.- The Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be held in Aparecida, Brazil from May 13 to 31st, and which will be inaugurated by Pope Benedict XVI, was officially discussed today in the Press Office of the Holy See.
Fr. David Gutierrez, director of the press office of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), affirmed that the conference - which will have as its theme "Disciples and missionaries in Jesus Christ, that in Him our peoples may have life ('I am the way and the truth and the life')" - will be inaugurated by Benedict XVI on May 13. The Pope will preside at a Mass, concelebrated with representatives of all Latin American bishops, and will pronounce an address during the opening session.
Fr. Gutierrez explained that a group of experts is currently selecting the themes from proposals being put forward by the various episcopal conferences. They will prepare a summary and, at the end of February, publish a preparatory document for the conference.
The presidents of the 22 episcopal conferences of CELAM will attend the Aparecida meeting, as will groups representing the prelates in each episcopal conference, for a total of 176, also including bishops from Canada, U.S.A., Spain and Portugal. Also present will be 24 priests, 23 male and female religious, and 17 lay people, as well as six ecumenical representatives.
The novelty of this conference with respect to the previous four held in 1955, 1968 1979 and 1992, said Fr. Gutierrez, is that on the closing day, when the final document is published, a "great continental mission" will begin.
Fr. Gutierrez also explained that the original intention had been to hold the meeting in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, but the idea was abandoned because the city lies at an altitude of nearly 5,000 meters and there were fears this might affect the health of the delegates, particularly the more elderly. Benedict XVI had then asked for the meeting to be celebrated at a Marian shrine, and Aparecida was chosen, a site that can hold 35,000 faithful and is visited annually by eight million pilgrims.