sábado, 2 de junio de 2007


Wednesday, May 30, 2007
By Harold Segura

There’s something new here, at least for me. This is the first time I read in documents of the Catholic Church the recognition that this is a Continent of baptized Catholics, but not of converted disciples who are practicing their faith. This statement was clear in the Synthesis Document. At the Conference, it was Cardinal Cláudio Hummes (Brazil) who repeated this confession once again. He is one of Benedict XVI’s representatives at this meeting, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy. So he’s clearly authorized for speaking on these topics! What he said was: “…the majority of Catholics in our continent do not participate anymore, or have never participated, in the life of our church communities. We baptized them, but for many reasons we haven’t been able to evangelize them sufficiently.” As they say in my country. “A rooster wouldn’t crow as clearly.” And, as if his words were not enough, he supported them with the words of the Pope himself, who said to the Brazilian bishops in São Paulo that there were “baptized people who were not sufficiently evangelized.”

Cardinal Hummes proposed to undertake a large Continental Mission. We will hear a lot about this Mission in the coming years, because it was unanimously approved today, and it is very likely that it will be added to the Final Document. This Mission will be part of the pastoral guidelines of the Church after Aparecida, “until the next Conference of the Episcopate.” And that could mean that this is the pastoral project for the next two decades.

But, what is the Continental Mission? I am going to attempt at answering by making a personal synthesis of what I have heard during these days: “It is an evangelizing initiative agreed upon by the Bishops in an attempt to ‘awaken the Church’ for it to announce the name of Jesus with greater intentionality, for it to reach those who have gone away, and to attract those who have never been a part of it.” So much for my profane attempt to define it. In other words, it’s a Catholic move forward for the re-evangelization of Latin America and the Caribbean. The term “re-evangelization” was used yesterday by Bishop Raúl Eduardo Vela (Quito), and I highlight it because I remember that I used the same term several years ago in a personal conversation with a priest friend, and he corrected me saying, “Harold, we don’t speak about re-evangelization but about a new evangelization.” In fact, until recently, there was no admission of the need to evangelize the baptized, but only to evangelize non-believers, as had been done several centuries back.

Don’t you think, then, that, for the first time, in this particular point of evangelization, Catholics and Evangelicals have come to an agreement? Well, we have. We always believed that what was needed here was not religion and tradition, but faith and relationship with God. And it turns out to be the case, to bring the coincidence to its highest point, that we have even agreed on some of the methods that need to be used to accomplish this objective—going from door to door in search of the candidates. You don’t believe it? Well, that’s what it is. What we evangelicals call “door-to-door visitation”, Cardinal Hummes, interpreting the words of the Pope, has called “house missionary visits”. These words are very much in our style for evangelicals, and they make us feel at home. Dr. Juan Sepúlveda is right in asking, “Why did they criticize us so much for doing something that they now admit they have to do too?”

Before passing the Final Document today, Wednesday (we still need to see the third version and approve it at the end of the day), the attention for the last two days was focused on Continental Mission. This is very important “in order to be a strong, vigorous Church once again,” as has been said enthusiastically. We broke up into twelve working groups in order to review this missionary proposal and to make some observations. I was with a group of bishops, two laymen and a religious sister, all of them very kind, who gave me a chance to speak on two occasions. I said that in this Mission we could also work together, with the obvious reservations that we are already aware of. I then added that biblical pastoral activities, liturgical renewal and the mobilization of the laity could be three central axes for the renewal of the local churches; those are, at least, the three elements one can see in places where Catholicism has the force of renewal.

After many years, we have coincided in the diagnostic—the baptized have not been evangelized. What is now needed is to come to an agreement on who will evangelize them and how, so that we can finally find out what proselytism means.



Tuesday, May 29, 2007
By Harold Segura

Between Monday and Tuesday, the Conference activities have revolved around the second draft of the Final Document. We were given most of the day on Monday to read it, to note the changes made, to make suggestions, and, in the case of experts and other special invitees like us Protestants, to approach those bishops that sympathize with some of our recommendations so that they, who have speaking and voting rights, might submit them in writing to the Presidency.
This new version included some of the additions approved in the last Commissions meeting, but others changed their place or simply disappeared. The truth is that the Redaction Commission has much power to add, displace or delete some items. Those “from de Reformation” have been attentive, most of all, to what the new document says about ecumenical dialogue and cooperation, and to the new terms that will be used to refer to our communities. We hope, for instance, that there will be no more language about “Protestant sects” or “Protestant proselytism” or things like that, as we heard on the first day of the Conference. As I said one of these days, it’s a “grammatical victory” that can have very positive effects on our future pastoral actions. We would like to see a document that opens new doors to brotherly fellowship and to collaboration in service. And I have faith that this is what will happen (am I still too optimistic?).
The Pentecostal pastor, Dr. Juan Sepúlveda (Chile), participated in drafting the current fifth chapter, titled “The communion of missionary disciples in the Church”, and particularly in the sub-commission on “Ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue”. The Methodist pastor, Dr. Néstor Míguez (Argentina), participated in the Commission in charge of drafting the first part of the document, which is now called “The life of our peoples today”. My contribution was in the sixth Commission, which would now be the eighth according to the new classification, in charge of “Some settings and priorities in the mission of the disciples”, and in the sub-commission that dealt with two of those mission settings: youth and children. The new redaction of the document is divided as follows:
Chapter 1: The missionary disciples
Chapter 2: The missionary disciples’ look on reality
Chapter 3: The joy of being missionary disciples to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Chapter 4: The vocation of missionary disciples to holiness
Chapter 5: The communion of missionary disciples in the Church
Chapter 6: The formation itinerary of missionary disciples

Chapter 7: The mission of the disciples in the service of full life
Chapter 8: Some settings and priorities in the mission of the disciples


The last changes will be made today, and the final version will be ready tomorrow, Wednesday. The Bishops have sent in today their “modes”, that is, the suggested changes. These are submitted to the Secretariat. And I am told that, up to Monday evening, the Secretariat had received 2000 suggestions for change. The task of the Redaction Commission is as great as its authority to set the final lines of the Document!

The new text has a better thematic consistency; it orders the topics in a well-known sequence (seeing, judging, acting); it is better connected to the motto of the Conference, and it improves redaction and style. All the above is true, but it is also true that it is more rigid in its statements—more in adherence to Benedict XVI. From the Protestant perspective it has points of great interest and openness (there will be time to discuss them later), but without ceasing to make us uncomfortable with its exclusivist ecclesiology (the uniqueness of the Church in the lines of Dominus Iesus) and its purposes of cultural and religious re-conquest. We will have to wait for the final changes in the version of Wednesday.

Right now the second official document of this Conference, titled “Message to the Peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean”, is being voted. I like it. I read in its message direct references to ecumenical dialogue, to the preferential option for the poor, to the urgency to make the Church more dynamic through transformation in the Holy Spirit, to radical following of Jesus, to promoting open dialogue with the various social and religious actors , to the promotion of grassroots ecclesial communities, to “being servants at the shared table” (I recalled the book by Rafael Aguirre, The Shared Table) and to being “an open-arms Church.” As Néstor Míguez remarked, “what is new is not what is being said, but who is saying it.”

At this time I’m waiting for the vote on this last document… The electronic voting system didn’t work. “And I could guess how much it has cost,” remarks a Puerto Rican bishop near me… Now, there’s the final result. Votes in favor: 110. Votes against: 16. Abstentions: 2. The message has been passed!

So I must say that, in my opinion, the Conference is taking one step backwards and two steps forward.


martes, 29 de mayo de 2007


Monday, May 28, 2007
By Harold Segura

I was told that on Monday I would participate in the Eucharistic celebration as the reader for one of the scripture passages, but even last night this had not been confirmed. Anyway, I got prepared for the event. I got up earlier than usual (despite the inclement cold), I opened the window to see nothing but the fog, I prepared my dark blue suit, brushed my shoes, adjusted the necktie knot, took breakfast quickly and made off towards my duty. With a sacristan’s pause I walked down the two-hundred-meter ramp leading from the square of the Old Church to the Basilica of Our Lady. This walk can even be a spiritual experience, as long as the sun rises, the birds sing and you can see the majestic dome of Aparecida on the horizon. But today’s cold couldn’t make this anything more than a sacrifice for unity. On the way I found Fr. Efraín Martínez Delgado (Mexico), in charge of coordinating the liturgy during these days, who confirmed my participation and thanked me beforehand.

“So what am I supposed to do, Father?”, I asked.
“Oh no, be calm; just read. We’ll meet at the Basilica and I’ll tell you what the passage is,” he answered.

Well, I said to myself, a reading is just a reading and I have experience. Just tune up my voice (I am betrayed by cough every once in a while), look attentively at the text (my bi-focal glasses can deceive me), do it with the well-known priestly pause (no dramatizing, no Protestant accent) and lift up my eyes from time to time (this I learned in Seminary). Haven’t I been a teacher of Homiletics and taught how to read in public?, I continued to reflect.

A few minutes before the mass began, Fr. Martínez told me not to use my book of Liturgical Celebrations, the red 647-page book we had been given the first day. You will find the book on the lectern, he said, open on the page of the scripture text corresponding to today’s mass. Well, all I did before performing my duty was to read the appointed passage and review the general order of the liturgy. First surprise: this mass is celebrated in the honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Second surprise: the text I’m supposed to read is from a deuterocanonical book, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 24:23-31. Third surprise: at the end of the reading I have to say “The Word of God.” What will my evangelical brothers and sisters say when they see me on TV? Hopefully the joy of seeing me on the screen (because there still are some who rejoice at these small things) will hide from them the fact that I’m reading from the Apocrypha… or hopefully they will mistake Ecclesiasticus for Ecclesiastes. We’ll see, I said, calling on the help of the Holy Spirit.

The mass started at 8:00 a.m. The celebrant was Bishop Carlos Aguiar Retes (Mexico) with two other bishops, Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal (Colombia) and Adalberto Martínez Flores (Paraguay). The choir with more than one hundred voices was, as always, perfectly tuned; the TV people again on their positions; the Cardinals in front, in the first concentric circle, the Bishops in the second, then the laypeople, the experts, the religious brothers and sisters and the observers in the third. When my turn came, I read.

At the end, at 8:50 a.m., when the liturgy was over, the first person to come and greet me was Fr. Víctor Manuel Fernández, Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Argentina, UCA. “I realized it already—you did a big ecumenical effort in reading from a deuterocanonical book and saying at the end, ‘The Word of God.’” Once at the Assembly, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, also a President of this Conference, approached me to say thank you for the reading.

“You did it very well,” he said with his always kind Italian smile.
“But Your Eminence,” I said, “this was a trap to me!” And I explained to him what had happened, in case he hadn’t noticed.

So now let me explain what really happened. I am entitled to lawful defense. How can I explain to my evangelical family this “Word of God” tag applied to one of the Apocrypha? Well, this is something I also learned when I was a teacher of Homiletics (being a teacher has to be of some use). When an affirmative sentence is read with a slight elevation of the intonation at the end of the last word, the affirmation becomes an interrogation. So I didn’t say “The Word of God”, but “The Word of God?”. And it’s not my fault if, to my question, everybody responded, “We praise you, Lord.”

Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, was this a trap to me? Or was this my trap to you? All for the sake of unity! We praise you, Lord.



Sunday, May 27, 2007
By Harold Segura

Fifty days after Easter, as the Christian calendar indicates, the feast of Pentecost is celebrated. This is why the Eucharist this Sunday was even more solemn and lasted longer (one hour and forty-five minutes). All the bishops wore their miters and their vestments were more splendorous. Even the basilica looked better without any empty seats and with many pilgrims who came from different parts of Brazil. Many of them stayed there all night, from 11:00 p.m. yesterday to 6:00 a.m. today, participating in the Vigil that was held for this special occasion. They sang all throughout the night (I could hear them from my room), and sometimes they cheered the Virgin and used fireworks, despite how cold the place must have been (around 4º or 6º C, i.e. 39º or 42º F).

The liturgy was led by three cardinals—Eusebio Óscar Scheid (Brazil), Pedro Rubiano Sáenz (Colombia) and Juan Sandoval Íñiguez (México)—and was celebrated in Portuguese. The scripture passage of Acts was read by a Brazilian religious sister. She captured my attention when she read verse 2 (“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting”), because the word standing for “sound” was the Portuguese term barulho, akin to the Spanish barullo. In Colombia and other countries we use barullo to designate a hubbub, noise or disorder. Once in the hotel I looked in the dictionary, and both the Portuguese barulho and the Spanish barullo had the same meaning. I then reflected on that word, “hubbub”, as applied to the Holy Spirit. I would have never used myself, mainly because in some places this is such a colloquial term that you wouldn’t use it when talking about God.

God causing a hubbub? In fact I liked it. Especially when I contrasted it to the impeccable order in which the liturgy was taking place. The Catholic Church, like many historic Protestant churches, is a model of order and control. They lack the hubbub which we criticize in effusive Pentecostalism (where, in fact, the hubbub is too much).

Several speeches by the Bishops who intervened in the first few days said they hoped this Conference to be a new Pentecost. For example, the Bishops’ Conference of Costa Rica titled its short five-minute report, “Aparecida, a Pentecost for the Church.” I have repeatedly heard expressions like “we want new people for new structures”; “we want the Spirit to tell us what are the new directions for us to follow”; or “we require a pastoral conversion in an evangelizing keynote.” All of these expressions are loaded with desire for change, for going further, for “putting out into the deep”, as the representative of the Argentinean Bishops’ Conference said.

For the time being, it seems to me, everything will remain in an orderly shape. I think that, while Aparecida will in fact usher in some important novelties, it will not be able to cause the stronger winds that would make the whole house tremble (Acts 2:2). Lay ministries will not advance to a point that would cause noise; women will not be granted the official right to participate the way they desire; the preferential option for the poor will remain as a decoration in the Final Document; the dream for a cultural re-conquest will become more important than the need to adapt to the new plural and diverse reality; as far as celibacy, nothing will be said (even though in Brazil, for instance, there’s a growing number of “married priests”); in sum, the house will be kept in order and the winds will not make it tremble.

For now, then, everything will remain under control. Let the barulho go somewhere else.



Saturday, May 26, 2007
By Harold Segura

The Eucharistic celebration of yesterday, Friday, was the responsibility of Bishop Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini of San Marcos, Guatemala, who, because he was sick, delegated it on his fellow countryman Bishop Julio Cabrera, of Jalapa. Ramazzini is one more of several participants who haven’t been able to leaver their hotels due to what is now called “the virus of the Fifth”—in reference to the Fifth Conference. Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo (Colombia), the Pope’s delegate, has been in bed for two days now; the same applies to Bishop Plácido Rodríguez of Las Cruces, United States. Other sick participants are at the Assembly, spreading their virus in an involuntary proselytism (to use church language).

I had the honor of meeting Ramazzini last year, when he was very kind to accept an invitation we made from World Vision to accompany us in an international encounter. He traveled from San Marcos to Antigua Guatemala to speak to us about social justice—but not in his theory, but in his pastoral practice that has been so broad and courageous. He has been repeatedly threatened because of his commitment to the peasants in his diocese. He organized a Pastoral Project on Land in order to advice small farmers, whom he is requesting to hold discussions with the Agricultural Chamber in order to reach equitable agreements on the issues of melon, cardamom and other products whose marketing has caused serious conflict. He has also raised his voice in favor of the people when the United States presses for the destruction of the poppy crops, the work source for the poorest. He is a threatened bishop and his people know why.

Manfred Grellert (former Vice-President of World Vision), who was in Antigua when Ramazzini visited us, said to me, “I like this guy. He speaks with the force of those bishops I thought were no longer in stock.” Manfred was referring to the generation of Leonidas Proaño in Ecuador, Samuel Ruiz in Mexico, Helder Câmara and Pedro Casaldáliga in Brazil, Gerardo Valencia Cano in Colombia, and, of course, Óscar Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador.

So when I learned that Ramazzini would be in charge of the celebration I prepared for his homily. Even though he was not present—a pity—he sent the homily, which was read by Bishop Cabrera. The scripture passage was John 21:15-19, where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. He didn’t use the text to speak about Peter’s authority—he preached about the love that Jesus requires of his pastors. Love of God and love of neighbor—and the latter expressed in humility, service and fight against injustice and poverty. He spoke about the radical following of Jesus, and ended with two examples of radicalness—Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero and Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, “whose life was Christ, and they gave their lives for him.” I wanted to applaud. (The full text of the homily can be found at http://www.celam.info/content/view/399/344/ )

Archbishop Romero was briefly with us, hand in hand with Gerardi, but not to everyone’s liking. By the way—how deep is the influence of that generation of prophets on this Conference? What is left in Aparecida of the “preferential option for the poor”? I’m not in a condition to calculate that presence. I can only perceive that it is deeper than the conservatives want, but not as much as the Continent needs. There are evident polarizations. For example, at my right hand sits a German bishop who gets excited whenever someone says “Grassroots Ecclesial Communities” (he met them in his passing by Peru when he served as a bishop there); whereas at my left sits the President of the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, in Rome, an Argentinean priest who introduced himself to one of us on the first day as a member of Opus Dei. There are marked differences not only in the political field, but also in ethical stands, in the lines of pastoral action and in the forms of recognizing the new place of the Catholic Church in the Continent.

Of Romero and his generation, enough is left for longing and hope. There are some who are attentive to ensure that some “key issues for theology and pastoral work in Latin America and the Caribbean” will not be absent from the final document—a reading of reality as a prior step to theological development, the references to life, the presence and action of women, the centrality of the Kingdom, of the laity, of the indigenous population and the descendants of Africans. There’s also a group of almost 30 theologians and Bible scholars (Grupo Amerindia), with headquarters five blocks from the basilica, who are advising several bishops. This work they do with enthusiasm and high commitment. Today, for instance, they handed to us the first draft of the “Message to the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean”, a four-page document that will be issued at the end of the Conference, different from the final document, and which will surely be more widely disseminated than the latter. They have given it for us to read this weekend and to discuss it on Monday. In my first reading I can recognize the influence of “progressive” people. On Monday, then, the strength of each group will be measured when the text is voted or changes are requested.

Romero was briefly with us.

Keep us, dear Archbishop, from the insensitivity of those who think that what we have to save is the Church.

Encourage those who are forging the Kingdom. There are still enough of them around.

Keep us, you who taught that “Being the Church is keeping in history, throughout the centuries, the figure of Jesus Christ.”

If possible, stay a little longer.



Friday, May 25, 2007
By Harold Segura

I have always admired the speech ability of most priests and their skill for writing. So much the more if they are Cardinals or Bishops, who have an exquisite academic training and have enjoyed privileges accessible to very few, at least in these lands of the New World. Many of those participating in this Conference have read the classics in their original languages—Cicero in Latin and Aristotle in Greek; not few of them read Pascal in French, Bacon in English and Hegel in German. As I talked with one of the Spanish bishops, he was telling me that he learned classical Greek before biblical Greek (the koiné) and that he studied in Latin when he was an assistant to a parish priest in Switzerland. With great naturalness they tell about their studies under the shade of Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and even Joseph Ratzinger himself, when he was a professor at the University of Bonn. The founders of Latin American liberation theology drank from these same sources and enjoyed these privileges—this has been an elite of enlightened pastors, with the good and bad things this can involve. But I was referring to my admiration for their flowing speech and their easy pen. These days, every public presentation has been given with the purest style and, when writing, they all do so very easily, despite time pressures. On Tuesday morning the redaction work started, and yesterday, Thursday, by noon, we already had 86 written pages with the first draft of the final document. It is true that much revision and editing work is needed, but something formal already exists, which will be the basis for work in the following days. I think the final document will be a book with close to 150 pages. One of the Presidents announced yesterday that its length could be about one third of the one published in Puebla (1979).

This is a Church whose leaders speak well, write quickly and think with a certain depth, but—can they communicate? It is one thing to write well, from the perspective of the redactor, but from the viewpoint of the reader, understanding the text is a different thing. We are here, no longer in the terrain of language but in that of pastoral work. At this time, while the moderators and speakers from the seven groups left the hall for a meeting, the rest of us are listening to responses to the draft document. Several minutes ago we listened to Bishop José Francisco Ulloa (Costa Rica) asking the Assembly what to do to make sure that the document “will not risk ending up in the files.” He said he admired some paragraphs that were “so nicely worded,” but he thought they would not inspire conversion. The bishop suggested to attach “innovative pastoral lines” to each chapter. Another speaker was Professor Ana María Fons Martin, National Director of the Laity in Venezuela, who pointed to the urgency of saying things and living life in such a way that the Church “may re-enchant the world with Jesus Christ, to make possible an encounter with Him.” All this shows that there are concerns about the document, not for the propriety of the language but for its pastoral relevance.

What we need to hope will happen here is what we should also hope for in all other Christian churches and organizations that are interested in drafting lines of pastoral action—that the depth of the Truth will be written in a simple manner, so that the simplicity of the Gospel might be lived with actual depth. Is this a new way of understanding the old dichotomy between orthodoxy and orthopraxis? In the meantime, here I am, next to three bishops—Castrellón Pizano (Colombia), Eguren (Peru) and Rueda (Colombia)—and a layman, Daniel Casco (Paraguay), trying to draft the chapter on youth and children.



Thursday, May 24, 2007
By Harold Segura

Today, like everyday, we left the hotel at 7:15 a.m. in order to arrive at the Basilica 15 minutes later. The Eucharistic celebration —solemn, formal and with all the adornments that this kind of occasion deserves— starts at 8:00 a.m. How would I have liked to witness something similar to this when I was a child! But I, a neighborhood Catholic (I was a Catholic until I was 18)—the most impressive thing I could ever get was the mass before dawn on Easter Sunday, plus an occasional solemn mass like for the perpetual vows of a nun who was my mother’s friend, or the funeral of a priest who was my father’s friend. As far as hierarchical rank, I didn’t go beyond being an amateur altar boy at the Church of St. Francis in Cali, Colombia.

Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. there’s time for the Cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons to go down to the basement to look for their liturgical vestments and get ready for the entrance procession. Everything happens in perfect order. There’s no room for improvisation. The chasuble, the bishop’s cap (red or purple, depending on the rank), the alb, the stole and the red liturgy book. At the Mass, everything is in full order. Well-read prayers, well-intoned Gregorian chant, homilies written beforehand, paused readers, everything in its place and every person where he or she ought to be. It looks as if they had rehearsed everything many times. I wonder—what to they do to achieve such perfection? For me—whenever I’m the minister for a solemn wedding, there’s always something that goes wrong. Either the young boy drops the rings, or the bride’s bouquet slips from her hands, or the bridegroom forgets what he’s supposed to say.

One hour later, when the Mass is over, we all go to the meeting hall. Once again we enter the ample basement of the Basilica. The vestments go back to their places, and so do the participants. By the way, the order in which we sit corresponds to rank and dignity—the Cardinals in front, the bishops in the middle, the priests and religious a little farther behind, and the experts and observers far into the back… and then journalists, theologians and advisor Bible scholars, all outside the hall.

Once in the hall, before starting with the program items, a prayer written by Benedict XVI for this Conference. There are four working sessions during the day. Between sessions, the required prayers—at 16:00 hours, fifteen minutes for the Ninth Hour; and at 19:30, half an hour for Vespers. Each of those prayers includes Gregorian chant, slow-paced hymns, read prayers, sung psalms and, in the afternoon, the lectio divina.

In the sessions of yesterday (Wednesday) and of today (Thursday), our work has focused on the redaction of the first draft of the final document. There are sixteen small working groups, each one connected to one of the seven Commissions (one Commission for each of the seven chapters in the outline agreed on last Monday). The methodology is quite creative and technical, but the time for producing the texts is short , which has made several participants uncomfortable as they feel that much is being asked of us while they’re giving us too little time. The fact is that today we already have the first draft of the whole document. We will read it and then, before the day is over, personal comments will be submitted.

But let us continue with each day’s work. The working day concludes at 20:00 hours, and then we go back to the hotel. All the hotels are modest. This city had never imagined it would some day host such illustrious visitors—I mean the Cardinals and Bishops. Thus, the five or six hotels could easily be classified, not according to the number of stars (I don’t think they would reach two or three), but according to the number of Cardinals staying there. For instance, I’m in a “three-Cardinal” hotel. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all happen in an environment of kind fellowship. Conversations have to do with anything, and laughter comes easily. It is in the meals, in the car to the hotel, in the streets or in the hallways that ecumenical rapprochement emerges quite naturally. It has always been like that—ecumenism blooms easily when friendship is present.

(Paraphrase of John 15:15: “We will no longer call each other separated brethren, but friends, because a separated brother doesn’t know what is said about him when he’s not present; but we will call each other friends, because we all confess the same Father, who calls us to listen to his voice and to obey him.”)



Wednesday, May 23, 2007
By Harold Segura

Either the Pope made a mistake, or President Chávez of Venezuela doesn’t know how to read. At the inaugural address of the Conference, Benedict XVI uttered an expression that has caused disturbance in the past few days and that forced a special vote within the Assembly. What the Pope said was that “the announcement of Jesus and His Gospel did not involve, at any time, an alienation of pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it an imposition of an extraneous culture.” He also added a phrase about indigenous religiosity that aggravated the situation. He said it was utopian “to bring to life pre-Columbian religions” because that, without Christ and the Catholic Church, “would not be an advance but a step back.”

Protests began to be heard immediately. The Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality, in Ecuador, protested; so did, among others, a group of Indian leaders from Brazil, which qualified the Pope’s comments as “arrogant and disrespectful”. But the one who most captured the attention of the media (an area in which he is considered to be an expert) was President Hugo R. Chávez Frías of Venezuela. He said: “What happened here was much more serious than the holocaust of World War II, and nobody can deny that truth to us (…); not even His Holiness can come here, to our own land, to deny the holocaust of the Indians.” And, among applauses, the public asked that the top leader of the Catholic Church apologize. “So, as a head of State, but clothed with the humility (…) of a Venezuelan peasant (…), I request His Holiness to offer his apologies to the peoples of our America,” he added. Benedict XVI asserted last Sunday in Brazil that the evangelization of the Americas “did not involve, at any time, an alienation of pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it an imposition of an extraneous culture.” (The video with the speech of the Venezuelan President can be watched at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdLLIUj72yA )

As I said before, the Assembly of Aparecida has considered this fact among its deliberations. After contemplating several alternatives, the decision was to delegate a spokesman, Cardinal Julio Terrazas Sandoval (Bolivia) to appear before the media to offer a press conference in order to clarify what the Pope had actually meant. So today, as a German journalist with whom I talked at noon informed me, the Cardinal fulfilled this difficult task. For his part, the Archbishop of Caracas, Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino, told a Salvadoran newspaper that Chávez “has not read well” the address in his concern to “introduce a confrontation between the Venezuelan people and the Holy Father.”

For me, this has been the best way to prove in situ what infallibility consists of. During lunch, by coincidence, Cardinal Terrazas and two other bishops sat at the same table as myself. The Cardinal sincerely believes that the Pope didn’t mean what he said. I believe in his sincerity.
Infallibility is a dogma declared by Pius IX and approved by Vatican Council I in the late 19th century. It is explained as a grace received by the Pope when he solemnly intends to define a doctrine in matters of faith or morals; in other words, when he speaks ex cathedra. But infallibility doesn’t involve inerrancy, that is, that he cannot make mistakes in any subject; neither when he simply gives his opinion on some issue, and much less that he is free of sin (the latter is easier to understand). Consequently, in strict doctrine, the bishops at Aparecida could have said that the Pope did make a mistake. In the last instance, he’s not inerrant. But—would it be politically correct to accept a mistake by the Pope? No. So, in practice, I now understand that infallibility and inerrancy end up being the same thing—the Pope doesn’t make mistakes, not even when he makes mistakes.



Tuesday, May 22, 2007
By Harold Segura

The work of today, Tuesday, now began with the topics approved. I thought this would take a little longer, but now we have it. With 104 votes in favor and 27 against, a decision was made as to the work outline and the possible table of contents of the Final Document. Can the “seeing – judging – acting” method I mentioned earlier be recognized here? The seven topics are:

1. The present day of Latin America and the Caribbean:
1.1 The change in ages; socio-cultural situation; ecological damage; demographic situation; anthropological vision; economy and globalization; political situation; indigenous and afro-originated cultures.
1.2 The church at this time.

2. The joy of being disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ:
2.1 The initiative of God the Father; the Gift of Jesus Christ; human brotherhood; the universal destiny of material resources; creation and ecological responsibility; the Gift of the Word.
2.2 Human dignity; family; life; hope.

3. Our vocation as disciples and missionaries:
3.1 Vocation to holiness: Christ comes to meet us; being configured to Him; taking the cross and following Him; announcing the Kingdom; spirituality.
3.2 Vocations in the service of the Church and the Kingdom

4. The community of disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ:
4.1 The call to communion: Trinitarian communion; the Church as school and house of communion; gifts, ministries and charismata.
4.2 Places and structures of communion; popular religiosity; ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue; communion of the saints.

5. The itinerary of disciples and missionaries:
5.1 Trinitarian spirituality: Christ as the way, the truth and the life; docility to the Holy Spirit; places and times of encounter with Jesus Christ; spirituality and practice of justice; the Virgin Mary and the Saints;
5.2 Formation of disciples; catechesis; spiritual accompaniment; Catholic education; seminaries; ongoing formation; church movements.

6. The mission of disciples and missionaries
:6.1 General – New life in Christ, the continental mission.
6.2 Priority tasks: The family; helpless and threatened life; children and youth; justice; care for creation; the mass media; the poor and excluded.

7. Pastoral conversion and various areas of pastoral task: Church structures; pastoral plans; missio ad gentes (the mission to non-Christians); pastoral work for culture; urban pastoral work; Catholic universities.

I observe three major blocks: first, the context of mission (#1), then the subject of mission (#2, 3, 4, 5), and finally the task of mission (#6). When I observed this, I asked at the group—why so much interest in the subject of the mission, and not in its context or its task? Bishop Jiménez Carvajal (Colombia) answered that this emphasis on the Church (the subject of mission) is in fact deliberate. The intention at this Conference is to prioritize priests’ training, promotion of the laity, fraternal communion, the spirituality of disciples, the catechesis of all the faithful—in sum, to look more to the inside in order to be able to accomplish the task to the outside. This could be a return to the emphases of Puebla (1979). But let’s not go too far ahead—the list of topics is not everything. Now comes the development of sub-topics, and then we will know where the Catholic Church wants to go in the next decades.

Each one of the three observers “from the Reformation” will attend the following Commissions: Néstor Míguez will attend the one covering topic #1; Juan Sepúlveda, at topic #7, and myself at topic #6. These topics correspond to our requests of yesterday, when each participant expressed his/her topics of greatest concern. May I clarify that Ofelia Ortega traveled to Cuba on Monday to meet other urgent commitments in Cuba and Germany; something similar happened with Dr. Walter Altmann, who left last week. The representative of the Anglican Church, Bishop Dexel Wellington Gómez, was not able to attend; and the representative of the Orthodox Church, Bishop Tarasios, attended for the first few days of the Conference and then left. That’s why I now refer to “the three representatives from the Reformation.”

Well, let’s hope this outline of seven major topics will bring happy surprises. Seven is the perfect number—may it be so this time too.



Monday, May 21, 2007
By Harold Segura

The Aparecida Conference entered a new stage today. The Presidency submitted the first outline for Commissions’ work. According to the Rules, no participant may send working documents outside the meeting hall—only the press office can do that. I am respectfully abiding with that agreement. So I will limit myself to the most important, which is the analysis of contents.

The outline (a possible table of contents of the final document) consists of four pages and emerged from the Synthesis Document (the outcome of a discussion exercise in which thousands of Catholic men and women from all the Continent took part), Benedict XVI’s inaugural address, the speeches by the Presidents of Bishops’ Conferences and the contributions of the first group work carried out last week. With this document in hand, we went to the working groups.

I went again to group number seven. It is made up by eighteen people, including Jorge Cardinal Liberato Urosa (Venezuela), Bishop Angelico Sándalo (Brazil), Bishop António Celso de Queiroz (Brasil), Bishop Louis Kébreau (Haiti), Fr. Germán Cálix (Honduras) and Sister María de los Dolores Palancia (Vice-President of the Latin American Conference of the Religious, CLAR). The group was chaired by Jorge Enrique Jiménez Carvajal, Archbishop of Cartagena, Colombia. While we as Observers do not have speaking or voting rights, we are allowed to give our input at the Commissions. The Bishops have been very cordial in this.

The discussion focused on the logic of the outline. Those who are familiar with the coming and going of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean know well the importance of the methodology of SEEING and JUDGING, in order to then ACT. I had already referred to this sequence before, and now I’m coming back to it because, between today and tomorrow, there will be a decision as to whether the Church will keep this dynamic that made it so current since the Second Conference in Medellín (1968) or, on the contrary, it will dilute its social commitments in the midst of doctrinal disquisitions. I intervened three or four times to say what I’m summing up below. I have seen substantial changes in the three structures that I have received up to now. In the Participation Document I came across the “seeing, judging and acting” method (it was at least stated); in the Synthesis Document this sequence had taken on a Trinitarian presentation (seeing with the eyes of the Father, judging with the invitation of the Son, and acting under the influx of the Spirit), but now the sequence is lost between a brief look at reality, an extensive look at the Church and a short projection into the Mission. So it seems, in my opinion, that what is of the most interest to the Church is—the Church itself.

One of the Bishops thanked me for this perspective, and a few others took it as a point of reference for other comments. In the meantime, an elderly Brazilian bishop who was seating next to me said to me, not without malice—“Seeing, judging and acting is Liberation Theology.” And then he added even with more malice, looking at me above the thick lenses of his eyeglasses, “And they don’t want to hear anything about that in this place. Unfortunately.”
Will the Conference give an acute look at reality, leading to renewed commitments? Will there be a return to the past to assert the Eucharistic doctrine and the liturgy of Pius V? Judging by the atmosphere I can breathe in the hallways (they have told me that there are some thirty-five “avant-garde bishops”), the final outline will be more progressive than the one submitted this morning. They will see in order to judge, and they will judge in order to act as disciples and missionaries. …Or have I perhaps become far too optimistic?

PD: You will find attached "those from the Reformation"'s speech.


Greeting by the Observers from the Evangelical Tradition at CELAM’s V General Assembly

Dearly beloved Cardinals, Bishops, priests, brothers and sisters: First of all, we would like to express our gratefulness and appreciation for the invitation received from Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, in the name of Pope Benedict XVI, which has made it possible for us to come alongside all of you at this grand event in our condition as observers. This follows up on the initiative of Pope John XXIII, who invited observers from other Christian churches and confessions to attend Vatican Council II. One of them was a Latin American, Dr. José Míguez Bonino. We trust that this continuity, which is also expressed in bilateral dialogues between the Roman Catholic Church and several of the Churches we come from, and in the Mixed Working Commission between your Church and the World Council of Churches, will be a sign and an announcement of a greater and better ecumenical cooperation in our continent, which is so much in need of signs of understanding, of mutual acceptance and of fraternal re-encountering.
Since the beginning of this Conference we have felt encouraged and challenged by the call issued by Pope Benedict XVI to build the new missionary awakening required by our Latin America and the Caribbean upon the reading and deep knowledge of the God’s Word. There are two passages in this Word that help us to interpret the meaning of our presence among you. We recall those words of Jesus, when he asserts that “he who is not with me is against me” (Mt 12:30), which point out that it is only around Jesus, the Christ, that we can find the focus of our unity. In a complementary text, when, having learned of someone who cast out demons in Jesus’ name, and when the disciples wanted to forbid this man from continuing to do so because he was not one of them, Jesus told John: “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk 9:39-40). Despite the historical and doctrinal differences which, painfully, make it impossible for us to participate together at the Communion Table, these texts allow us to assert that we are united to all of you by Jesus’ call to proclaim and celebrate the abundant life that our peoples are so much in need of.
We cannot but acknowledge the testimony and prominence of the Roman Catholic Church in the evangelization of this American continent of ours. Guided by the Spirit of God and His Word, beyond the ambiguities of historical circumstances, exemplary men and women, faithful disciples and missionaries of the Lord, have planted the Word in this continent, and have built communities that have been at the service of the neediest in Christ’s name, have witnessed to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their words and deeds, and have faithfully celebrated the Triune God. This Catholic presence has resulted in a faith that is rich in religious expressions, that have succeeded in allowing Christ’s message to take deep roots in the various cultures present in our continent, both the indigenous ones and those originated in later immigration, which have contribute towards shaping the beautifully diverse faces of our peoples in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Our Evangelical churches have collaborated too, especially after the processes of national emancipation in the continent, in the construction of the witness to Christ in these lands, either through immigrant communities that have brought with them the faith of their fathers, or through various efforts at evangelization, which have not been deprived, in turn, of contradictions and ambiguities. But many faithful believers of the Evangelical faith have collaborated in the evangelization and the culture of these lands, in some cases even shedding their own blood as martyrs in defense of the dignity and justice of our peoples.
In order to prevent this diverse Christian presence from being marked by confrontation and competition, but rather by the common call to be disciples and missionaries of our Lord Jesus Christ, we think it is necessary to use a language that will make it possible to keep the channels of communication that are already in place, and even to open new bridges. Recognizing each other as Christian Churches and Communities is the way to keep open the doors to dialogue—a dialogue which is indispensable in order to expel, all of us together, any sectarian or belligerent practice that works against the genuine missionary spirit.
Guided by the Spirit of God, we will have to learn to know and recognize each other more and more as parts of the one and multiple people of God, debtors to His manifold grace. We have been called to grow in the unity in diversity to which we are called by the Lord, so that, in mutual respect, in love, encountering each other in the ways of faith, we might proclaim His holy Name, and in Him, as disciples and missionaries coming from different traditions and ways of expressing our faith, to announce fullness of life for our peoples.

Ofelia Ortega
Juan Sepúlveda
Harold Segura
Néstor Míguez
Walter Altmann

Aparecida, May, 2007


Sunday, May 20, 2007
By Harold Segura

It is my habit, when I’m traveling, that one of the first things I do when I arrive in a hotel is to ask for a telephone book and look for two references—the closes theological bookstores and Baptist churches (in that order). By the way, I increasingly find that there are more bookstores than Baptist churches. I rejoice at the former, but I’m concerned at the latter. But let’s go on. I did my usual exercise in Aparecida the very day I arrived. I found two bookstores, the Livraria Paulus and the Livraria e Locadora Católica. I visited both of them the same day because I still had time and because they were very close to Hotel Panorámico. As to the Baptist churches, I only found one, the Igreja Batista Renovada Monte Gerizim, so I noted down the address and telephone number and then I realized it was not in Aparecida at all, but in Cruzeiro, several kilometers from here. So when I was in São Paulo and met with Dr. Geoval Jacinto da Silva, Bishop of the Methodist Church, I asked him to find the address of one of his churches. He was very kind, and not only found the address, but also asked a family he knew to pick me up with their car on Sunday and take me to Guaratinguetá, a city with approximately one hundred thousand inhabitants, close to Aparecida. So today, on Sunday, I celebrated my faith together with new friends at the First Methodist Church in that city.

As we left the church, the family that welcomed me were very affectionate and, before taking me to a restaurant (a noble custom of evangelical families with visiting pastors), they wanted me to visit the house of the man who was formerly called Frei (Friar) Galvão and now, after last week’s canonization, is better known as Santo António de Santana Galvão. To my surprise, I was right at the city where this first Brazilian saint had been born. So there we went. It’s a simple white house with blue windows, where he was born in 1739. It has two stories, the lower one with relics of the Franciscan brother, among them a tiny piece of one of his habits, and then pictures that summarize his life, the original nails with which the first doors had been built, and even the key locks used by the friar in his time.

Before coming in, I decided to take a picture from the outside of the house. I was in that operation, when a man came close to me with much kindness—it was Fr. José Pietrobom Rotta, the parish priest of the Cathedral in the city and one of the twenty-four diocesan priests who are participating at the V Conference. “Pastor,” he said, “how glad I am to see you here.” He was surprised to see a Protestant minister among the pilgrims. He accompanied me to the inside of the house and there he introduced to me a sixth-degree woman cousin and a seventh-degree man cousin of the saint (he was that accurate). They all seemed to be very happy with my visit. They said to each other, “He’s a Baptist pastor who is attending the Conference in Aparecida.” The man cousin didn’t want me to leave without signing the guestbook. There was some laughter (I asked the parish priest whether Frei Galvão hadn’t been a Methodist, by chance), as well as friendly photographs and farewell hugs.

Well, so why am I telling such a personal story? I want to record it, first of all, because that’s what happened on Sunday. There’s no more to tell because the Conference held no sessions today. And second, because I think this is a small sample of the significance of daily encounters between people who are different in their faith. Ecumenism is not a mere issue for specialized theologians who shut themselves in behind a cloister wall to decipher the mysteries that separate them, and to come to sometimes cleverly phrased agreements. Ecumenism has this other dimension—that of daily life, of respect among those who don’t believe the same things, of easy friendship between those who are different, of courtesy, which is a sign of charity and an encouragement for a new world. Didn’t we have enough time in former years to abuse each other and to be intolerant on account of our faith? Without giving up our faith, we can leave our hatred behind and give witness to reconciliation. That too should be addressed at the V Conference.



Saturday, May 19, 2007
By Harold Segura

We already knew that the Presidency had granted us five minutes so that the “representatives from the Reformation” could present a greeting and a few brief words concerning our participation. So this is how we went—Dr. Néstor Míguez (Argentina) wrote the first draft, and on that basis the rest of the group, Dr. Juan Sepúlveda (Chile), Dr. Ofelia Ortega (Cuba) and yours truly, made additions and other supplements. The second draft was finalized during the 6:00 p.m. break yesterday, Friday. All that was left, then, was to go over it during the weekend and send an electronic copy to Dr. Walter Altmann (Brazil) for him to get acquainted with it and give any other input. So we came again into the meeting room to participate in the last session of the day.

But—surprise! The Secretary announced that, during the next few minutes, the assembly would listen to the speeches from church movements, the laity, the religious, the diocesan priests and the observers “from the Reformation”. We stared at each other in surprise. The review was not over yet, we didn’t have a printed copy, and we had not delivered the text to the translators or to the Secretariat. So, between rushes and enthusiasm, we did what was left during the next five minutes. Juan looked for a printer while Ofelia, Néstor and myself decided who was going to speak. “You do it,” said Néstor looking at me, “because you brought your jacket and tie.” “No,” Ofelia and I said, “you speak and please mention the fact that your father was an observer at Vatican II and at the Bishops’ Conference in Medellín.”

The Archbishop of São Paulo and one of the General Secretaries of the Conference, Odilio Scherer, announced our turn and asked the representatives of the laywomen to please prepare themselves to speak after us. Néstor came to the front, introduced himself and read the text we had agreed on. (See the full text on the appended document.) When he had been speaking for four minutes, the traffic light turned on announcing his time had come to an end, but Néstor didn’t see it. It’s hard to see because, due to a mistake by the organizers, the light faces the audience and the speaker doesn’t see it. When we saw the red light, the microphone lost its volume. There came a few seconds of silence, interrupted by Cardinal Errázuriz to say, “Pastor, go ahead. Take as much time as you need.” This has been the only exception made ever since the Conference began a week ago.

But there was still another gesture of ecumenical courtesy, at the end of the speech (which didn’t take more than seven minutes): the Assembly applauded as they hadn’t done before for any other speaker. It was the longest, most enthusiastic applause. And the applause was reinforced with words of gratefulness and kind greetings to the four evangelical observers both yesterday and today. This applause marked a good end to our first week. The applause could translate into something more important when the working sub-topics come to be considered. It is possible that ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue won’t be left out. Patience has been rewarded.



Friday, May 18, 2007
By Harold Segura

Ever since I arrived in Aparecida I knew I was going to have troubles with the weather. I was expecting heat, but it was cold. My first outing around the small city was in order to get warm clothes, but fortunately I didn’t find any… which was better because it was very hot the next day. The weather changes very frequently and this surprises us. A priest friend (who is Colombian like me) told me this morning that the week before the Pope came, temperature had gone from 10º C (50º F) in the morning to 34º C (93º F) at noon. That can make the strongest person sick. And that’s what has happened. The sessions this morning took place among sneezes and the uneasiness of colds.

But there are also other changes that, even if sharp, are certainly very positive. There was a change in the pace of the meetings, and we moved from the speeches (which are only speeches, no matter how important) to working group sessions. The first theme unit was named “The Current Times” and has to do with an analysis of the reality of our Continent. The methodology agreed is well-known for Latin American theology and pastoral work—first “seeing”, then “judging”, and finally “acting.” So we started by “seeing” what is going on in the Region and its implications for discipleship and mission.

To begin, a bishop presents a short position paper which is followed by two responses. With this initial input, we divide into groups of fifteen to twenty people. Fifteen groups were formed in total. Mine, for example, is number seven. Each group appoints a redactor in charge of writing a synthesis of the contributions. With this synthesis, the group then meets two other groups and the three of them develop an integrated synthesis. The session rules call this method “the grid working system.” The syntheses developed yesterday were presented today. Almost all groups gave an overview of the social, cultural and ecclesial reality. They mentioned globalization, poverty, the crisis of institutions, ecological aggression, disappointment with democratic systems, inequality, drug traffic, corruption and other issues that give a good description of our landscape. After receiving the outcome of group work, the session is opened for participation by those bishops who want to take part. These interventions need to have been previously requested to the Presidency and are submitted in writing. This ensures order and the quality of the interventions.

Today we listened to eleven interventions that pointed out gaps in the work of groups. The interventions asked for more specific mentions of the Indian world, the environment, drug traffic, inter-cultural and inter-faith dialogue, the family, seniors and children. The now usual allusion to “Protestant proselytism” could not be absent—a reference that should not upset us if, in the end, we come to fraternal agreements (we hope the term “Protestant sects” will not be used any more, and will be replaced by “church communities” or “Christian communities”) so that we can work together in overcoming the most pressing evils. In the face of such blatant denials of life, we all need to join efforts. Inhuman poverty, for instance, has no favoritisms—it’s everyone’s problem, and we all can fight it together. The evils of the world are like a cold, that makes no distinction of beliefs.


viernes, 18 de mayo de 2007

IN ADITTION 01 | Harold Segura

By Dr. Jung Mo Song

I received an e-mail from a friend a co-worker in Guatemala, a woman friend, who thanks me for the notes from Aparecida and adds, with an affection that I appreciate, that “sometimes they are biased”. She’s completely right. This is the bias of my evangelical militancy, but above all of my friendship and empathy with many Catholic men and women who dream of a different Church of theirs. So, to complete my chronicles, notes or remarks (how will I call them?), I would suggest to you some texts written by Catholic men and women who pray, work and dream of a Church that is more inclusive, more present within the social realities of our peoples, more removed from the past and closer to the new century. The title I will give to these suggestions is simply IN ADDITION.

I’ll start with an excellent text by Dr. Jung Mo Sung, whom I had the pleasure to meet yesterday afternoon in a quick trip to São Paulo. I spent a few hours at the Methodist University (in order to present my book Beyond Utopia, now in its Portuguese translation. Sorry for the commercial) and there I met him. He is one of the Catholic thinkers that deserve my greatest respect and admiration. That’s what I told him when we met yesterday.

Your brother in Christ,



Thursday, May 17, 2007

I’m not sure what will be the topics for the final working agenda of the Commissions and Sub-Commissions. Yesterday I played the prophet when I mentioned some issues, but we will have to wait for the Assembly to decide. The one thing that was decided was that there will be a final Document, and the Redaction Commission was immediately appointed—it will be presided over by Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The other members of this Commission are Óscar Cardinal Rodríguez Madariaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa; Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Rietes, President of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference; Claúdio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy; Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati of Concepción (Chile); Bishop Julio Edgar Cabrera of Jalapa (Guatemala); Bishop Mario Moronta of San Cristóbal (Venezuela) and Bishop Ricardo Tobón of Sonsón-Río Negro (Colombia).

A Catholic theologian from the progressive wing with whom I had a conversation outside the Conference hall says that he would be satisfied if the final Document reasserts, first of all, the “preferential option for the poor”, and secondly, the indication that poverty has “structural causes.” There are other issues such as women, Indians, the descendants of Africans and the Protestants, among others, which do not have great expectations but do have modest aspirations which, if they turn out to be accomplished, would be mere “grammatical successes.” For example, if evangelical Protestantism ceases to be termed as “fundamentalist sects” and its work ceases to be called “proselytist invasion”, we would be well served. In this case the aspirations are not ambitious because we know from beforehand the priorities of Catholic officialism.

At this time in the beginnings of the Conference, and even if we do not know what will be the topics to consider, the existing certainty is that there is an intuition of what issues will NOT be dealt with deeply enough. No miracles are expected concerning unequal treatment of women, for example. Carmiña Navia, a Xaverian religious sister and professor at the University of Valle (Cali, Colombia), has said that, from her point of view and her sensitivity as a woman, “no significant changes are in the horizon in this sense in the ecclesial landscape.” Carmiña believes that “in the institutional, majority sectors, the gender perspective and the acceptance of women in their full subjectivity is not something we could think can come in the next few years” (Carmiña Navia, La mujer y la Conferencia Episcopal: Reflexiones y propuestas. Revista Lascasiana, #32, 2006.)

There won’t be any big changes either in other sensitive issues, for which we will have to wait a little longer. Neither diaconate for women, nor marriage for priests, nor a more compassionate attitude with the so-called sexual minorities will be dealt with for the time being.

In order to get to know the agenda, we will have to wait a few days (not many)—but to see the big changes that many Catholic men and women have been dreaming about, we will have to wait much longer. For the time being, these miracles will not happen.



Tuesday, May 16, 2007

After the thirty speeches by the representatives of the Bishops’ Conference of each country, we listened to the presentations given by the Prefects or Presidents of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia. The Dicasteries are bodies charged with specific functions delegated by the Pope and governed by the Apostolic Constitution. At the Conference in Aparecida, ten Prefects or Presidents of such Dicasteries are present, all of them Cardinals, including William Joseph Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who a few months ago issued the Notification against Jon Sobrino. W. Joseph Cardinal Levada succeeded Joseph Ratzinger in this office. Also attending are the Presidents of the Pontifical Council for the Family, of the Council for Culture, of the Council for Pastoral Care of Health, of the Council for Justice and Peace, of the Council for the Laity, and the Prefects of the Congregation for the Clergy and for Consecrated Life. A notorious absentee is the German Cardinal Karl Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity—perhaps because ecumenism is not a priority in this Conference, in my opinion.

When someone who is in charge of a Dicastery speaks, he is expressing the will of the Pope and the Roman official position. They are here to ensure that will. That’s why their addresses were listened to with the utmost attention. Each one of them had seven minutes for his presentation. In two occasions, the ruthless traffic light turned red and, given the importance of the speaker, the President was benevolent enough to extend the term for two more minutes. After that time, the microphone would turn off, even if the speaker was a respected Cardinal. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to listen to all the speeches in schedule.

The next step will be to decide on the order of the work to do (according to the rules), and then appoint the groups, commissions and sub-commissions. The President, Cardinal Errázuriz, very kindly approached the four representatives “of the Reformation” (that’s the classification given to us since Tuesday afternoon) in order to encourage us to participate with enthusiasm in the commissions and to present our points of view. We were also given five minutes for one of us to speak on behalf of the “Reformation” group. Dr. Míguez will prepare the first draft of the speech and then the others will give our contributions and remarks. Our intervention will take place this weekend or early next week.

Now, why am I giving such a detailed explanation of these procedures? Because procedure, together with daily liturgy, is an essential element of this Conference. Both the rules and the method of participation facilitate the end product. And the President has already said that the outcome of Aparecida could be a document similar to those of previous Conferences, plus a final message. This will be decided by vote by those participants with speaking and voting rights. And we from the Reformation, as could be supposed, do not have that right because we do not belong to the Catholic Church. That’s understandable.

From what we have heard in the speeches, the most frequent concerns are the loss of the Catholic identity of the Continent, the loss of members of the Church, the loss of traditional morality, the loss of faith in the Eucharist and the advance of poverty. This means that the evils to fight against could be secularism, sects, relativism and, hopefully, poverty. Will these be the agenda items? Will the progressive sectors be able to save the Church from a possible “return to the past”? Tomorrow, after the mass, the panorama will be clearer for us.



Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Those who are supposed to know more say that today, Tuesday, is one of the most important days in the Conference. Today’s program contemplates the participation by the Presidents of the Bishops’ Conferences of every country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each one of these men (as we know, this is a hierarchy of men only) has exactly seven minutes that are controlled by a traffic light with a yellow and a red light. At the seventh minute, without exception, when the threatening red light shines, the volume of the microphone turns out. Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes, President of the Mexican Bishops’ Conference, has already experienced the cruelty of color when his speech was cut before he ended his words.

Up to now, when there are still a few minutes left in the morning session, those who have spoken include fifteen Bishops, in this order: Carlos Aguiar Retes (Mexico), José Francisco Ulloa (Costa Rica), Miguel Ángel Morán (El Salvador), Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini (Guatemala), Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga (Honduras), Leopoldo José Brenes (Nicaragua), José Luis Lacunza (Panama), Robert Kurtz (Antilles), Juan García Rodríguez (Cuba), Luis Kébreau (Haiti), Roberto Octavio González (Puerto Rico), Ramón Benito De la Rosa (Dominican Republic), Luis Augusto Castro (Colombia), Néstor Rafael Herrera (Ecuador), and Julio Terrazas Sandoval (Bolivia). The pattern of their speech is similar for all of them. They first present some statistical data of their National Conference, then the major challenges and finally the most relevant proposals.

And those who mentioned the importance of this day were right, because this is when the list of topics to be dealt with in the coming days will be defined. The Synthesis Document is a reference text, as well as the Pope’s inaugural speech. But the topics to be debated in the Commissions will be decided on right now. That’s why the President, Francisco Javier Cardinal Errázuriz (Chile), requested everyone to listen to the presentations attentively in order to detect the common topics and priorities stated.

Several common topics were mentioned, including the deep cultural changes and their implications for pastoral work, the chaotic effects of the neo-liberal model and the increasing poverty, the need to make catechesis more dynamic, the defense of the family facing the threats of divorce, abortion, pre-marital sex and infidelity. Other topics were repeated, but I would like to highlight the open fear expressed by the bishops for the growth of non-Catholic religious groups. Once and again they used expressions like “anti-Catholic Protestantism”, the “attractive offer of the sects”, the “advance of evangelical proselytism”, the “ground conquered by Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals”, and, the most disqualifying of all, “the invasion of syncretistic sects”.

During the break, one of the laywomen who were present (and they are very few) came close to Dr. Néstor Míguez and me to express her apologies for the anti-sectarian avalanche in the session. Cardinal Errázuriz, too, when the second session started, made public clarifications asserting that when the word “sects” has been used it does not refer to historic Protestants, or to those evangelicals present, or to Pentecostals. These gestures of courtesy are to be appreciated.

But—who has the last word concerning ecumenism in official statements? I don’t know. Benedict XVI has given some protocol expressions of rapprochement. The same applies to the documents of the Magisterium (with due exceptions). But the reality of National Conferences, in these regions of the world, is different. On the other hand, in community grassroots, which are the most important level, ecumenical encounter and collaboration is enjoying good health. It is, then, in the official circles of Latin America and the Caribbean where it now seems to be suffering from a new cold. Let’s hope it recovers before this new CELAM Conference is over!

In the meantime, in my opinion, the traffic light of official ecumenism is an intermittent yellow light.



Monday, May 14, 2007

The V Conference started formally yesterday, Sunday afternoon, with the inaugural address by the Pope. It was 4:00 p.m. when Benedict XVI entered the meeting hall, located in the basement of the Basilica of Aparecida, which is known as the largest Marian shrine in the world. After the litany and a brief Gregorian chant, the President of CELAM, Francisco Javier Cardinal Errázuriz (from Chile) gave the words of thanks and welcome. He said that the greatest longing of all those present was for our Continent to open “the locks of its existence and of its thirst to the Holy Spirit that fills all with youth, peace and new life in Christ, so that everything that the Father of Heaven planted in this Continent of Hope will bear abundant and surprising fruit…” It was a brief speech, with several references to the Virgin Aparecida and to the story of its miraculous finding. Then we listened to the words of the Pope.

Just out of curiosity I counted the applauses and recorded the lines that caused them. We applauded him eighteen times in total. In the first part of the address he was applauded when he said that “the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in that God that has become poor for us, in order to enrich us with his poverty.” But he was also applauded (and this balanced the tendencies) when he condemned the Marxist system because “wherever it has ruled, it has left behind not just a sad inheritance of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the spirit.” The wide range of topics gave opportunities for everybody to applaud for some reason: the defenders of the family, the promoters of lay participation, the champions of men’s and women’s equality (let’s not say “gender equality”, because Benedict doesn’t like that phrase), those who expect the renewal of the Church, anti-capitalists and anti-Marxists—everyone had their reason to celebrate. Even us, the five evangelical Protestants who were there. We felt at home when he wondered: “How can one actually know Christ in order to follow him and live with him, in order to find life in him and to communicate this life to others, to society and to the world?”, and then he answered this was “through the Word of God.” He then added: “This is why the people need to be educated in reading and meditating the Word of God—let this Word become their food so that, by their own experience, they can see that the words of Jesus are spirit and truth.” How not to applaud!

But applauses are not everything. One day later, I have heard more well-thought expressions. “He left us a map, but didn’t show the route”, remarked a bishop concerned for the work ahead in these three weeks. “We were expecting a more conservative discourse”, said one who was fearing allusions to divorced people, to abortion, euthanasia and other topics of the moral polemics. But—no, he chose a different way this time. He spoke against capitalism, he insisted in the integral development of the human person (remembering Paul VI in his encyclical Populorum progressio), he encouraged social catechesis, he promoted church movements and highlighted the role of priests. There are also some people who, reading between the lines, think they are detecting the internal tensions of a Church that struggles between fear for the uprising of new leftist movements and the relentless growth of “the sects”.

Before he left the room, even though we had been told that he would only greet the Cardinals, the list was expanded to include some laypeople, the representative of the Jewish community, the Orthodox bishop, some priests, and our Ofelia Ortega (from Cuba), a Presbyterian woman minister and President of the World Council of Churches. At that time, I applauded even more.

The full text of the address can be found at: http://www.celam.info/content/view/242/1/



Sunday, May 12, 2007

Aparecida do Norte is a small city in Brazil, with 50,000 inhabitants, located in the Valley of Paraíba and in the State of São Paulo. In the midst of the small city is the shrine of Our Lady Aparecida (“the Appeared One”), whose monumental size contrasts with the size of the city and with the tiny image venerated there. The name of this image of the Virgin has to do with the story of how it was found. A group of modest fishermen picked it up in the Paraíba River in 1717. First they “fished” the body of the image, and later its head. This was the origin of a miracle legend, especially because only a few minutes later the fishermen obtained an abundant catch which they attributed to their finding. Felipe Pedroso, one of the fishermen, when he took the Virgin in his hands, said: “This is Our Lady that has appeared to us!” That was the origin of the name of Aparecida.

But let’s go back to today’s town. Even though it’s small and with thousands of pilgrims coming from afar, its hotels showed low occupancy. Thirty percent of the rooms are still vacant. Also in São Paulo, an attendance of a million and a half was expected at the service of canonization of Frei Galvão, but 800,000 showed up. And this morning, 150,000 people attended the outdoor mass, out of a half million expected. A Colombian priest remarked to me in a hallway, “Benedict doesn’t have John Paul’s charisma.” And he added, “John Paul had been an artist and studied theater in his youth; he was very good at communicating with people. Benedict, instead—he’s been a theologian ever since we knew him.”

There’s no doubt that, with Benedict XVI, theology has returned to Peter’s chair. Whether or not we agree with his theology (let’s remember the Instruction on Some Aspects of Liberation Theology, of 1984, or the declaration Dominus Jesus of 2000, or the recent Notification against Jon Sobrino), the truth is that this Pope is a theologian. Those of us for whom theology is a passion or a pastime cannot ignore his Theory of Theological Principles: Materials for a Fundamental Theology, or his Introduction to Christianity, or Creation and Sin, or Faith, Truth and Tolerance, or his texts written with Karl Rahner, among many others.

He is rigorous when arguing over dogma. A sample of this is the first Encyclical in his pontificate, Deus Caritas Est. This encyclical had originally been drafted by Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, at the request of John Paul II. But Archbishop Cordes himself, in an academic lecture he offered to us yesterday, Saturday afternoon, revealed that the new Pope, once he decided to publish it, went over the whole text and redacted it again until he gave it “the Ratzinger style”. And the Ratzinger style is dogmatic rigor. He begins with the formal statements and then breaks them down with a richness of deductive argumentations. It’s the old deductive method of theocentric theology.

From the extroverted shepherd with pastoral speeches and a long pontificate, there has been a change to an introverted one, with rigorous speeches and a recent pontificate. “He’s a transition Pope,” some friends in CELAM tell me. “A Latin American one will come,” they add as if they knew that’s what’s going to happen. But in the meantime, there’s Benedict, without John Paul’s multitudes, but with the same attentive professor’s chair we had known when he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and President of the Biblical Commission and of the Theological Commission.

Let’s welcome theology. I don’t know if that’s good news!



Saturday, May 11, 2007

I received an e-mail from a pastor friend who is anti-ecumenical (that’s how he proudly introduces himself) and says, “I regret that you have to fill that role, but I am of the opinion that it is fateful for the witness of Christianity.” He’s not the only one who has written to me protesting that I’m in Aparecida. Another friend has invited me to read 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 so I realize my error. Those of us who participated in the encounter between the World Baptist Alliance and the Vatican in December, 2001, received similar reactions. They said we “were surrendering to Rome and ignoring centuries of persecution.”

All of this helps me remember in whose name I am here. I’m representing the Latin American Baptist Union and also World Vision International. The bishops greet me as one of the seven non-Catholic observers. But one thing must be clear—I’m not representing a unanimous people in terms of ecumenical outlook. Protestant-Evangelicals in Latin America, in their majority, are anti-ecumenical. That’s the statistical fact! Even the word ecumenical arouses reservations and has to be camouflaged as inter-confessional so it won’t seem so fateful.

Mi own evangelical pilgrimage (I converted to the evangelical faith when I was 18) has not been ecumenical from its start. I belong to a generation of churches for whom being evangelical was to be anti-Catholic—the years when we used to hear about Catholic parish priests who persecuted evangelical pastors, and about evangelical pastors who demonized Catholics. Being an evangelical was “moving out of Roman slavery.” And Catholics would interpret our conversion as a “denial of faith and outright apostasy.”

My ecumenical trajectory (or my inter-confessional trajectory, if that sounds better) is recent. It goes back to only fifteen years, when I realized that, in my country, one had to opt for peace, and that peace is built with respect among those who are different. I was then that I understood that respectful dialogue does not involve surrendering your principles; that you can change your attitude without changing your views; that you can work for the common good even with those who profess their faith in a different way.

So here I am, representing a diverse people (that’s one of the virtues we Protestant-Evangelicals have), with large anti-ecumenical portions whom I also hope to represent with dignity. I won’t tell anyone that we evangelicals are ecumenical, because I would be lying. “Bishop,” I will tell the one talking to me, “among us evangelicals there are some who are ultra-ecumenical, others who are semi-ecumenical, anti-ecumenical or neo-ecumenical, among other possible categories.” It’s just like in the Catholic Church. We are very similar in this respect.
There are reasons for being here—to witness to mutual respect and to hurry along a new stage in history when all of us together can join our efforts in order to work for things that, up to now, have not interested many of those who are anti-ecumenical—peace, justice, and the dream of a continent that lives with dignity. This is an evangelical task.

Your brother in Christ,