Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, celebrates the Mass opening a congress on Ecclesia in America at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 9, 2012.
From Dec. 10-12, 2012, a historic international congress on Ecclesia in America took place at the Vatican, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops for America. The event was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and was organized in collaboration with the Institute for Guadalupan Studies in Mexico City.
On the evening of Dec. 9, the feast of St. Juan Diego, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and former archbishop of Quebec, celebrated the opening Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. Following Mass, Pope Benedict XVI addressed participants at a private audience and personally greeted several conference organizers and dignitaries, including Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.
The Holy Father cited urgent problems facing the Americas, including secularization; assaults on the culture of life and the institutions of marriage and family; unresolved issues regarding immigration; violence related to drug trafficking and the arms trade; and economic policies that worsen poverty.
Although all of these issues “require careful study,” Pope Benedict said, “the Catholic Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from an encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth.”
In this light, participants of the three-day congress turned to Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of America and Star of the New Evangelization, as their guide. And in evaluating the history, present situation and future of the American continent, they discussed ways that the churches of America can cooperate to address contemporary problems and to revitalize their common patrimony of faith.
THE CHRISTIAN CONTINENT
When introducing the congress on Dec. 10, Cardinal Ouellet noted that it is no coincidence that the event was being held during the Year of Faith and that it followed the Synod on the New Evangelization, which took place two months earlier.
“The precious patrimony of Christian faith, which was present at the start of the American ‘New World’ and which enriches the lives of its peoples, has been subjected to erosion by the strong forces of secularization,” he said.
The cardinal repeated many of the challenges facing America that were mentioned previously by Pope Benedict and said, “In order to face these problems in light of the Church’s mission, it is imperative that a profound sense of communion and belonging be alive in each and every local church and in the relationships between all churches.”
During the congress, participants from North, Central and South America were joined by Vatican representatives and Catholics from around the world. Members of the hierarchy from Latin America, the United States and Canada led working groups throughout the event that discussed such topics as the new evangelization, the Church’s role in education, the Church’s mission of charity and the role of the Virgin Mary in leading people to Christ.
Addressing participants on Dec. 10, Guzmán Carriquiry, secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, focused on the need for authentic Catholic education and cooperation among countries. He noted the significance of the fact that the congress was taking place at the “center of Catholicism” and included representatives from Catholic churches throughout the hemisphere.
“We must remember that more than 50 percent of the world’s Catholics live in the Americas a percentage that will grow in the coming decades,” said Carriquiry. “The future of its peoples and the whole Catholic Church shall depend on the Church in the American continent and its evangelizing mission.”
At a press conference before the congress, Supreme Knight Anderson likewise remarked that despite the challenges of secularism, the Christian faith remains more vibrant in America than in other parts of the world.
“America is truly the Christian continent,” he said. “Each country in our hemisphere has a shared history of having had the good news of Jesus Christ take root there.”
Some 300 representatives from the American continent and the Roman Curia attended the international congress, which took place at the Vatican Dec. 10-12. The event was co-sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
In his address to the congress, Supreme Knight Anderson called Blessed John Paul II’s 1999 document Ecclesia in America “the blueprint for the new evangelization.” Written in response to the Synod of Bishops that took place two years earlier, Ecclesia in America “correctly focuses Catholic evangelization on what matters most,” the supreme knight said. Specifically, John Paul II pointed to Jesus Christ as “the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life and to those fundamental questions which still trouble so many men and women on the American continent” (10).
Both the supreme knight and Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, postulator of the cause for canonization of St. Juan Diego, noted that John Paul II referred to Our Lady of Guadalupe as “an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization” (11).
The Virgin Mary’s appearance as a pregnant mestiza, or mixed race woman, to St. Juan Diego in 1531 took place amid a violent cultural conflict between the Spanish and Native Americans. But as a result of the witness of Juan Diego, a humble layman, and the miraculous image imprinted on his tilma, the civilization was radically transformed by the Christian message.
“They not only stopped killing each other,” Msgr. Chávez explained, “but after making their own the love that God offered them through his most holy mother, they accepted each other and a new people was born a synthesis and reconciliation of what was apparently irreconcilable.”
Supreme Knight Anderson pointed out that authentic inculturation involves recognizing what is true and good in cultures, such as language and tradition, while at the same time rejecting moral relativism and the culture of death. He added that the laity, particularly the family, play an important role in building a civilization of love.
“We must take the opportunity to find cultural unity through a shared religious identity and value system,” the supreme knight said. “The truth the Church has to offer the world does not hinder cultural development; it fulfills it.”
A NEED FOR FORMATION
The historic congress continued on Dec. 11 with reports from the congress’ workgroups and a recitation of the rosary at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican Gardens. On the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12, participants gathered for Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience. Cardinal Séan P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, then delivered the event’s last major address.
As was the case with other presenters, Cardinal O’Malley highlighted the need for collaboration between dioceses and across borders. Noting the growing percentage of Hispanic Catholics in the United States, he pointed to the Hispanic Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe, located near Mexico City, as one example of how collaboration is already taking place. With support from Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera, archbishop of Mexico, the seminary provides formation for future Spanish-speaking priests who will serve U.S. dioceses.
Cardinal O’Malley also proposed several ways that churches in America can address contemporary challenges. Specifically, he focused on the need for bishops’ conferences and others to develop education initiatives that counter the effects of secularization and the culture of death.
“In order to uphold the teachings of divine law and natural law, it’s essential to promote an understanding of the Church’s social teachings and ensure that life and family values are recognized and defended,” he said. He added that faithful Catholics must play a greater role in the public square. “If we fail to form Catholic leaders, we will continue to see the erosion of religious freedom, social justice and public morality.”
Moreover, the cardinal stressed the need to train faithful Catholics to work in various parts of the media. “Just as we have an urgent need to properly form men and women who aspire to public office, we must also work together to form competent and articulate Catholics who can present the teachings of the Church in a convincing and attractive way,” he said.
In the end, the participants left inspired by the proceedings of the congress, recognizing that globalization and the changing face of America bring not only challenges, but also new opportunities for solidarity and evangelization.
The event concluded with Mass celebrated by Cardinal Ouellet.