Ecclesial Assembly aims to revitalize Church

Speaking to participants at the Ecclesial Assembly of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga recalled the importance of educating the faithful about the concept of synodality. He acknowledges the fears of some who prefer to maintain things the way they are, but also the great hopes of those “who dream of a Church with open doors.” He underscores the urgency of renewing the Church in innovative ways with ideas that reform and revitalize.
Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, sent his intervention via video message to the Ecclesial Assembly taking place in Mexico City and online. In his speech he presented a historical panorama of the creation of the Ecclesial Assembly for the Latin American and Caribbean continent. And since the 2019 Assembly of the Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) in Tegucigalpa, the Cardinal recalled that they did not want this meeting to be just “a dialogue of intellectuals or religious aristocracy,” and so that is why this Ecclesial Assembly is made up of 20 percent bishops, 20 percent religious, 20 percent clergy, and 40 percent laity.

A laity that is a voice for the voiceless

The 40 percent representation of the laity, he said, “corresponds to what can be called the peripheries, so within the Assembly, they will carry the voices of migrants, refugees, victims of trafficking, as missionary disciples, to vindicate their role within the Church”.

Cardinal Maradiaga affirmed that the Ecclesial Assembly intends to respond to the following broad question: What are the new challenges for the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean in light of the Fifth General Conference of Aparecida, the signs of the times, and the magisterium of Pope Francis for the Assembly and on the road to the Jubilees of 2031 and 2033?

In response, he notes that the process of celebration of the Assembly has as its objective, “to revitalize the Church in a new way, offering ideas that reform and reanimate,” to be an ecclesial event that is synodal, involving all roles in the Church and with a representative, inclusive and participative methodology. He added the aim is also to allow for a renewed appreciation of the ideas discussed at the 2007 meeting of Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in order to plan for the future with an eye to progress made in the past and themes that are ever-relevant today. This marks an opportune time, he said, and a sign that can be shared with other continents that will help bring about fruitful outcomes.

The preparation process

On 29 February 2020, Cardinal Maradiaga recounted that they met in Mexico to begin a synodal journey with the goal of celebrating the first Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean in November of that same year, but then the pandemic halted everything.

In spite of this situation, he recalled that the president of CELAM, Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos, began the process of preparing the gathering. “It began with a commission looking at content, which worked from June to September of last year, then the drafting of what we call the Document for the Journey, which went hand in hand with a spiritual itinerary, with the methodology of seeing, judging and acting that we bring from the Medellín conference.” He recalled taking up again the process of listening that occurred at the Amazon Synod as a central way to achieve greater synodality “in all areas of our Church”.

Listening to 70 thousand participants

Finally, Cardinal Maradiaga pointed out that the 70,000 participants in the recommended personal, community, group and thematic forums did consist of simply collecting data and statistics, but marked a compassionate encounter of dialogue and contemplation with the people and communities, making us missionary disciples by listening to and accompanying them “with a merciful heart”.

A journey together in synodality

The Ecclesial Assembly brings togther elected representatives from each Episcopal Conference and includes those participating onsite and online. Cardinal Maradiaga notes that, “two pre-assemblies have already been held and the end of this process brought about the publication of the Document for Discernment ten days ago. It was drafted from the multiple contributions of the People of God taking part in the listening process”. The active participation of so many people “has been a grace, a strong experience of synodality”, he notes, as the Document states, “Let us walk together as pilgrims, in love with the Gospel, open to the surprises of the Spirit!”

Present at the Ecclesial Assembly from North America is Fr. Leo Pérez, OMI,  who directs the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) Collection for the Church in Latin America. He has also been very impressed by the diversity of representatives from all walks of life and the openness in listening and discussing ways to assure a vibrant Church future. He says “There’s so much experience of the Church and we’re sharing it together. We’re listening together. We are describing how Christ is working among us. And this is only going to build a stronger Church. What’s wonderful? This isn’t just bishops or priests or religious talking down. No, this is an ecclesial assembly. It is the Church gathered together. Youth, laypeople, sisters, priests, bishops all sharing together and that’s making it powerful. The Spirit is here, and I’m glad to be here.

By Patricia Ynestroza – Vatican City