statements of faith are. That is why I find the structure of DOCAT very helpful. First of all, he brings forward a topic that one would hardly expect at first, namely God’s master plan: love. All thinking, all principles mentioned above, all statements of Jesus Christ in the Gospel proceed from it. In this way, the foreignness and distance that one may have to these social or global issues is dissolved. This barrier is overcome and we therefore recognise that we have a social task in the world. The main Christian task could be summarized as follows: Make God’s love felt in the world! DOCAT provides valuable guidance in transforming this task into concrete action.