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Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on the 3rd General Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate
General Audience, Wednesday 7 February 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dearest Brothers and Sisters,
1. The third General Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate is an event on which the attention of the whole Church is concentrated. It arouses great interest even in circles outside the Church. The fact that this is already the third Conference testifies that its history, though short, is, however, very significant and fruitful.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII decided to convoke the first General Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate — which was celebrated at Rio de Janeiro from 25 July to 4 August 1955 — to examine the religious problems which, even then, were causing great concern in the whole Continent. It was a kind of scrutinizing of the signs of the times, in order to draw indications of more and more suitable ways for the renewal and strengthening of the apostolic activity of the Church. In particular, the shortage of clergy, which emerged with dramatic obviousness, showed the necessity of seeking closer collaboration at the continental level, the instrument of which was to be a council representing all the national Episcopates.

The institution of CELAM was the first and most important result of the Conference: a dynamic result, open to developments which took on growing importance and an increasingly rapid tempo.

In 1968 Pope Paul VI, in order to be able to adapt the mission of the Church better to the needs of Latin America in the light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, convoked the second General Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate, celebrated at Medellin from 24 August to 6 September (1968). The main purpose of the meeting was study of the subject: "The Church in the present transformation of Latin America in the light of the Second Vatican Council".

The details indicated above give sufficient information about the way in which, in the course of the decades, this splendid organ of collegiality of the present Episcopate in the Latin-American Continent was formed and developed. At this moment it is the principal subject of
the event called "Puebla" for short.

2. This abbreviation, as is known, comes from the name of the Mexican city in which the third General Conference of the Latin-American Episcopate is taking place. I had the great fortune to be able to open it personally, presiding, on Saturday 27 January, over the concelebration in the sanctuary of the Mother of God at Guadalupe, and delivering, on Sunday 28 January, an address at the beginning of the work, in the building of the Major Seminary at Puebla.

In any case, I would like to call attention particularly to the method of work and to the insight and precision with which the Conference was prepared.

Before arriving at the formulation of the principal texts contained in the "Documento de trabajo" (back-ground document), which consists of 172 pages altogether, the individual Episcopal Conferences of Latin America, following the general plan of the "Documento de consulta" (consultation document), worked at preparing their own opinions, remarks, and proposals with regard to the subject of the third Conference, which was formulated as follows: "Evangelization in the present and future of Latin America". It is clear that the sources of this subject were sought mainly in the work of the ordinary Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops which took place in Rome in the years 1974 and 1977. We recall that the subject of those Assemblies was respectively "Evangelization in the modern world" and "Catechesis with particular regard to the young".

The fruit of the exchange of experiences, proposals, and suggestions of the 1974 Synod of Bishops was Paul VI's Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Nuntiandi, one of the most characteristic, significant, and fruitful documents of his pontificate.

Such is the genesis of the present Conference of CELAM, as regards its subject. As can be seen, it is very limpid. The initiative of dealing with this subject of a universal-ecclesiastical character, that is, "Evangelization" with reference to Latin America, goes back to the year 1976. In any case, the whole cycle of preparation took two whole years. In this period, the National Episcopal Conferences, setting great store also by the suggestions offered by individual members of the local ecclesial communities, prepared their contribution for the drawing up of the "Background Document"; that is, the Document which was to serve as a reference point for the work of the Puebla Conference, and which was to serve as a basis for the exchange of experiences, proposals and suggestions. This is just what is now being done at Puebla.

The individual Episcopal Conferences, as well as being represented by their respective Presidents, have nominated a number of delegates, in proportion to the global number of bishops belonging to the Conference. Furthermore, representatives of the various members of the People of God, priests, men and women religious, deacons, and laity, have been invited to Puebla.

3. The above particulars regarding the Puebla Conference are perhaps already known to some of my listeners today. I thought it opportune, however, to summarize them now for two reasons. First, out of consideration for the importance of the event which bears the name "Puebla". At the same time, to express my joy at seeing the teaching on the collegiality of the Episcopate, recalled by the Second Vatican Council, become incarnate in life in such a splendid way and bear fruit in our days.

It would be worthwhile to open again here the text of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium at chapter three, and re-read all its sections carefully.

It would be necessary to recall to mind many passages of Christus Dominus, the decree on the pastoral duties of bishops.

Let us dwell on some sentences: "Just as, in accordance with the Lord's decree, St Peter and the rest of the apostles constitute a unique apostolic college, so in like fashion the Roman Pontiff, Peter's successor, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are related with and united to one another. The very ancient discipline whereby the bishops, installed throughout the whole world, lived in communion with one another and with the Roman Pontiff in a bond of unity, charity, and peace; likewise the holding of councils in order to settle conjointly, in a decision rendered balanced and equitable by the advice of many, all questions of major importance; all this indeed points clearly to the collegiate character and structure of the episcopal order, and the holding of ecumenical councils in the course of the centuries bears this out unmistakably" (Lumen Gentium, 22).

The Council is the fullest expression of the collegiality of the episcopal office in the Church. Its other manifestations do not have such a fundamental significance. However, they are very necessary, useful, and sometimes absolutely indispensable.

This applies both to collegial institutions—among the latter, it is the Episcopal Conferences that are developing mainly in the Western Church now—and also to the various forms of collegial activity.

The present Conference at Puebla is just this form of collegial activity of the Latin-American Episcopate. Certainly, both the individual collegial institutions and also the forms of collegial activity of the Episcopates correspond particularly to the requirements of our times.

4. The dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, speaking of the collegiality of the Bishops, also uses the expression "episcopal body" (corpus episcopate). This seems to contain an even deeper analogy with regard to the whole Church, which St Paul, as we well know, called "the body of Christ" (cf. Rom 12: 5; 1 Cor 1:13; 6:12-20; 10:17; 12: 12, 27: Gal 3:28; Eph 1:22-23; 2: 16; 4:4; Col 1:4; 3:15). As regards this analogy, we are already entering deeply into the intimate mystery of the Church: the union of life, which she draws from Christ.

The "Corpus episcopate" concerns the most important exterior structure of the Church: her hierarchical unity. In any case, this exterior structure remains in the service of the interior mystery of the Church, of the Mystical Body of Christ. Just for this reason and for this purpose it, that is, this structure, is also a "body": the episcopal body or college.

In the period in which this college, that is, the "body", is dedicating its work to the problem of the evangelization of the South-American continent "in the present and in the future", it must be hoped that the Lord Jesus himself is present in the midst of its members and through them. For we read in the above-mentioned constitution Lumen Gentium as follows:

"In the person of the bishops, then, to whom the priests render assistance, the Lord Jesus Christ, supreme high priest, is present in the midst of the faithful. Though seated at the right hand of God the Father, he is not absent from the assembly of his pontiffs; on the contrary, indeed, it is, above all, through their signal service that he preaches the Word of God to all peoples, and administers without cease to the faithful the sacraments of faith; through their paternal care (cf. 1 Cor 4:15) that he incorporates, by a supernatural birth, new members into his body; finally, through their wisdom and prudence, that he directs and guides the people of the New Testament on their journey towards eternal beatitude." To them, in fact, "is entrusted the duty of affirming the Gospel of the grace of God" (cf. Rom 15:16; Acts 20:24) and the glorious ministry of the Spirit and of justice (cf. 2 Cor 3:8-9) ( Lumen Gentium, 21.)

My Apostolic Blessing to you all."

Catechesis by Pope St John Paul II on Evangelization in the present and future of Latin America
General Audience, Wednesday 14 February 1979 - in English, French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. "Evangelization in the present and future of Latin America": this is the subject on which the third General Conference of the Episcopate of that Continent worked from 27 January to 13 February of this year. Yesterday the Conference concluded its work. Today, together with my Brothers in the Episcopate who took part in that Conference, with all the Episcopates of the whole Latin-American continent, I wish to thank the Holy Spirit for the whole of that work. I wish to thank the Spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his Mother, the Bride of the Holy Spirit. Precisely at her feet, in the Sanctuary of Guadalupe, we began the third Conference together.

When we hear the word "evangelization", there comes into our mind the words of St Paul: "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). These words, which spring from the depths of the Apostle's soul, are the cry of the Church of our time. They became the testament of Paul VI, which found its expression in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi. Now they become the words of faith, hope, and charity of the Latin-American Episcopate. For faith, hope, and charity must be expressed in a language of responsibility for the Gospel, for its proclamation, as the Apostle St Paul put it.

2. Evangelization in the American continent is in the first place the heritage of the centuries. If we speak of the present and the future of this evangelization, we cannot forget its "yesterday", its past. I spoke of this in my first homily, which I delivered at the Mass concelebrated at Santo Domingo during the recent journey. "From the first moments of discovery", I said, "the concern of the Church is manifested in making the kingdom of God present in the hearts of the new peoples, races and cultures... The soil of America was prepared to receive the new Christian seed by movements of spirituality of its own."

That "yesterday" of the evangelization of the men and peoples of the Latin-American continent could be noticed constantly during my visit in Mexico, and formed a characteristic of the whole journey. Everywhere, I found splendid temples which recalled the first generations of the Church and of Christianity in that land. But above all, I met the living men, who accepted as their own the gospel proclaimed to them in the new world, by missionaries from the old world, and made it the substance of their own lives. Certainly, that meeting of the new arrivals from Europe with the natives was not an easy one. One has the impression that the latter did not completely accept what is European; that, in a certain way, they tried to hide in their own tradition and in their native culture. But, at the same time, one has the impression that they accepted Jesus Christ and his Gospel; that in that community of faith a meeting of the "old" with the "new " took place, and that this is at the basis not only of the life of the Church but of Mexican society itself. That continuity of faith, as we all know, went through serious tests and hard examinations. It is difficult to resist the impression, which strikes one insistently, that in the crucible of those tests and examinations the community was strengthened and deepened. It bears the signs of a great simplicity and of the spiritual victory of faith, in spite of the circumstances which might bear witness to the contrary and which, considering things from the human point of view, might sadden us.

3. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever!" (Heb 13:8).

The representatives of the Episcopate gathered in Puebla, thinking of evangelization in the present and future of Latin America, were aware of the fact that the Church as the Body of Christ and his faithful Bride, the Church as the People of God, can never break with the past, with tradition. But neither can it be content to look only to the past: the ecclesia "retro-oculata" must always be, at the same time, the Church that looks to the future (ecclesia "ante--oculata"). To this future, to the men who already exist and those who will come, the Church must always reveal Jesus Christ, the full and not diminished mystery of Salvation. This mystery is an eternal mystery in God, who wants all men to be saved and to arrive at knowledge of the truth. The mystery that became in time a Divine-Human Reality, which bears the name of Jesus Christ.

It is a historical Reality, and at the same time he is above history. He "is the same yesterday and today, and for ever." (Heb 13:8).

It is a Reality which does not stop outside man; the reason for its existence is to be and operate in man; to construct the source and ferment of new life in every man.

To evangelize means acting in this direction, in order that the source and ferment of new life may shine forth in men and in the ever-new generations.

To evangelize does not mean just telling "about Christ". To proclaim Christ means getting the man

— the one to whom this proclamation is addressed — to "believe", that is, to see himself in Christ; to find again in him the adequate dimension of his own life; simply, to find himself again in Christ.
The one who carries out this work is the man who evangelizes, who proclaims Christ; but, above, all, it is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The Church, which evangelizes, remains the handmaid and instrument of the Spirit.

The fact of finding oneself again in Christ, which is precisely the fruit of evangelization, becomes man's substantial liberation. Service of the Gospel is service of freedom in the Spirit. The man who has found himself in Christ, has found again the way to the consequent liberation of his own humanity through the overcoming of all his limitations and weaknesses; through liberation from his own situation of sin and from the multiple structures of sin which weigh upon the life of society and of individuals.

To this truth, so strongly expressed by St. Paul, we must refer with no less clarity in the evangelizing mission in the American continent and everywhere.

4. The future of evangelization is identified with the implementation of the great and multiple programme outlined by the Second Vatican Council.

The Church, in order that she may carry out her mission with regard to the "world", must strengthen herself, deeply in her own mystery, and must construct thoroughly her own community, the community of the People of God, based on the apostolic succession, on the hierarchical ministry, on the vocation to exclusive service of God in the priesthood and in religious life, and on the laity aware of its own apostolic tasks.

The Latin-American world is waiting for the Church to carry out her own mission with regard to it. It is waiting for it even when it shows contestation and indifference with regard to the Church and the Gospel.

All this must not discourage the apostles of Christ and the servants of the Gospel of his love.

My dear brothers in the Episcopate of the Latin-American Continent are bearing witness that "the love of Christ controls us" (cf. 2 Cor 5:14), that they are ready to "preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching." (cf. 2 Tim 4:2)

— as St Paul says — in order that the communities, entrusted to their care as pastors and teachers, will not "turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths" (cf. 2 Tim 4:4).
My brothers in the Episcopate of the Latin-American continent are ready, together with their priests, religious men and women, and all zealous laity, to read the "signs of the times", to form the whole People of God in justice, truth, and love.

May the Lord bless them in all this work of theirs.

May he allow them to see the fruits of this zeal and this cooperation, the proof of which has been the third General Conference in Puebla.

May the Church in the Latin-American continent, strong in the tradition of its first evangelization, become strong again with the conscience of the whole People of God, with the strength of its own priestly and religious vocations, with a deep sense of responsibility for the social order, based on justice, peace, respect of human rights, on the adequate distribution of goods, on the progress of public education and culture.

We wish them all of this.

Let all of us gathered here, and the whole Church, continue to pray tirelessly for these aims of Latin America, invoking the intercession of the Mother of God of Guadalupe, at whose feet we began our work.