By Lisa Zengarini
Meeting for its thirty-eighth General Assembly, the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) has approved with an overwhelming majority its organizational restructuring guidelines, which are expected to make its services more effective for the People of God in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The renewal process started in 2019 involving CELAM’s 22 member Episcopal Conferences with the aim of making the Church in the region more missionary, synodal and outgoing, as indicated by Pope Francis. To this end, the Assembly, which was held online from May 18 to May 21, ratified nine reorganization and renewal principles. These include synodality, collegiality, integral conversion, being a prophetic voice, having an integral vision, effectiveness, networking, promoting decentralization, welcoming and contributing to the Magisterium of the Church.
A two-year process
At the end of the Assembly, the bishops addressed a Letter to Pope Francis in which they present “the new pastoral structure" of the body, saying it is the result of a “tremendous work” carried out over the past two years.
Listening to the cry of the Earth and of the poor
Noting that Latin-American bishops are fully aware of the great social inequalities the continent is experiencing, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, CELAM reaffirms its commitment to "collegial and synodal discernment” through listening to the Holy Spirit's inspiration which is present in the “cry of the People of God”.
"As Shepherds of the People of God we want to listen both to the cry of the Earth and of the poor, knowing that everything is connected, and to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, with the hope that we can overcome this crisis together and better”, reads the letter, echoing Pope Francis’s words that “we are all in the same boat and no one is saved alone”.
Synodality as a way to overcome differences
The message further remarks that, although they feel “overwhelmed" by the many challenges they are confronted with, Latin American and Caribbean bishops confide in God “who always surprises, renews, strengthens and inspires pastoral creativity the Church”. With this in mind, the prelates express their desire to follow "the logic of overflowing", recalled by the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Querida Amazonia", in which Pope Francis stresses that “authentic solutions to problems” are found “by transcending the contraposition that limits our vision and recognizing a greater gift that God is offering” (QA 105)
Indeed, it is the “overflow” of the Holy Spirit that allows overcoming in a creative manner conflicts and fierce contraposition and Pope Francis has encouraged this same overflow “by the reviving the ancient practice of synodality”, the message points out.
Full support to the first Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean
The prelates also confirm CELAM’s active support to the first Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean, scheduled in November this year in Mexico City on the theme “We are all outgoing missionary disciples”. During this important event involving, for the first time, the entire People of God, participants will examine, reflect on and strengthen the outcome of the Fifth Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean, of 2007, also known as the “Conference of Aparecida”.
“We have engaged in this process so it may serve as an apprenticeship of the practice of synodality that should be the mode and style of our ecclesial life in the present and future”, the letter states.
The four prophetic “dreams” for the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean
Recalling the four prophetic “dreams” - "social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial” - proposed by Pope Francis in “Querida Amazonia”, CELAM expresses the wish for a Church that “encourages the continent to fight for the rights of the poorest and for a more just society”; “preserves its cultural heritage in an intercultural dialogue”; "safeguards its natural beauty and the value of life" and for a Church in which Christian communities are able “give clear witness to the Risen Lord” while preserving its “Latin American and Caribbean face”.
Gratitude to Pope Francis
Finally, the prelates express their gratitude to Pope Francis for his witness and words, which - they say - have “enlightened us in a special way in this time of pandemic”.
The Latin American Episcopal Council was established in 1955 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as a body of communion and cooperation supporting Bishops’ Conferences in Latin America and the Caribbean. Based in Bogotá (Colombia), after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) it has extended its scope. CELAM meets every four years for its Ordinary Assembly in which the presidents of the 22 member Bishops’ Conferences outline its pastoral guidelines and elect its directive bodies. Periodically it also holds general conferences on major issues, the first of which was held in 1968 in Medellin, Colombia. The last one was the Aparecida Conference in which then-Archbishop Bergoglio played a central role.