The Fifth General Conference of Latin American bishops, inaugurated May 13 by Pope Benedict XVI at the Brazilian Marian shrine of Aparecida, ended today with the reading of a final message, the approval of a lengthy document, and the announcement of a “Continental Mission.”
After 18 days of meetings, discussions and voting sessions, the Latin American bishops approved a final document that will be presented to Pope Benedict XVI on July 11. The vote of approval was 127 votes in favor and 2 against.
Documents from previous Latin American Conferences did not receive formal Vatican approval, but only “authorization for its publication,” thus making clear that they do not constitute official Magisterial teaching.
Nevertheless, the more than 200 page book is aimed at providing a guide for pastoral options to the Latin American Bishops.
“Faced with the challenges posed to us by this new era, we renew our faith, proclaiming with joy to all men and women of our continent: we are loved and redeemed by Jesus,” says the four page “Message to the People” released today and read by the Bolivian Archbishop Edmundo Abastoflor at a final press conference.
“The call to be disciples and missionaries demands of us a clear choice for Jesus and his Gospel, a coherence between our faith and our life... and even to be a sign of contradiction in a world that promotes consumerism, which distorts the real value of human beings,” the final message also says.
The message ends by affirming that, “We hope to be a lively Church, faithful and credible, nurtured by the Word of God and the Eucharist.” The bishops also commit themselves and the Church to, “promote missionary action,” “form lively communities,” “promote a mature laity,” “promote the active participation of women in society and the Church,” “keep our preferential and Gospel-inspired option for the poor,” “strengthen our family and life ministry,” “value and respect our indigenous and Africa-American people,” “promote interreligious dialogue,” turn “our continent into a model of reconciliation, justice and peace,” and “take care of creation, the house of all.”
The final document will be made public sometime in September after the Vatican has reviewed it. The document is divided into three main parts: the first section analyzes the social, political, economic cultural and pastoral reality of the region, the second section proposes an analysis of the “theology of discipleship,” and the third presents a wide range of pastoral suggestions.
According to Bishop Norberto Strotmann from Chosica (Perú) “the risk of the document is that, by trying to include too many options, we end up making no real options at all.”
“It obviously has the virtues and the limitations of a consensus text,” Bishop Strotmann also explained.
The Fifth General Conference of Latin American Bishops also concluded with the call to a “Continental Mission,” a region-wide pastoral initiative described by the final message as “a new Pentecost that will send us in search of the lapsed Catholics and for those who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ.”
The concrete aspects of this mission, which “has to reach to all, be permanent and deep,” were not discussed at Aparecida.
Details will be worked out in July by the presidents and delegates of all the Latin American Bishops’ conferences in Havana, Cuba.
At the same meeting, a new president for the Latin American Bishops’ Council (CELAM,) will be elected.