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.
sábado, 2 de junio de 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
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.
PART THREE: THE LIFE OF JESUS CHRIST FOR OUR PEOPLES
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.