Pilgrims rest next to an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 11, 2018, the day before her feast day at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City. Catholics across Latin America and the Caribbean – and some in the United States – discussed the issues as part of a “listening” process leading to a regional church assembly to be held November 21-28 in Mexico. (CNS / Reuters / Carlos Jasso)
Lima, Peru – Tens of thousands of Catholics across Latin America and the Caribbean – and some in the United States – have discussed issues ranging from missionary discipleship to integral ecology as part of a âlisteningâ process leading to a regional church assembly to be held from November 21 to 28 in Mexico City.
Unlike general conferences of bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean, such as the meetings held decades ago in Puebla, Mexico, and MedellÃn, Colombia, the event will not be a meeting of bishops, but an ecclesial assembly with a wider participation, said Archbishop Jorge Lozano of San Juan de Cuyo, Argentina, secretary general of the Council of Bishops of Latin America, or CELAM.
A painting by Rick Ortega in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Saint Juan Diego is pictured on November 20, 2019, at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS / Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles)
The objective of the assembly, whose theme is “We Are All Missionary Disciples on the Walk,” is to set the priorities for the church in Latin America and the Caribbean for the next 10 to 12 years, until 500th anniversary in 2031. of Mary’s apparition to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin in Guadalupe, and of the 2000th anniversary in 2033 of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, Lozano told NCR.
In a video message Broadcast at a virtual event in January that kicked off the assembly process, Pope Francis said: “This is the first time that an ecclesial assembly has taken place. It is not a bishops’ conference of Latin America, like the previous ones, the last one in Aparecida, from which we still have a lot to learn. all the people of God walking together. They pray, they speak, they think, they discuss, they seek the will of God. “
Calling this “a time which opens up new horizons of hope”, Francis declared that the assembly should not be “an elite separated from the faithful and holy people of God”, but should be led “with the people”.
The process leading up to the assembly is seen as a model for the local, regional and global consultations that the Vatican launch in October in preparation for the World Synod of Bishops scheduled for October 2023.
It is also a reflection of the synodality, or journey together, that Francis emphasized throughout his papacy, in particular with the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region in 2019, said Fr. Peter Hughes, a Colombian priest. Irishman who lives in Lima, Peru, and works with the Pan-Amazon Church Network, or REPAM, and was an expert at the Amazon Synod.
“We are now living in a synodal era in the Catholic Church, a church that walks together and tries to interpret the world, human existence, life, from the point of view of the saving Word of God.”
-Pr. Peter Hugues
“We are now living in a synodal era in the Catholic Church, a church that walks together and tries to interpret the world, human existence, life, from the point of view of the saving Word of God, with the Spirit present. [in the world] being the lifeblood, the engine of the Christian community, âHughes told NCR.
About 1,000 people are expected to virtually participate in the assembly, Lozano said, including 200 bishops, 200 priests and deacons, 200 religious and 400 lay people from various groups and ministries. These participants will hold virtual meetings, breaking down into smaller sessions, sometimes by vocation and sometimes in mixed groups.
A group of about 50 participants, distributed in the same proportions, with 40% lay people, will meet in person in Mexico City, where they will also connect with the virtual groups.
A delegation of 70 Hispanic Americans – made up of 10 bishops, 10 priests and deacons, 10 religious, 30 lay people and 10 Hispanics “from the periphery” – will also participate, said Alejandro Aguilera-Titus, deputy director of Hispanic affairs for the United States. conference of bishops. Most will attend the virtual sessions, but Bishop Oscar CantÃº of San Jose, Calif., Will attend the meeting in Mexico City with Aguilera-Titus and possibly a third delegate.
Participation in the assembly is part of an ongoing cross-border collaboration, especially on issues related to immigration, arising from a sense of “mutual accountability and working together … to identify better ways to interact and to collaborate in the service of the people of God, Spanish speaking people, across the continent, âsaid Aguilera-Titus.
The members of the delegation are being selected. Choosing the âperipheryâ group – which may include people with disabilities, agricultural workers and indigenous immigrants – is more difficult, he added, as marginalized people are generally less able to take a week off. to attend a meeting.
Hispanic Catholics in the United States also participated in the last month of the five-month consultation, called “escucha“or” listening “process in Spanish, April through August, to discuss issues they consider important to the church in the area.
In areas of Latin America where pandemic conditions allowed, people gathered in small local groups, Lozano said. Other sessions took place virtually, either by geographic area or by theme. Individuals could also submit ideas via a virtual platform. The number of US participants who used the virtual platform is not known.
The process was inspired by dozens of gatherings organized in the Amazon region of South America in preparation for the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region. The results of the consultation will be compiled by October into a working document for the assembly.
Bishop Jorge Lozano de San Juan de Cuyo, Argentina, Secretary General of the Council of Bishops of Latin America (Courtesy of CELAM / Paola CalderÃ³n)
Despite the short duration of the process – the deadline was extended by one month, until the end of August – and access to the internet limited in parts of the region, around 50,000 people participated in the process, including âPeople who never thought they would be heard,â as well as representatives of other faiths, Lozano said.
A 40-page discussion guide prepared for the listening process includes brief descriptions of the challenges facing the church in the region, including the COVID-19 pandemic, violence, the cry of the earth, a business model inhuman, the situation of indigenous communities and those of African descent, migration, sexual abuse in the church and clericalism.
The guide’s section is followed by reflections on missionary discipleship and areas of action for conversion, including integral ecology, a sustainable economy, commitment to a culture of peace, new technologies with their risks and consequences. benefits, and ecclesial renewal.
This year’s church assembly is part of a continuum stretching back more than half a century to Vatican Council II – or even earlier, to the founding of the Latin American Council of Bishops in Rio de Janeiro in 1955, and through the general conferences of bishops of the region held in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968; Puebla, Mexico, in 1979; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1992; and Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007.
Pope Francis and Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno join a procession before the first session of the Synod for the Amazon on October 7, 2019 (CNS Photo / Vatican Media)
These meetings reinforced the preferential option of the Latin American Church for the poor and âthe idea of ââthe Church as the Vatican II Church, people of God, pilgrim of history, light of humanity, walking in not historical events, trying to interpret and be at the service of the Word of God made flesh, made history, made culture, âsaid Hughes.
More than a decade has passed since Aparecida, the meeting in which Pope Francis, then Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, played a key role as coordinator of the commission that drafted the final document.
Medical Mission Sr. Birgit Weiler attends a press conference on October 11, 2019, after a session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican. (CNS / Paul Haring)
But when Latin American prelates approached Francis to organize another general conference of bishops in the region, the pope said no because questions were still pending from Aparecida, said medical mission Sr. Birgit Weiler, a theologian. German living in Peru who was also an expert at the Amazon synod.
These questions include the role of women in the church, making the church less clerical, and understanding what missionary discipleship means in today’s world, she said. The idea of ââan ecclesial assembly was adopted “because it is something absolutely new” and a step towards forming a more synodal church, Weiler added.
For Hughes, the Amazon Synod, the Church Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Synod of Bishops of 2023 are part of a âseamless garmentâ in which a key common element is the process of consultation or listening.
âThe people of God are present and are allowed to speak,â he said. “It is an opening of the new, proper and real way of being the church, as the people of God in permanent synod mode. We are in a synod period – this is a new way of being a Christian.”
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