The term "synod of bishops" seems to have become a household name among certain Catholics. Most have, at least heard of one of these: The Synod on the Word of God, the Synod on the Middle East, or the recent Synod on the New Evangelisation. But 15 years ago, many of you probably did not know that there was a synod on the Americas. the post-synodal document that resulted, was the January 22, 1999, Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America
, which has become a road map for the Church in that continent.
This week, from December 9-12, 2012, 250 representatives, including priests, religious and lay people; representatives from Catholic organizations, educational institutions, movements and new ecclesial communities, ten bishops and five cardinals from North, Central and South America, gathered in Vatican City to take the pulse of the Church in the American Continent.
If those dates sound familiar, it's because those are the dates of the Guadalupe apparitions. The Virgin Mary appeared to St. Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill in Mexico from December 9-12 in 1531; and so, this International Congress, also titled Ecclesia in America, is under the guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of the Americas and Star of the New Evangelization.
The Congress, which is one of the first major events of the Year of Faith
, was co-sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Latin America
(PCAL), the Knights of Columbus
and the Institute for Guadalupan studies
in Mexico, and chaired by His Eminence, Cardinal Marc Ouellet
, President of the PCAL.
We have to remember that half of the world's Catholics live in the American Continent and that this percentage will likely increase in the coming years. One of the objectives of the congress is to encourage communion and collaboration between the Churches of Canada, the U.S. and Latin America. Blessed Pope John Paul commented a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall that the walls of the Latin American continent must also fall, they must think about a unity in the midst of their diversity. But there is little dialogue between the bishops of North America and the ones in Latin America.
Among the bishops who were present were Cardinal Thomas Collins
, Archbishop of Toronto; Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiquez
, Archbishop Emeritus of Guadalajara, México; Cardinal Jesús López Rodríguez
, of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Madariaga
, of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Keynote speakers were Mons. Eduardo Chávez
, postulator for the Cause for Canonization for St. Juan Diego, and Co-founder of the Institute for Guadalupan Studies; Mr. Carl Anderson
, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus; Prof. Guzmán Carriquiry, Secretary of the PCAL; Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria, SJ, Secretary for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith
; and Cardinal Sean Patrick, O'Malley, OFM. Cap.
, Archbishop of Boston.
Our work was cut out for us. After a few keynote addresses, we broke off into small groups in order to dissect the document Ecclesia in America, which deals with many topics including evangelization, education, social doctrine, family, youth and women, and issues such as corruption, immigration and inculturation. Needless to say, it was a fruitful and full couple of days of work.
In our discussions, not surprisingly, the term "new evangelization" kept being brought up. We learned about Our Lady of Guadalupe and how she is the perfect model for inculturation and the 'new evangelizor par excellence'. We were urged to encounter head-on the culture of death, as that is fundamental to the new evangelization. We spoke about how the family, the laity, the movements have to work with the Pastor and the Bishop. And Mr. Carl Anderson left us with what he refers to the three pillars of the New Evangelization: the truth about Jesus the Saviour; the truth about the Church; and the truth about the human being and his dignity.
Perhaps the most striking conclusion for me (and I'm a bit embarrassed to say that it is so simple that I didn't have to come to Rome to realize this) was that the key to all this work - the key to the new evangelization, and the key to solidarity and to the preferential option for the poor; the key to the road map for America (or any continent) - is the encounter with the Christ. Mary said to St. Juan Diego: "I long to build a little sacred house, where I can offer my love, person." She doesn't offer her "personal love", she offers her love, (who is) a person - that is Christ. Mary of Guadalupe is Christ-centred, literally in that she is pregnant with the Christ, and figuratively in that in every way she points to her Son.
We must do this also if we are to do any work in the Church. If you are doing mission work, lead people to Christ; if you are preaching in the Parish; lead people to Christ; if you are working with the poor or the immigrant, with the marginalised, lead them to Christ. And how do you do that? How do people encounter Christ through you? You have to have had that encounter first. So perhaps all we have to do is work on having that encounter ourselves. Pope Benedict XVI reminded us in Madrid at WYD2011 that Christ is the one who comes to encounter us. All we need to do is be ready for him to come. What a great image we can have during this Advent! Once you have had a personal encounter with Christ, you will have no choice but to proclaim Him!
As is expected, most of the work that is done in these types of conferences is networking. There were so many people present - so many different colours of flowers in the garden that is our Church. I cannot tell you how many business cards I am taking back home. This is the experience of Church: We come together to share and to nourish each other and we go home much richer for the time that we've spent together. We have encountered each other, and when we encounter each other in Christ, we encounter Christ himself.
I pray that Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe will continue to intercede for us so that our work will be blessed by her Son and that we will never cease to long for an encounter with Christ. May we be ready to receive Him when He comes to encounter us!