How was life in 2007




Conference room, Sanctuary of Aparecida
Sunday May 13, 2007

Dear brothers in the episcopate, beloved priests, men and women religious and lay people,
dear observers of other religious denominations!

It is a cause of great joy to be here with you today to inaugurate the Fifth General Assembly of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean to be held near the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, patron saint of Brazil. My first words should be thanksgiving and praise to God for the great gift of the Christian faith to the peoples of this continent.

1. The Christian Faith in Latin America

Belief in God has animated the life and culture of these countries for more than five centuries. From the encounter of that faith with the indigenous peoples, the rich Christian culture of this continent arose, which found expression in art, music, literature and above all in the religious traditions and the way of life of its peoples, which was expressed through one and the same history and one and the same belief are so connected that they create a deep harmony even with the diversity of cultures and languages.

At present this belief must face serious challenges because the harmonious development of society and the Catholic identities of its peoples are at stake. In this context, the Fifth General Assembly is preparing to reflect on this situation in order to help Christian believers so that they can live their faith joyfully and consistently and can become aware that they are disciples and missionaries of Christ who came from him into the world sent to testify and testify of our faith and love.

But what significance did the acceptance of the Christian faith have for the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean? For them it meant getting to know and accepting Christ, Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors, unknowingly, sought in their rich religious traditions. Christ was the Savior they quietly longed for. It also meant having received with the water of baptism the divine life which made them the adopted children of God; also to have received the Holy Spirit who came to fertilize their cultures by cleansing them and sprouting the innumerable germs and seeds that the Incarnate Word had planted in them, directing them in the ways of the gospel. In fact, the preaching of Jesus and his Gospel has never caused any alienation from pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture. Real cultures are neither closed in on themselves nor frozen in a certain moment of history, but they are open, more still, they seek the encounter with other cultures, hope to achieve universality in the encounter and in the dialogue with other ways of life and with the elements that can lead to a new synthesis in which one respects the diversity of expressions and their concrete cultural realization.

Ultimately, only truth unites, and the proof of it is love. It is for this reason that Christ, since he is really the incarnate »Logos"," Love to the end "is not alien to any culture or any human being; on the contrary, the answer longed for in the heart of cultures is that which gives them their ultimate identity by uniting humanity while respecting the richness of diversity and opening everyone to growth in true humanization, in real progress. When the word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ, it also became history and culture.

The utopia of giving life to the pre-Columbian religions by separating from Christ and from the universal Church would not be a step forward, but a step backwards. In reality it would be a regression to a historical period anchored in the past.

Fortunately, their wisdom led the indigenous peoples to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith offered to them by the missionaries. From this was born the rich and deep popular piety in which the soul of the Latin American peoples emerges:

- The love for the suffering Christ, the God of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation; the God who so loved us that he gave himself up for us;
- Love for the Lord present in the Eucharist, the God who became flesh, died and rose to be the bread of life;
- To the God who is close to the poor and suffering;
- The deep devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe, the Aparecida, the Virgin with various national and local titles. When the Virgin of Guadalupe dedicated to St. Juan Diego, an Indian, appeared, she spoke to him the meaningful words: »Am I not here to be your mother Aren't you under my umbrella and protection? Am I not the source of your joy Are you not wrapped in my cloak, safe in my arms??« (Nican Mopohua, No. 118–119) ..

This piety is also expressed in the veneration of the saints with their patronage feasts, in the love for the Pope and the other shepherds, in the love for the universal Church as a great family of God, which can never leave its children alone or in misery. All of this forms the great mosaic of popular piety which is the precious treasure of the Catholic Church in Latin America and which it must protect, promote and, if necessary, purify.

2. Continuity with the other general assemblies

This Fifth General Assembly will be held in continuity with the other four conferences that preceded it in Rio de Janeiro, Medellin, Puebla and Santo Domingo. With the same spirit that animated these assemblies, the bishops now want to give evangelization a new impetus so that these peoples can continue to grow and mature in faith, so that through their lives they can be the light of the world and witnesses of Jesus Christ.

Much has changed in society since the IV General Assembly in Santo Domingo. The Church, who shares in the aspirations and hopes, in the sorrows and joys of her children, wants to go by her side at this time of so many challenges in order to always instill hope and consolation in them (cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution Gaudium et spes, 1).

In today's world there is the phenomenon of globalization as a world-spanning network of relationships. Although globalization may in certain respects be a gain for the great human family and a sign of their longing for unity, it undoubtedly also brings with it the risk of the large monopolies and thus the reinterpretation of profit to the highest value. As in all areas of human activity, globalization must also be guided by ethics, so that it places everything at the service of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, as in other regions, progress has been made towards democracy, although there is cause for concern about forms of government that are authoritarian or subject to ideologies that were believed to be out of date and which are not of the Christian view of man and society as taught by the social doctrine of the Church. On the other hand, the liberal economies of some Latin American countries must also take justice into account, as the social sectors which are increasingly oppressed by enormous poverty or even deprived of their natural goods continue to grow.

What is remarkable in the Latin American ecclesial communities is the maturity of faith of many committed and devoted lay people, men and women, together with the presence of many generous catechists, numerous young people, new ecclesiastical movements and recently established institutes of consecrated life. The many Catholic educational and aid organizations prove to be extremely important. It is true that there is some weakening of Christian life in society as a whole and participation in the life of the Catholic Church; the reasons for this are secularism, hedonism, indifference and proselytism of numerous sects, animistic religions and new pseudo-religious forms of expression.

All of this represents a new situation that will be analyzed here in Aparecida. In the face of the new difficult decisions, the believers look to this Fifth General Assembly for a renewal and revival of their faith in Christ, our only Teacher and Savior, who revealed to us the unique experience of the limitless love of God the Father for mankind. From this source new paths and creative pastoral projects will be able to emerge, which are able to instill a firm hope in order to live the faith responsibly and with joy and thus to let it radiate into the environment.

3. Disciples and Missionaries

The theme of this general conference is:Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him - I am the way, the truth and the life (Joh 14,6)«.

The Church has the great task of preserving and nourishing the faith of God's people and also of reminding the faithful of this continent that by virtue of their baptism they are called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. This includes following him, living in familiarity with him, imitating his example, and giving testimony. Like the apostles, every baptized person receives a missionary mandate from Christ: »Go out into the whole world and preach the gospel to all creatures! Those who believe and are baptized will be saved« (Mk 16.15f.). To be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ and to seek life "in him" presupposes that one is deeply rooted in him.

What does Christ really give us? Why do we want to be disciples of Christ? The answer is: Because we hope to find life in fellowship with him, the real life that deserves this name, and that is why we want to introduce him to others, to make known to them the gift that we have found in him. But is it really like that? Are we really convinced that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life?

In relation to the priority of faith in Christ and life "in him", as formulated in the title of this Fifth Conference, another question could arise: Could this priority not perhaps be an escape into the cult of inwardness, into religious individualism , an abandonment of the urgency of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world and an escape from reality into a spiritual world?

As a first step, we can answer this question with another question: What is this "reality"? What is the real thing? Are "reality" only material goods, social, economic and political problems? Herein lies precisely the great error of the tendencies prevailing in the last century, a destructive error, as the results of both the Marxist and the capitalist systems show. They falsify the concept of reality by separating the fundamental and therefore decisive reality that is God. Whoever excludes God from his field of vision falsifies the concept of "reality" and as a result can only end up on the wrong track and be subject to destructive recipes.

So the first basic statement is this: only those who know God know reality and can respond to it in an appropriate and genuinely human way. In view of the failure of all systems that try to exclude God, the truth of this sentence proves to be evident.

But immediately another question arises: Who knows God? How can we get to know him? We cannot enter into a comprehensive explanation of this fundamental question here. For the Christian, the gist of the answer is simple: only God knows God, only his Son, who is God of God, true God, knows him. And he, "who rests in the heart of the Father, has brought news [of him]" (Joh 1.18). Hence the only and irreplaceable meaning of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in Christ and through Christ, the whole of reality is turned into an unsearchable riddle; there is no way, and since there is no way, there is neither life nor truth.

God is the fundamental reality, not just an imaginary or hypothetical God, but the God with the human face; he is God-with-us, the God of love up to the cross. When the disciple comes to an understanding of this love of Christ "to the perfection", he cannot avoid answering this love only with a similar love: "I will follow you wherever you go" (Lk 9,57).

We can ask ourselves another question: What does belief in this God give us? The first answer to this is: He gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church. Faith frees us from the isolation of the ego because it leads us to community: the encounter with God is in itself and as such an encounter with the brothers, an act of gathering, of union, of responsibility towards the other and to the others. In this sense, the preferred option for the poor is implicit in the Christological belief in that God who became poor for us in order to make us rich through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8,9).

But before we deal with what the realism of faith in the incarnate God brings with it, we must deepen the question: How can one really get to know Christ, in order to be able to follow him and to be able to live with him, in order to live in him to find and share this life with others, society and the world? Christ reveals himself to us above all in his person, in his life and in his teaching through the word of God. A thorough knowledge of the Word of God is an indispensable prerequisite for the beginning of the new section of the path that the Missionary Church of Latin America and the Caribbean intends to embark on from this Fifth General Conference in Aparecida.

Therefore the people must be educated to read and contemplate the word of God, so that they may become their nourishment, so that the believers may see through personal experience that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. Joh 6.63). For how should they proclaim a message whose content and spirit they do not thoroughly know? We must base our missionary work and all of our lives on the rock of God's Word. I therefore encourage shepherds to strive to make the word of God known.

Catechesis is an excellent means of introducing the people of God to the mystery of Christ. In it the message of Christ is passed on in a simple and substantial way. It will therefore be necessary to intensify catechesis and the formation of the faith both for children and young people and for adults. Mature reflection on faith is light for the path of life and strength to be witnesses of Christ. You have very valuable tools for this, like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its short version, that Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In this area, one should not limit oneself to sermons, lectures, Bible courses and theology, but should also use the media: press, radio and television, websites, forums and many other systems in order to effectively convey the message of Christ to a large number of people convey.

In this endeavor to get to know the message of Christ and to make it a model for one's own life, it is important to remember that evangelization has always developed together with the advancement of man and genuine Christian liberation. "Love of God and neighbor merge: in the least we meet Jesus himself, and in Jesus we meet God himself" (encyclical Deus caritas est, 15). For the same reason, social catechesis and corresponding instruction in the social doctrine of the Church will also be necessary, for which that Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church is very useful. Christian life is expressed not only in personal, but also in social and political virtues.

The disciple, who thus stands firmly on the rock of God's Word, feels inspired to bring the good news of salvation to his brothers. Discipleship and mission are, as it were, the two sides of the same coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot cease to proclaim to the world that Christ alone saves us (cf. Acts 4.12). For the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love and no future.

4. "So that they have life in him"

The peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean have the right to a full life in more humane conditions, such as the children of God: free from the threats of hunger and all forms of violence. For these peoples, their pastors must promote a culture of life that, like my predecessor Paul VI. said, "the ascent from misery to the possession of the necessities of life ... the acquisition of education ... the cooperation for the good of all ... up to the recognition of ultimate values ​​on the part of man and the recognition of God, their source and their goal" (encyclical Populorum progressio, 21) made possible.

In this context, I would like to remind you of the encyclical Populorum progressio, whose publication 40 years ago we are commemorating this year. This papal document emphasizes that real development must be comprehensive, that is, must have in mind the advancement of the whole person and of all people (cf. ibid., No. 14), and calls on all to eliminate the grave social inequalities and the enormous disparities in access to goods. Above all, these peoples long for the fullness of life that Christ brought us: "I have come that they may have life and have it in fullness" (Joh 10.10). With this divine life, human existence also fully unfolds in its personal, family, social and cultural dimension.

In order to train the disciple and to support the missionary in his great task, the Church offers them the bread of the Eucharist in addition to the bread of the word. In this context, the Gospel passage on the Emmaus disciples inspires and enlightens us. When they sit down at the table and receive the blessed and broken bread from Jesus Christ, their eyes open, the face of the risen One is revealed to them, they feel in their hearts that everything he has said and done is true and that the world's redemption has already begun. Every Sunday and every Eucharist is a personal encounter with Christ. When we hear the divine word, our hearts burn because it is he who explains and proclaims it. When the bread is broken in the Eucharist, it is he whom we personally receive. The Eucharist is essential nourishment for the life of the disciple and missionary of Christ.

Sunday mass, the center of Christian life

From this follows the need to give priority to the promotion of Sunday mass in pastoral programs. We must motivate Christians to participate actively and, if possible, best with their families. The presence of parents with their children at the Sunday Eucharist is an effective pedagogy for the transmission of the faith and a close bond that maintains the unity between them. In the life of the Church, Sunday has always meant the privileged moment for the congregations to meet the risen Lord.

Christians must learn that they are not following a personality from past history, but the living Christ who is present in the here and now of their lives. He is the living one, who walks by our side, reveals to us the meaning of events, of pain and death, of joy and feast, enters our houses and abides in them while he feeds us with bread, gives us life . The Sunday Eucharist must therefore be the center of Christian life.

The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist triggers commitment to evangelization and gives rise to solidarity; it awakens in Christians a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear testimony of him in society in order to make it more just and more humane. Over the centuries the Eucharist has produced an immeasurable wealth in charity, participation in the difficulties of others, in love and justice. Only from the Eucharist will the civilization of love sprout, which will transform Latin America and the Caribbean so that besides the continent of hope they are also the continent of love!

The social and political problems

Having gotten to this point, we can ask ourselves: How can the Church help solve the pressing social and political problems and respond to the great challenges of poverty and misery? The problems of Latin America and the Caribbean, as of the world today in general, are diverse and complex and cannot be tackled with general programs. The fundamental question of how the Church, enlightened by faith in Christ, should respond to these challenges undoubtedly concerns us all. In this context it is inevitable to address the problem of structures, especially those that cause injustice. In fact, just structures are a prerequisite without which a just order in society is not possible. But how do they come about? How do they work Both capitalism and Marxism have promised to find the way to create just structures, claiming that once they are established they will work on their own; they maintained that not only did they not require any preceding morality of the individual, but they would promote general morality. And this ideological promise has been proven wrong. The facts made that obvious. Wherever it came to power, the Marxist system has left behind not only a sad legacy of economic and ecological destruction, but also painful spiritual destruction. And we see the same thing in the West, where the gap between rich and poor is growing steadily, and where drugs, alcohol, and deceptive illusions of happiness are causing a disturbing decomposition of personal dignity.

As I have already said, just structures are an indispensable prerequisite for a just society; but they neither arise nor do they function without a moral consensus of society about the basic values ​​and about the necessity to live these values ​​with the necessary renunciation, even against the personal interest.

Where God is absent - God with the human face of Jesus Christ - these values ​​do not show themselves with all their strength and there is also no agreement on them. I do not mean to say that non-believers cannot live a high and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a society in which God does not appear does not find the necessary agreement on moral values ​​and does not find the strength to live according to the example of these values ​​- even against one's own interests.

On the other hand, the just structures must be sought and worked out in the light of the fundamental values ​​with the full commitment of political, economic and social reason. They are a question of the "recta ratio" and have their origin neither in ideologies nor in their promises. Certainly there is a wealth of political experience and knowledge of the social and economic problems that mark basic elements of a just state and the paths that must be avoided. But in different cultural and political situations and with the progressive change in technologies and world historical reality, the appropriate answers must be sought in a sensible way and - with the indispensable obligations - an agreement about the structures to be established must be established.

This political work does not fall within the immediate competence of the Church. Respect for healthy secularism - including diversity of political attitudes - has an essential place in the authentic Christian tradition. If the church began to transform itself directly into a political subject, it would do no more for the poor and for justice, but less, because it would lose its independence and its moral authority if it were to deal with a single political path and with Discussable party positions identified. The church is an advocate of justice and the poor, precisely because it identifies neither with politicians nor with party interests. Only when it is independent can it teach the great principles and indispensable values, give guidance to consciences and offer a life option that goes beyond the political realm. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to be educated in individual and political virtues - that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And the Catholic laity must be aware of their responsibility in public life; they must be present in the necessary consensus-building and resistance to injustices.

The just structures will never be finally realized; because of the constant evolution of history, they have to be renewed and updated again and again; they must always be from a political and humane Ethos to be animated, for whose presence and efficiency one must always work. In other words: The presence of God, friendship with the incarnate Son of God, the light of his word are always basic requirements for the existence and effectiveness of justice and love in our societies.

Being a continent of the baptized, the political, communication and university arenas will fill in the considerable lack of voices and initiatives by strong personal and generous Catholic leaders - initiatives consistent with their ethical and religious beliefs have to. The ecclesiastical movements have a wide field here to remind the laity of their responsibility and their mission to bring the light of the Gospel into public, cultural, economic and political life.

5. Other priority areas

In order to complete the renewal of the Church entrusted to you in these countries, I would like to draw your attention to certain areas that I see as urgent at this new stage.

The family

The family, "human heritage", is one of the most important treasures of the Latin American countries. It was and is the school of faith, the training ground for human and civil values, the home in which human life is born and generously and responsibly accepted. Today, the family is undoubtedly suffering from adverse conditions caused by secularism and ethical relativism, the various internal and external flows of migrants, poverty, social instability and civil anti-marriage laws that promote contraceptive measures and abortion threaten the future of the peoples.

Unfortunately, some Latin American families still have a chauvinistic mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women and men.

The family is irreplaceable for the personal well-being and for the upbringing of children. Mothers who want to devote themselves entirely to raising their children and serving the family must find the necessary conditions to be able to do so and therefore have a right to be able to count on the help of the state. The role of the mother is indeed fundamental to the future of society.

For his part, the father has a duty to really be a father who exercises his indispensable responsibility and cooperation in the upbringing of the children. The children have the right to be able to count on father and mother for their overall development, who will take care of them and accompany them on their way to a fulfilled life. An intensive and strong family pastoral work is therefore necessary. It is also essential to promote certified family-political symbols that correspond to the rights of the family as an indispensable social subject. The family belongs to the good of the peoples and of all humanity.

The priests

The primary promoters of discipleship and mission are those who have been called "to be with Jesus and then to be sent out to preach" (Mk 3:14), that is, the priests. It is to them that the attention and paternal concern of their bishops must be given first, because they are the first to bring about a genuine renewal of Christian life among the people of God. I want to address a word of fatherly love to them with the wish "may the Lord give them the inheritance and hand the cup" (cf. Ps 16.5). When the priest has God as the foundation and center of his life, he will experience the joy and fruitfulness of his calling. Above all, the priest must be "a man of God" (Gen. Tim 6:11), who knows God directly, who has a deep personal friendship with Jesus, who is as minded towards others as Christ (cf. Phil 2.5). Only in this way will the priest be able to lead people to God, who became man in Jesus Christ, and to be the representative of his love. In order to fulfill his lofty task, the priest must have a solid spiritual structure and live his whole life animated by faith, hope and love. Like Jesus, he must be a person who, through prayer, seeks the face and will of God and also takes care of his cultural and intellectual formation.

Dear priests of this continent and you who have come to work here as missionaries, the Pope accompanies you in your pastoral work and wishes you to be full of joy and hope and, above all, he prays for you.

Men and women religious and consecrated lay people

I also want to address men and women religious and consecrated women and men of the laity. The Latin American and Caribbean society needs your testimony: In a world which so often seeks above all prosperity, wealth and pleasure as the goal of life and which glorifies freedom in place of the truth of man made for God, you are witnesses that there is another form of meaningful life; remind your brothers and sisters that the kingdom of God has already dawned; that justice and truth are possible when we open ourselves to the loving presence of God our Father, Christ, our brother and Lord, the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. You must continue to work with generosity and heroism, in accordance with the charisma of your founders, so that love, justice, goodness, service and solidarity may reign in society. Confess yourselves with deep joy in your consecration, which is a means of sanctification for you and of redemption for your brothers.

The Church of Latin America thanks you for the great work you have done over the centuries for the gospel of Christ for the benefit of your brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and most disadvantaged. I invite you to always work with the Bishops and to act in unity with them who are responsible for pastoral activity. I also exhort you to sincere obedience to the authority of the Church. Have no goal other than holiness as you learned from your founders.

The layman

At this hour, when the Church of this continent is fully committed to her missionary vocation, I remind the laity that they too are a Church, an assembly called together by Christ to bear his testimony to the whole world. All baptized men and women should be made aware that through the common priesthood of the people of God they are made like Christ, the priest, prophet and shepherd. They should feel jointly responsible for building up society according to the criteria of the Gospel, in which they collaborate with enthusiasm and courage in fellowship with their pastors.

Many of you believers belong to ecclesiastical movements in which we can see signs of the multifaceted presence and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in today's society. You are called to bring the testimony of Jesus Christ to the world and to be the leaven of God's love among others.

The young people and the vocational ministry

In Latin America, the majority of the population is made up of young people. In this context we must remind them that their calling is to be friends of Christ, his disciples. The youngsters are not afraid of the victim, but they are afraid of a life without meaning. They are receptive to the call of Christ who invites them to answer him. You can respond to this call as priests, men and women religious or as fathers and mothers of families who devote all their time and dedication to the service of their brothers and sisters with all their lives.Young people must face life as a constant discovery, without letting themselves be ensnared by current fads or ways of thinking, but rather by being with a deep curiosity about the meaning of life and the mystery of God the Father and Creator and His Son , our Savior, go forward within the human family. You must also seek constant renewal of the world in the light of the gospel. Even more, they have to oppose the frivolous pretensions of quick happiness and the deceptive lusts of drugs, pleasure, alcohol and all forms of violence.

6. "Stay with us!"

The work of this Fifth General Assembly prompts us to adopt the request of the Emmaus disciples: »Stay with us; for it will soon be evening, the day has already passed« (Lk 24,29).

Stay with us, Lord, come with us, although we have not always been able to recognize you. Stay with us because the shadows are thickening around us and you are the light; Discouragement creeps into our hearts and you make them burn with the certainty of Easter. We are tired of the way, but by breaking the bread you encourage us to announce to our brothers that you have really risen and that you have entrusted us with the mission of witnessing your resurrection.

Remain with us, Lord, when the mists of doubt, weariness or difficulties arise around our Catholic faith: You, who, as the revelator of the Father's truth, enlighten our spirit through your word; help us feel the beauty of believing in you.

Remain in our families, enlighten them in their doubts, help them in their troubles, comfort them in their sufferings and in the daily troubles when shadows gather around them that threaten their unity and their natural identity. You, who are life, stay in our houses and apartments so that they continue to be places where human life is born selflessly, where life is received, loved and respected from conception to its natural end.

Remain, Lord, with those who are most vulnerable in our societies; stay with the poor and the lowly, with the indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their culture and the wisdom of their identity. Remain, Lord, with our children and young people, who are the hope and wealth of our continent, protect them from the great threats that threaten their innocence and their legitimate hopes. O good shepherd, abide with our old people and with our sick. Strengthen everyone in the faith that they may be your disciples and missionaries!


At the end of my stay with you, I would like to invoke the protection of the Mother of God and Mother of the Church on you personally and on all of Latin America and the Caribbean. In a special way I ask Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of America, and of Aparecida, patron saint of Brazil, to accompany you in your fascinating and demanding pastoral work. I entrust the people of God to her at this stage of the third Christian millennium. I also ask you to lead the work and deliberations of this General Conference and to bless the dear peoples of this continent with rich gifts.


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