By Salvatore Cernuzio - Vatican City
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, has praised the efforts underway at the Ecclesial Assembly of Caribbean and Latin American Countries taking place from 21 to 28 November in Mexico City. In a message sent to the gathering, he described it as a fruit of the synodal journey and its aim to be a "listening Church". He notes its commitment to missionary creativity, a sign of what the Pope has called for in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. And despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, he observed how the social and ecclesial dynamism that characterizes Latin America is alive and well making it a "continent of hope".
The Ecclesial Assembly marks the first event of its kind, involving not only consecrated persons, but also numerous lay people, including families and civil authorities. A few dozen delegates have gathered in the Mexican capital, while the majority of the delegates consisting of 200 bishops, 400 priests and religious, and 400 lay people, are attending the event online.
Listening to God and to our brothers and sisters
And it is precisely this enlarged participation that makes the Ecclesial Assembly a reflection of the synodal path desired and launched recently by Pope Francis in the Church around the world. "The Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean is one of the many ways in which the Church is re-learning to listen and discern," Cardinal Ouellet writes in a letter to participants, quoting from the Pope's own message sent on Sunday. And precisely by citing the Pope's words, the Cardinal Ouellet recalls the invitation to become a "listening Church," which in concrete terms means "taking a break from our commitments, slowing down our pastoral concerns and stopping to listen." Above all, he notes that this means, "listening to our brothers and sisters about the hopes and crises of faith in different parts of the world, the urgent need to renew pastoral life and the signs coming from local realities".
Then one must "listen to the Spirit in adoration and prayer," he writes, since "often our own ideas fill our minds and hearts. Even when we kneel, our inner life is often filled with our own plans and biases." Instead, "by listening to God and our brothers and sisters, we will experience surprise and a broadening of horizons."
Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean
Cardinal Ouelette said he was pleased to see that the Ecclesial Assembly guiding document cites one of the powerful intuitions of the Aparecida Document, signed in 2007 at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate. "Faith frees us from self-isolation, because it leads us to communion... since communion is missionary and mission is for communion," he writes, and "synodality must always be understood in a dynamic of 'outreach,'" Cardinal Ouellet says, since "there is no true mission without deep ecclesial communion, nor mature ecclesial communion without an authentic missionary impulse. For this reason, synodality, which is like the dynamic dimension of communion, must orient us more ad extra, to share the 'good news,' and not so much ad intra, that is, to intra-ecclesial structures and positions of power."
Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Ecclesial Assembly opened on Sunday's Solemnity of Christ the King with a Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrated by Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos, Archbishop of Trujillo and President of CELAM (the Latin American Bishops' Council). In his homily, Archbishop Cabrejos stressed the historical moment the Assembly represents: "We have gone from an assembly in which only the bishops participated, to a fully ecclesial assembly." He then underscored how the ecclesial event comes after "a long journey traveled together, listening to everyone, experiencing how good it is to be members of the mystical body of Christ, protagonists and co-responsible for evangelization as missionary disciples." Archbishop Cabrejos prayed that the Lord might "open our hearts to allow ourselves to be guided in a spirit of listening, synodality and ecclesial unity, and to discover what He wants to say to us as the people of God on a journey." He then recalled the aim of the Assembly to "accompany the entire people of God at a profoundly complex and difficult time," marked by a rupture of communion and fraternity, seen in issues of "injustice, widespread violence, the false witness of leaders who abandon their reponsibility to public service, the unprecedented crisis facing our common home," as well as in the suffering of women "who have suffered abuse or systematic exclusion", and in the suffering of migrants who are often rejected.