By Lisa Zengarini
The Latin American Bishops' meeting, which runs until 21 May, was originally planned in Puerto Rico but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is being held virtually instead.
The General Assembly is attended by 85 participants, including six cardinals and fifty bishops, under the theme: “Weaving dreams, renewing commitments”.
Nine renewal principles to be approved
The assembly, which will be deliberative, is expected to approve nine reorganization and renewal principles, following a two-year consultation process, in which all its 22 member Bishops’ Conferences have been involved.
The process is aimed at making the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean more missionary, synodal and outgoing, as indicated by Pope Francis. The nine principles 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.
CELAM “a driving force” for an outgoing and synodal Church
Opening the session on Monday, Peruvian Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, President of CELAM, emphasized the role of CELAM as “a driving force” for awakening a missionary conscience of the Church in the Continent, for promoting a permanent pastoral conversion and an outgoing and synodal Church, which “walks with the People of God and the Episcopal Conferences”.
Focusing on four great dreams of "Querida Amazonia"
Archbishop Cabrejos outlined the main features of the renewal process, saying that the hallmark will be the four prophetic “dreams” - "social, cultural, ecological and ecclesial".
The four dreams were proposed by Pope Francis in his the Apostolic Exhortation Querida Amazonia following the Synod on the Amazonia in 2019.
CELAM a "generator of processes and not of events"
The President of CELAM emphasized the need for a greater agility, flexibility, integration, intercommunication within the Council to make its services more effective for the Episcopal Conferences and for the People of God in Latin America and the Caribbeans.
"We want to lay the foundations of a synodal Church in the Continent, to move from episcopal collegiality to synodal collegiality," he explained.
Archbishop Cabrejos clarified that, as an episcopal council, CELAM remains a subsidiary body which is sensitive to “the different realities and pastoral challenges arising” in each context. CELAM, he added, wants to be “a generator of processes and not of events" and offer more agile services to “strengthen the action of the Bishops' Conferences."
Preparing for the November Ecclesial Assembly
Archbishop Cabrejos finally pointed out that the Council is presently focusing on three directions: its own renewal process, the Ecclesial Conference of the Amazon (CEAMA) which was established in 2020 following the Synod on the Amazonia, and the first Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean, which will be held in November in Mexico City on the theme “We are all outgoing missionary disciples”.
During this important event 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”.
As explained by Pope Francis in a video-message on 24 January this year, this will be the first event of its kind in the history CELAM involving the entire people of God walking together in mission: laypeople, consecrated men and women, priests, bishops, who have all been involved in the preparation process.
The Latin American Episcopal Council
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 Carribeans.
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.