Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Special Synod for America (Lineamenta)

by Synod of Bishops


By the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops made public September 3, 1996.

Publisher & Date

Unknown, September 3, 1996

Encounter With the Living Jesus Christ: Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America


His Holiness Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, No. 38 (Nov. 10, 1994), voiced his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America. Shortly after this announcement, the Holy Father appointed a Presynodal Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops for the Special Assembly for America, composed for the most part by Bishops from America. The General Secretariat immediately began the preparation process for this Special Synodal Assembly by sending a letter of consultation to all interested parties on the America continent, that is, the episcopal conferences and the Archbishops sui iuris of the Oriental Churches as well as to the departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General in an effort to arrive at a topic of contemporary importance, universal interest and particular urgency for treatment at this Special Synodal Assembly. The results of this consultation were then analyzed and discussed by the Presynodal Council for the Special Assembly for America and a series of recommendations formulated for submission to the Holy Father.

Taking into consideration the Council's proposals, the Holy Father subsequently made the following choice of topic for this Special Assembly: "Encounter With the Living Jesus Christ, the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America." The topic formulation intends to respond to the unique set of circumstances within the Church in America as well as to address the actual state of affairs affecting all the peoples and cultures on the American continent. In highlighting the centrality of the living Jesus Christ as a way toward conversion, communion and solidarity, the Church in America will be better prepared to celebrate the great jubilee year 2000 and will fulfill more effectively the new evangelization, which offers to all peoples of the continent the message of salvation.

To present this synodal topic in a general way, the General Secretariat, in cooperation with the members of the same Presynodal Council and theologians from the American continent, has drafted the Lineamenta, the first in a series of documents related to the Special Assembly for America. As its name suggests, the present document is offered as a broad "outline" on the topic. The sole purpose in providing this text is to foster a common reflection and prayer on the topic as well as to generate suggestions and observations. For this reason, a series of questions appears at the end of the document.

It is the hope that this Lineamenta will result in a rich response in every part of the Church in America so that the episcopal conferences and the Archbishops sui iuris of the Oriental Churches can have the necessary information to draft their official responses, which will be sent to the General Secretariat. The quality and quantity of the replies will ensure that the Synod Fathers, gathered in Special Assembly, will have the material needed for a more in-depth treatment of a topic of great importance for the Church in America.

Consequently, the Lineamenta itself is not part of the agenda of the Special Assembly. A "working document" or Instrumentum laboris will be drawn up at a later time on the basis of the official responses coming from the above interested parties of the American continent and those from the departments of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General.

Therefore, the whole Church in America is invited to participate: diocesan and religious priests, women and men religious, lay men and women, seminaries and faculties of theology, pastoral Councils, Catholic movements and groups, parish communities and all Church organizations. The more numerous the responses, the more complete and substantial will be the information for those who are responsible to draw up their official reports. This will likewise ensure the complete and substantial character of the text of the Instrumentum laboris, the document which will be the center of attention and discussion at the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America.

In preparing a response to the Lineamenta, the following points should be borne in mind. The number and variety of the questions listed in the final section of the document have been deliberately chosen to serve as a guide in structuring the reflections on the topic of the Special Assembly for America. These questions, then, and not the Lineamenta text, should be the basis of all responses. In this regard, all observations should make explicit reference to the question addressed. At the same time, each and every question need not be answered. Depending on individual circumstances, respondents are free to make a choice of those questions which seem relevant.

On the American continent, responses from Church communities and groups within an arch/diocese are sent to the local Bishop, who will make use of such information in drafting his response. The Bishop's response is then forwarded to the episcopal conference of which he is a member. The submissions from these episcopal bodies and those from the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General should arrive at the General Secretariat no later than April 1, 1997. This target date should be kept in mind by all those who wish to contribute in some manner in this reflection process.

With the publication of the Lineamenta a crucial stage in the preparation of the Special Assembly begins, a stage which relies upon the cooperation and prayers of every member of the Church. The mystery of communion teaches that the Church extends beyond the confines of a given nation and continent-even beyond the world as we know it-through time into eternity. As the Church in America prepares for this special celebration of the communion of Bishops, she does so in mystical union with the whole Church. In this spirit she is supported in this period of preparation by the prayers and good works of all the Church's members, particularly by those of the heavenly community of American martyrs and saints, and as in every endeavor, looks to the Virgin Mary for her unfailing assistance.

Cardinal Jan Schotte, CICM General Secretary

Note: In speaking of the Special Assembly for America-and not of a Pan-American assembly or intercultural assembly, no intention is made to overlook the evident cultural, historic and social differences which characterize North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Since the purpose of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops is to treat problems which all the above parts have in common, a choice was made to refer to America as a single geographic entity and to specify in each case-when the context requires-the respective differences.


1. As the end of the second millennium of Christianity draws near, the Church is preparing by various pastoral initiatives to celebrate with faith and gratitude the great jubilee of the birth of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this way, she is preparing to enter the third millennium of the Christian era with a renewed commitment to give joyful witness before the whole world to her faith and hope. The pilgrim Church in America also wants to celebrate Jesus Christ as well as to recall and relive the fundamental, decisive event of her history. For all humanity, this is a dramatic and exciting era. Some people see it as the end of a historical era and the period of labor giving birth to a new civilization. In this context, it is possible to reflect on how this historical moment affects the people of God as well as on how the Church in America can participate in the birth of a new civilization of justice, solidarity and love.

2. In order to promote a renewal of faith and Christian life at this historical crossroad, Bishops-the majority of whom will come from the American continent-will be called into a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America. With an apostolic spirit, they are thereby embracing the proposal first made by the Holy Father Pope John Paul II in Santo Domingo in 1992 at the inauguration of the work of the Fourth General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, when he said:

"Along these same lines of pastoral concern for the most disadvantaged social categories, this general conference could examine the opportuneness of a meeting in the not-too-distant future of representatives of the episcopates of the entire American continent-a meeting which could be synodal in nature-for increased cooperation between the various particular Churches in the different areas of pastoral activity and at which, in the context of the new evangelization and as an expression of episcopal communion, the problems relating to justice and solidarity among all the nations of America could be faced."1

Later, the Pope again treated the subject in the overall program of preparation for the jubilee year 2000, presented to the universal Church in his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente:

"The last general conference of the Latin American episcopate accepted, in agreement with the Bishops of North America, the proposal for a synod for the Americas on the problems of the new evangelization in both parts of the same continent, so different in origin and history, and on issues of justice and international economic relations, in view of the enormous gap between North and South."2

The major goals which the Holy Father proposes for the present Special Assembly for America are the following:

-To foster a new evangelization on the whole continent as an expression of episcopal communion.

-To increase solidarity among the various particular Churches in different fields of pastoral activity; and

-To shed light on the problems of justice and the international economic relations among the nations of America, considering the enormous imbalances among the North, Central and South of the continent.

3. This Lineamenta is intended to respond to these goals and gather together the responses of the various Episcopal Conferences of America. Above all, it should be stated that the starting point is Jesus Christ, the Savior and Evangelizer, who offers his way at this historical juncture. He invites the person of today, as he invited Nicodemus, "to be born from above, of water and Spirit, in order to enter into the kingdom of God" (Jn. 3:3-5). At this time, as the people of God in America are preparing to cross the threshold of the third millennium, the Christian faith proclaims the enduring truth:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (Jn. 3:16-18).

Jesus Christ, living today in his Church, accompanies her as she crosses the threshold of hope and, as she enters the third millennium, he strengthens her to continue the mission of proclaiming the Gospel, which for five centuries has borne abundant fruit in the history of the American continent. With the goal of consolidating and strengthening the Christian life of peoples and of helping this life reach into all levels of society and contemporary living on the continent, the pastors of the people of God want to propose a new evangelization, which will encourage each person in America to encounter the living Christ. Jesus invites everyone to conversion, so as to live in communion with the Father and to let themselves be transformed by the Spirit into instruments of fraternal solidarity.


I. Jesus Christ, Savior and Evangelizer

4. At the beginning of the synod's work on the new evangelization in America, it is essential to keep in mind that Jesus Christ, who died and rose again and who is now living in his Church, must always be the starting point for every activity. He must also be the "way" followed in pastoral activity to bring each activity to fulfillment. At all times the central role of the person of Jesus Christ must be stressed, "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). From the encounter of each church member with the living Jesus Christ will come conversion, communion and solidarity, the basic necessities for making each one an apostle in the new evangelization.

"As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 20:21-22). Jesus Christ the Evangelizer calls upon everyone. He evangelizes them and he sends them forth to evangelize. "From (the) living knowledge of Christ springs the desire to 'evangelize' and to lead others to the 'yes' of faith in Jesus Christ. But, at the same time, the need to know this faith better makes itself felt."3

What is Jesus Christ saying to the people of America at this moment in history? The question is not meant to be theoretical, but concrete, that is, it should lead to practical ways of creating a genuine encounter and dialogue in the faith. Each person in America is invited to seek this encounter with Christ as a disciple in search of truth encounters his Master or as a person in search of friendship encounters others.

5. The Gospels relate the stories of various men and women and their encounters with Jesus. Two of John the Baptist's disciples met Jesus because they were responsive to God's call. They asked him where he lived, and Jesus welcomed them into his home. He conversed with them, and in the end they became his disciples (cf. Jn. 1:35-51). Nicodemus, the Jewish magistrate who had doubts about his religion, met Jesus at night. Jesus revealed to him the nature of his mission, the Father's love for mankind and his identity. Jesus also invited him to be born again (cf. Jn. 3:1- 21).

At the same time, Jesus went out himself to encounter various men and women. He came upon Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who did not always respect the demands of justice in his work. Jesus went to eat with him, bringing joy and salvation to his house. Zacchaeus, his heart touched, promised to pay back fourfold anyone whom he had cheated (cf. Lk. 19:1-10). Likewise, Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman, a sinner, at Jacob's well. He spoke to her about the living water which quenches a person's inner thirst (cf. Jn. 4:6-42).

6. The men and women of America must also draw near to Christ, not to study him in an academic manner nor to look at him simply as spectators, but to have an encounter with him in the circumstances of their own life: in their families; in their work; and in their aspirations, doubts and weaknesses. If they are able to dialogue with him and open their heart to hear the word of God, these encounters will transform them into his disciples.

This encounter is always with Jesus Christ who died and rose again, with Christ who "by his Incarnation ... has in a certain way united himself with each man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin."4 Nothing human is foreign to him, no situation of joy or suffering, no situation of poverty or work and no legitimate human aspiration. He accompanies each person in the journey of life and stands by each person in personal trials to the point that he identifies himself with the lowliest. He died on the cross to free humanity from sin and evil.

Through his cross Christ conquered death-death not simply in the physical sense, but above all, death in the spiritual sense, death resulting from sin. Through his Resurrection, he lives in eternity with the Father and in time with the pilgrim Church. Through his Spirit he gives life, enlightens, guides, consoles, fortifies and saves those who sincerely draw near to him in their search for peace and happiness. As on the day of his Resurrection in Jerusalem, Christ is present today in the midst of each Christian community, saying to it: "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.... Receive the Holy Spirit" (Jn. 20:21-22).

II. The Church and the New Evangelization

7. Considering that a reflection on the new evangelization in America is the purpose of this document, what could be more fruitful than a reading of the Gospel of St. Luke, which presents the work of salvation as a journey of salvation and evangelization: Jesus makes this journey as one sent by the Father and led by the Spirit. The way of salvation continues through the work of evangelization, which is carried out in history by the pilgrim Church. This journey takes place in three stages: the first is the time of preparation in the Old Testament; the second is the time of fulfillment, which includes both the life and public ministry of Jesus and the era of the Church in which Christ acts through his Spirit as the Messiah, who saves and evangelizes; and the third period is the Parousia, the final goal of the history of salvation.

8. It is a way inspired by the Spirit, who spoke through the prophets, who guided Jesus' steps and, from the day of Pentecost, guides the Church. Each particular Church, each community of the Lord's disciples, has its own "Pentecost" or "baptism in the Spirit" (cf. Lk. 3:16; Acts 11:16). This holds true for the communities of Jerusalem (cf. Acts 2:1 ff), Samaria (cf. Acts 8:14-17), Caesarea (cf. Acts 10:44 ff), Ephesus (cf. Acts 19:6). Saul also had his own "baptism" to become the Apostle Paul (cf. Acts 9:17). In the same way, the Spirit guides the Christian communities in America when they gather to listen to the word of God and break the bread of the Eucharist, when they pray, when they live in unity with their pastors and, above all, when they fulfill the mission of proclaiming the good news to all people.

It is a way which, in accordance with God's plan, does not end. It begins in Galilee, leads to Jerusalem, reaches Antioch and then Rome. From here, it goes out to the whole gentile world. No authority or human power can stop it because its driving force is the word of God, which bears fruit through the action of the Spirit in the Church. This action of the Spirit is not bound by the changing currents of history.

9. It is a contemporary way. Each generation of Christians has its "today" of salvation and its unique task to fulfill, i.e., a way to be pursued and a way to live so as to fulfill what took place in the Gospel. Today the contemporary Christian is to live in a deeply personal manner the way of faith. Each is to live celebrating the memorial of salvation, i.e., Jesus Christ who died, rose again and continues to live in the present moment and straining toward the future until the final day when salvation will be consummated in the Parousia. "Now" is the time for conversion (cf. Acts 4:29), because "now" is the time in which grace is at work. "Now" is the time when the word is building up the community (cf. Acts 20:32). "Now" is the time to bear witness to the kingdom of God!

The whole Church in America must be aware of the salvific richness of the "today" of salvation and the "today" of the commitment flowing from the Gospel. For this, it is necessary to recognize the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation (forgiveness and the action of God's saving mercy), the celebration of the Eucharist and attentive listening to the word. It is also important to be able to grasp the many manifestations of the kingdom, which at this moment of history bear witness to communion and charity: e.g., the fidelity of spouses; the generosity of the laity in apostolic movements; the sacrifice of priests in their ministry; the selfless dedication of missionaries, and men and women religious; the heroic, generous efforts of so many people of good will on behalf of peace and the common good, etc. In short, it is necessary to interpret, in the light of the salvific "today," the "signs of the times" with their positive and negative aspects so as to achieve a just reordering of the present situation.

10. It is a saving way. The first one to set out on this way was Jesus, the true Savior. After Jesus, the entire Church, beginning with the Apostles, set out as the sign and instrument of salvation on her pilgrimage throughout the centuries (cf. Lk. 2:11; 4:18-21; 19:9-10; Acts 2:47; 5:31-32; 13:23,26; 16:17; 28:28). The Scriptures give account of this way of salvation which responds to the innermost desires of all humanity, Jew and gentile alike. To these the Son of God offers true salvation, inviting them to abandon false hopes. In relation to the Jewish world, Jesus Christ is seen as the fullness of salvation promised by the Father (cf. Lk. 4:21; Is. 58:6; 61:1-2; Lk. 7:18-23; Is. 26:19; 29:18ff; 35:5ff), which one receives solely through God's mercy-and not because of one's merit -as result of the acknowledgment of one's sin(cf.Lk. 13:1-9; 14:1-24; 15:11-31; 17:10; Acts 2:38). In response to the gentiles' desire for salvation, Jesus presents himself as the true soter, the "Savior," because he is salvation also for them (cf. Acts 2:39; 28:28).

As in the time of St. Paul in the Areopagus of Athens or in the Roman Forum, there is also today an abundance of idols and divinities, a plethora of masters, gurus, sects, obscure movements and secular wisdom, all of which promise people a sure plan for happiness and a utopia. In light of this situation, it is essential to recall constantly for people that "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved' (Acts 4:12), except the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

11. The salvation which Christ's way offers is fundamental and universal, because it forgives and wipes away the sins of all those who receive it with a sincere heart (cf. Lk. 1:77; 3:3; 4:18; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 5:31; 10:43; 13:38; 26:17-18). Salvation is a liberation from the most fundamental of all evils-sin. It finds its expression in a person's commitment to this liberation and a consequent just manner of acting.5 Therefore, Jesus sets out on his way of salvation, presenting himself as the messenger of Yahweh's year of favor, granting forgiveness of sin, delivering people from demons, proclaiming the good news to the poor, freeing prisoners (cf. Lk. 4:16-21) and performing other signs which proclaim the final liberation from all suffering and death (cf. Lk. 7:18-23; 21:28).

Today also, the Holy Spirit, who guided Jesus' steps, is the first evangelizer in the new people of God, working to gather those who have never received the Gospel message and those who have left the Christian faith,6 Jesus continues to offer salvation through the Spirit as the Church goes along her way. The Church's mission in service to this salvific way of Jesus is to take the salvation which she has received, bear witness to it and offer it to people. This iter salutis, or "way of salvation," which the Church offers in her evangelizing work can be summed up-according to Acts 2:37ff-in the following sequence: Receive the word, be converted, believe, be baptized, receive forgiveness of sins and, later, the gift of the Spirit.

12. The word of God is the ordinary way by which the Church invites people to salvation. It is the word of grace and salvation, a powerful word, but its force depends on the manner in which it is received in the heart of the one who hears it (cf. Lk. 8:4-15). To receive it, one must be converted (cf. Lk. 10:13-16; 11:29-32), above all, from unbelief (cf. Acts 2:38-40) and idolatry (cf. Acts 17:30; 26:20), and turn to God the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. Today unbelief-under forms of secularism, religious indifferentism and false ideological and political messianisms-is widespread among the people of North, Central and South America. Idolatry masks itself under the guise of the "worship" of new "golden calves" such as money, wealth, power, drugs, sensuality, etc.

The good news is the source of salvation for those who receive it in faith, as seen in many examples from salvation history (cf. Heb. 11:38; Lk. 1:37-38, 45, 48). "To be human, man's response to God by faith must be free, and ... therefore nobody is to be forced to embrace the faith against his will. The act of faith is of its very nature a free act."7 Where all people are called to make this free act of faith, Jesus shows a particular concern for those in need. In the universal call to salvation, it is the poor, the sick and the marginalized who have a special place. The Lord offers to all people, and in a special way to "the least" of his brothers and sisters, a salvation which is complete, i.e., touching every human need-physical and spiritual, earthly and transcendent.

In his earthly life, Jesus' work was limited to the Holy Land, but its application was universal in scope. He came to save a sinful humanity (cf. Lk 5:31ff). In being Son of God, he is also, through the Mystery of his Incarnation, the Son of Man. This makes him a brother to every human being, since he shares all things in the human condition except sin. For this reason, his redemptive work is universal (cf. Lk. 2:14, 30-32). As the Church makes her way in the world, the Risen Lord, present through his Spirit, offers the good news to all through the witness of his disciples (cf. Acts 4:33).

It is important to take into consideration the universal nature of the mission within each particular Church, i.e., the mission ad gentes, in other words, the mission to those to whom the Gospel has not yet been proclaimed and also the mission among the baptized who have become lukewarm in their Christian life or who have left the Catholic Church. This mission ad gentes must seek to meet the new situations of contemporary society where Christ is not mentioned, i.e., today's new Areopagus of which Pope John Paul II speaks in his Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, the areopagus of the mass media, the areopagus of culture and science, art, the intellectual life, entertainment, sports and politics.8

III. Mary, Evangelized and Evangelizer

13 Mary is the paradigm in the way of evangelization, because in her is the fullness of grace. Through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, God offers her the mission of divine motherhood, while preserving her virginity (cf. Lk. 1:30-35). With the perfect obedience of faith, Mary offers her humble and generous yes to God (cf. Lk. 1:38) and lets herself be fully evangelized, welcoming the word of God, first in her heart and then in her womb.9 In turn, she becomes the first evangelizer because through her the Savior offers himself to all: to Elizabeth and her son John the Baptist (cf. Lk. 1:41), to the shepherds (cf. Lk. 2:16-20), to the Magi (cf. Mt. 1: 10-11), to Simeon and the prophetess Anna (cf. Lk. 2:27-38) and to the many people of good will who drew near to him during his public ministry. On Calvary, from the hands of her dying Son, Mary, the new Eve and the Mother of the Church, receives all humanity in the person of the beloved disciple (cf. Jn. 19:25-27). Since that day, Mary has always been present in the life of the Church.

The Mother of the Redeemer has also been present among the people of God in America from the very beginning of the first evangelization, but in a special manner from 1531 when, in the apparition to Juan Diego on Tepeyac hill, she offered her maternal protection under the title of Guadalupe to all the people of the American continent. Under many other titles the Virgin Mary is venerated as the Mother of God and Mother of all peoples in the different countries and regions, where the faithful manifest through their Marian devotion their unmistakable membership in the Catholic Church. For this reason, Pope John Paul II gave her the titles "Star of the First Evangelization" and "Star of the New Evangelization."10 Today, as at Bethlehem, Cana and Calvary, Mary, the Star of Evangelization in America, continues by her presence to sustain the work of proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Savior of humankind.

14. The Spirit who transformed Mary into the first one evangelized and the first evangelizer is the same Spirit of the Lord who accompanied her Son at the beginning of his public ministry in Galilee: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor" (Lk. 4:16-21). Today also, the Holy Spirit is the principal evangelizer who inspires the Church in America to sing with Mary the Magnificat, her "song of praise," once again confirming that it is impossible to separate the truth about the God who saves from the manifestation of his preferential love for the poor and lowly.11 On the way toward the great jubilee year 2000, the Virgin Mary will be a model of conversion, communion and solidarity for the Church in America, so that the saving activity of her son may reach all on the continent. For this reason, in announcing the celebration of the great jubilee of the third millennium, John Paul II chose to entrust this undertaking of the whole Church to the heavenly intercession of Mary, the star who guides Christians to their encounter with the Lord.12


I. Personal and Social Conversion

15. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk. 1:15). Thus Jesus began his messianic mission, announcing the fulfillment of the time of promise and inviting his hearers to repent. Since Pentecost, the kerygma of the Apostles has been fulfilled in the proclamation of Christ, who died and rose again as the sole savior of humanity, inviting people to be converted and believe in him (cf. Acts 3:19- 20, 26). The encounter with the Risen Lord must lead to a profound change of heart and a constant renewal of life, aimed at an ever more perfect configuration with Christ, the way, the truth and the life. Such a conversion is a gift of God, which is liberation from sin in all its forms. This conversion introduces a person into the Mystery of Christ the Redeemer. The Apostle to the gentiles sums up Jesus Christ's apostolic mission, explaining the cosmic dimension of his ministry of reconciliation, as Pope John Paul II reminds us in his Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: "But it is once more St. Paul who enables us to broaden our vision of Christ's work to cosmic dimensions, when he writes that in Christ, the Father has reconciled to himself all creatures, those in heaven and those on earth (cf. Col 1:20)."13

As the great jubilee of the third millennium draws near, Christ offers us the treasures of his redemptive blood and his grace. Thus conversion is a prior demand for forgiveness of sins and the transmission of divine grace. Today Christ also addresses all his disciples in America, saying to them: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk. 1:15).

16. How are we to understand this conversion? In his Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Pope John Paul II says:

"The term and the very concept of penance are very complex.... Penance means the innermost change of heart under the influence of the word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom.... Penance is a conversion that passes from the heart to deeds, and then to the Christian's whole life."14

Conversion, then, is not some isolated act but a constant process in the life of a Christian. It endures throughout life. It is not an act affecting only individual persons, but also groups, institutions and social structures in that they are created and directed by free and responsible individuals. Furthermore, conversion is reconciliation with God, with oneself and with others, and it presupposes overcoming the basic rupture which is sin.

In preparing to celebrate the great jubilee year 2000, the Holy Father invites all the members of the people of God to make a sincere examination of conscience, which is the first step toward genuine conversion: "On the threshold of the new millennium, Christians need to place themselves humbly before the Lord and examine themselves on the responsibility which they too have for the evils of our day."15

II. Lights and Shadows

17. From the pastoral viewpoint, there are many elements which favor conversion and which act as leaven for reconciliation with God and with one's brothers and sisters. Signs point to a religious awakening among people-especially among the young- exemplified in a thirst for prayer and contemplation. In this regard, popular piety continues to be strong, manifesting itself in the everyday practice of religion, which is capable of leading people to discover the core of the Christian mystery. Proofs can be seen in the faithful's participation in the sacraments, especially Baptism, Eucharist and matrimony, which are oftentimes also occasions for family and social gatherings. This religious awakening is further manifested in the worship of Christ, invoking him under his diverse titles and commemorating various mysteries in his life. Many times these devotions are accompanied by pilgrimages to shrines, often in response to vows and promises. Similarly, one can perceive a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin, Star of the Evangelization of America- as John Paul II has called her-not only under her title of Guadalupe, but also under so many other titles by which she is venerated in each country and in almost every region. No less important is devotion to the saints of America and those of the universal Church. Other signs bearing witness to this religious awakening are seen in the faithful's affection and adherence to the vicar of Christ, the Pope, their obedience and respect for the Bishops and priests, and the countless traditions and actions by which the faithful express and manifest their faith.

Still other signs preparing the way for an encounter with God and one's brothers and sisters are: involvement in programs to achieve peace, pro-life activity, solidarity with those on the periphery of society, with those suffering every type of infirmity (particularly AIDS) or with those who have fallen into drug abuse (an ever increasing number today), and concern for the whole of creation, manifested in a special at tension to ecological problems.

18. Despite these lights, however, there are shadows which need to be dispelled by conversion to the faith.16 Indeed, in the piety of the people of America there are oftentimes many elements at odds with Christianity. These elements occasionally lead to a syncretism constructed on the basis of popular beliefs or in some cases they cause believers to become disoriented and easily led astray by sects or parareligious movements.

The societies of North, Central and South America show signs of a materialistic and consumer style of life. This materialism, however, instead of bestowing happiness, produces a great lack of satisfaction. Today many people motivated simply by the desire for possessions and exploitation of material resources, experience an inner emptiness, which confirms the words of St. Augustine, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."17 Such a "restlessness" present in every person illustrates the universal search for meaning in human existence, which finds its raison d'etre only in Jesus Christ, the revelation of the Father in the Spirit. Furthermore, we must recall that this materialism is accompanied by an ever more widespread mentality which rejects life-before birth or in its final stages-and a growing recourse to violence and death.

A secular mentality can also be detected in the matter of religion. Such an attitude is gradually leading people to moral relativism or religious indifference. In his Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, Pope John Paul II points out this aspect as one of the areas which must be included in the examination of conscience in preparation for the jubilee year 2000: "How can we remain silent, for example, about the religious indifference which causes many people today to live as if God did not exist or to be content with a vague religiosity, incapable of coming to grips with the question of truth and requirement of consistency?"18

No less important is the influence of the above factors on priestly vocations and on the life and ministry of priests.19 The result is a lack of vocations and defections from the priesthood. Thus, many communities are deprived of the celebration of the Mass, which is sometimes replaced by celebrations of the word with the distribution of the Eucharist by extraordinary ministers or permanent deacons.

19. The increasing religious indifference leads to the loss of the sense of God and of his holiness, which in turn is translated into a loss of a sense of the sacred, of mystery and of the capacity for wonder. These are human dispositions which predispose a person to dialogue and to an encounter with God. Such indifference almost inevitably leads to a false moral autonomy and a secularistic lifestyle which excludes God. The loss of the sense of God is followed by a loss of the sense of sin, which has its roots in the moral conscience of the individual. This is a great obstacle to conversion.

Sin, as the biblical sources reveal, is most of all a rupture with God, disobedience to his holy law (cf. Gn. 3:1ff; Rom. 7:7-25). However, it is also a rupture and division among brothers (cf. Gn. 4:1-16). In order for a change of heart to take place, there must be a sensitivity to sin. "To acknowledge one's sin, indeed ... to recognize oneself as being a sinner, capable of sin and inclined to commit sin, is the essential first step in returning to God.... In effect, to become reconciled with God presupposes and includes ... doing penance in the fullest sense of the term: repenting, showing this repentance, adopting a real attitude of repentance."20

In a letter addressed to the Bishops of the United States, Pius XII alerted the pastors of the Church in these prophetic words: "The greatest sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin."21 In the same vein, in his Angelus talk, March 14, 1982, Pope John Paul II said:

"Have we got a correct idea of conscience?... Does not the modern man live under the threat of an eclipse of conscience? Of a dulling of, or an 'anesthetization' of conscience?"22

In some areas the infrequent practice of the sacrament of penance is the logical consequence of this twofold loss -the loss of the sense of God and of the sense of sin.

III. Those Who Work for Conversion

20. Conversion is a gift which comes from God, who is "rich in mercy" (Eph. 2:4). This mercy is offered to persons as a work of his love in Jesus Christ, the mediator of forgiveness and grace. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16). Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks the lost sheep and gives his life for his flock. He himself offers a person the many ways of conversion and reconciliation. He is our reconciliation, and therefore St. Paul exclaims:

"All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18-19).

21. The Church, which continues Christ's salvific work, offers forgiveness and reconciliation. "Everything that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world, we know not only through the history of his past actions, but we also sense them in the efficacy of that which he realizes in the present."23 The Church invites all in America to conversion in celebrating her liturgical acts (above all in celebrating the sacrament of reconciliation), in announcing the word of the Lord, in praying, in promoting the unity of her members, in fostering solidarity and in bearing witness to the love of God.

The Bishops, as the Successors of the Apostles, are those who principally continue the mission of the Good Shepherd. They proclaim to all the goodness and forgiveness of God and propose the message of fraternal reconciliation to the members of the particular Church, to brothers and sisters of other confessions and to all people of good will. Together with the Bishops, all members of the people of God, priests, men and women religious, and the laity, according to their ministry and charism and through their prayer, work, action and witness, are called to cooperate in this pastoral mission through continual inner renewal and reconciliation among people.

IV. Areas for Conversion

22. Just as personal sin has its unavoidable consequences in society, it must also be kept in mind that personal conversion has its own effects on society. In this sense, attention should be given to the areas of reconciliation and conversion in the life of society.

A primary area for reconciliation and conversion bears the simple yet meaningful name Christian life, that is, the life of prayer, the life of grace, participation in the liturgy and the sacraments (above all in the sacraments of Eucharist and penance), witness and the dedication to apostolic work. The privileged means for increasing Christian life has always been and still is catechesis considered in its integral sense. This includes-as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches-the profession of faith, the life of faith (the Commandments) and the prayer of the believer.24 The following areas of society can be sites to achieve reconciliation and fellowship: the family, the parish, religious communities and lay movements, the particular Church in itself and in its relations with other particular Churches, and the social settings of one's country and its dealings with other nations.

23. Another area for conversion, in which a person can and should work tirelessly, concerns human life issues. Promoting a mentality which welcomes and esteems every human life and working to help achieve respect for human life in all its stages are an urgent duty in light of the "culture of death" which can be found under various forms in society. Formation in positive attitudes toward human life begins in the home, but this formation must be continued in the parish, the school, the university and in various other areas of society.

As Pope John Paul II recalls in his Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae, the promotion of human life from the point of view of the faith has a twofold dimension, that of respect for one's neighbor and gratitude to God:

"The commandment 'You shall not kill' thus establishes the point of departure for the start of true freedom. It leads us to promote life actively, and to develop particular ways of thinking and acting which serve life. In this way, we exercise our responsibility toward the persons entrusted to us and we show in deeds and truth our gratitude to God for the great gift of life."25

24. Another area for conversion is that of the means of social communication and entertainment. This is one of the most compelling challenges demanding an adequate pastoral response on the Church's part. There is an urgent need to teach people to exercise Christian responsibility in their use of these means, which are indeed wonderful but can at times have a negative influence. People should also be taught to find ways to employ them as valuable instruments for knowing and proclaiming the word of God. Here too, Christ's invitation to an interior change of heart and attitude is present. Although the media are a good means for formation and information, they are frequently manipulated for "disinformation" and "deformation" in sowing a materialistic, hedonistic mentality which emphasizes wealth, power, egoism, violence and sensuality. Furthermore, the promotion in the media of certain lifestyles is an attack on family values and the faith, and frequently leads to an indiscriminate, unconscious acceptance of such models, thus causing a genuine invasion of culture. On the other hand, as the Internet or the "information highway" clearly illustrates, telecommunications is opening for the human family- and for the Gospel as well-new fields and horizons of participation, communication and witness.

25. The field of social structures is another area for conversion. Certain economic systems and policies exist which control the commercial market and affect the financial matter of loans and interests, generating in some cases an enormous debt for nations and impeding the development of peoples. There are also certain types of economic aid dependent on the ideologies of small political groups, various people in power and nations which are not always governed by the criteria of equity and solidarity but rather by selfish interests. Such conditions call for conversion, especially as they relate to the economic inequality between the Northern and Southern areas of the continent. The situation calls out to faith and to conscience-both human and Christian-for a response.

In regard to this aspect, one must ask if there is an adequate diffusion of the Church's social doctrine among Christians and, above all, if its teaching is being applied to the many social problems of the American continent, North, Central and South America alike. This is a great challenge for the Church in America. She is called to translate into action and concrete initiatives the commandment of love of neighbor and the shining testimony of Christ, who identified himself with the poor, the sick, the naked, strangers, prisoners or, to put it briefly, with the least of his brethren (cf. Mt 25:31ff).

26. Furthermore, ecumenism is another field open to reconciliation. Indeed, as the Second Vatican Council points out in the decree Unitatis Redintegratio, "There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without interior conversion."26 The practice of ecumenism begins-as the above-mentioned Council decree recalls- with a renewal of the whole Church. This "continual reformation of which she (the Church) has need, insofar as she is an institution of men ... therefore has notable ecumenical importance."27 The ecumenical movement has brought about very positive experiences which, according to the invitation of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, promote the following: prayer in common with our Christian brothers and sisters, especially in the celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; respectful dialogue to gain a better mutual understanding between the Christian brethren and members of the Catholic Church; ecumenical formation of pastors so that in the above-mentioned ecumenical dialogue the doctrine of the faith may be explained clearly and firmly, but at the same time with charity and humility.28 These and other initiatives contribute in a great degree to building the unity for which Christ asked the Father as a gift: "That they may all be one ... so that the world may believe" (Jn. 17:21).

V. Particular Appeals for Conversion in America

27. In the Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, Pope John Paul II in 1984 pointed out the existence of many divisions among people in our time. He spoke of a world fragmented by growing inequalities among groups, social classes and nations, by ideological antagonism, by the conflict of economic interests and political polarization, by various forms of racial, cultural or religious discrimination, by violence and terrorism, and by the inequitable distribution of the world's resources and cultural benefits based on a social organization in which the gap in the human conditions of the rich and poor is becoming ever larger. In this context, the Holy Father noted that such a situation, in some manner, has an effect on the Church: "Over and above the divisions between the Christian communions ... the Church today is experiencing within herself sporadic divisions among her own members, divisions caused by differing views or options in the doctrinal and pastoral field."29

28. There is on the American continent the alarming existence of some elements of division which are further calls for conversion and reconciliation at the individual and social level:

-Various forms of racial, cultural and religious discrimination. This reality is coupled with a dehumanizing tendency spread by the media exalting violence, eroticism and a mentality undermining the human and evangelical values of the peoples of America.

-The lack of religious formation in many of the faithful. This is the cause of division because many of them are leaving the one flock to take advantage of the deceptive offers of sects, atheistic ideologies, human messiahs, etc.

--The tensions between Christians, which put in relief differences in doctrinal matters and disagreements over choices in the pastoral and disciplinary field. A crisis of obedience and faith in the Church's magisterium is spreading. In some cases there are differences between religious and Bishops, between religious and diocesan clergy, and sometimes between some members of the clergy and the diocesan Bishop.

-In the social field a troublesome economic inequality between people and social classes. This exists not only within a given country, but also between countries in different parts of the continent: North, South and Central.

These and other aspects were specially treated at a meeting convoked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Guadalajara, Mexico, May 6-10, 1996. During this meeting the doctrinal commissions of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America reflected on some theological topics which arose in conjunction with pastoral situations in the participating countries in an ongoing search for helpful criteria in promoting the unity based on the truth of revelation and dogma.30


I. Communion With Jesus Christ, Living in the Church

29. The encounter with the living Jesus Christ always leads to conversion and reconciliation with God and neighbor. It culminates in the communion of life with him and bears fruit in solidarity with those most in need. As the pilgrim people of God in America prepare to undertake the work of the new evangelization in order to celebrate the jubilee year 2000, it will be necessary to evaluate how Christians are living the communion desired by Christ, what are the obstacles to it and what are the demands and challenges raised by Christ's call to communion in charity.

Shortly before his passion and Death, at the time of institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood, Jesus prayed to his Father for communion between the disciples and himself. "As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me" (Jn. 17:21-26). He himself expressed this reality so beautifully in the parable of the vine and the branches, indicating the Trinitarian dimension of communion: The Father, the vinedresser, plants and cultivates the vine-Christ-whose branches are the members of the Church. As the branches must remain united to the vine in order to bear abundant fruit, so too must Christians remain in Christ, keeping his word and observing his commandments, especially the commandment of fraternal love. The vine, which is the image of the Church, bears its fruit in charity through the action of the Holy Spirit at work in her (cf. Jn. 15:1-17).31

Another image employed by Sacred Scripture to express the communion of life with Christ in his Church is that of the body. The Risen Christ, Head of the Church which is his body, identifies mystically with his members (cf. I Cor. 12:12-29).32 Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Mystery of his Death and Resurrection is made present in the everyday life of the Church, not only as a whole but also in each of her members, because whatever is done for the least of his brothers-the hungry, the naked, the sick, the homeless, stranger and prisoners-is done to him (cf. Mt. 25:34-36).

30. Today in America the face of the suffering and crucified Christ takes on the features of various persons: the poor who crowd immense cities, the unemployed, migrants, those marginalized for various reasons, the unborn, street children, children without opportunity for an education, young people without work and guidance, women who are underpaid or exploited, the elderly who are abandoned, prisoners and the sick, especially those suffering from AIDS. The face of Christ can also be seen in the marginalized ethnic minorities, in indigenous peoples and African-Americans, in the farmers and in those who live in the shantytowns in the peripheries of the big cities in the North, South and Central regions of the continent.

31. At the same time, however, one can also say that in the Christian communities of America the face of the Risen Christ shines forth. His Spirit is producing many signs of new life, which conquers sin, death and the powers of evil. Witness to this fact can be seen in the holiness of so many members of the Church frequently anonymous: pastors who are faithful to their mission; men and women religious who offer the oblation of their lives consecrated to God and to the service of their brethren, especially those who are most neglected; martyrs and witnesses to the faith; the many missionaries from the North who are going to proclaim the Gospel among their brothers and sisters in Central and South America as well as priests, religious and laity from Central and South America who work among their brothers and sisters in the North; spouses who are faithful to their marriage vows and are generous in their commitment to the formation of their children; many young people who participate in the apostolate and voluntary services as seen in their joyful, generous response to the frequent gatherings convoked by the Holy Father; lay people who work as volunteers in organizations which serve those most in need, etc.

Communion is a work of the Trinity. It is desired by the Father, fulfilled by Christ in the Holy Spirit and continued in the Church as a mystical reality. It is a task to be developed in history. Guided by the Spirit, the Church is building up this communion in the various areas of church life and in the life of civil society.33

II. Lights and Shadows

32. Communion, as presently lived in the Christian communities of America, is characterized by lights and shadows. Among the former, mention should be made of the role of Christian families as true schools of communion. In the family, children receive their first experience of faith and the love of God, as well as their first examples of acts of charity toward their neighbor. Many Christian families in America are indeed living cells of communion, bearing witness to fidelity to Christ, love for his word and observance of his will. They are one of the great hopes of the Church for the new evangelization.

The consecrated life in the American continent, although not without its difficulties, is also a witness of communion as manifested through a life in common and also through an attitude of communion toward other members of the particular and universal Church. Men and women religious, members of the societies of apostolic life and those belonging to secular institutes strengthen the bonds of ecclesial communion by placing the uniqueness and diversity of their charism at the service of the one body, the Church.34 Pope John Paul II recalls in his Postsynodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata that consecrated persons have an important mission in the Church: "Consecrated persons should be zealous heralds of Jesus Christ, ready to respond with the wisdom of the Gospel to the questions posed today by the anxieties and urgent needs of the human heart."35

Another positive aspect in communion is the life of so many priests who "are sacramental representations of Jesus Christ, the Head and Shepherd"36 and who thus by their selfless daily labor build up communion in the particular Churches, each contributing his gifts and ministry in the proclamation of the word, in the administration of the sacraments and the pastoral leadership of the parish community.

Other builders of communion are lay people who in virtue of their baptismal anointing take up their apostolic commitment in the Church and in civil society. Indeed, these people sanctify the world and build up communion by fulfilling with a sense of Christian responsibility their duties in various areas: the family, the workplace, causes in defense of humanity; and the fields of social communication, thought, politics, economics and labor in general. In this regard, the Letter to Diognetus states: "The relation of Christians to the world is that of a soul to the body."37 All people of good will also contribute in building up the communion which God desires for all the members of the human family by working for the common good, for the progress of peoples, for culture and for justice and peace.

Furthermore, signs of this communion lived among the members of the Church and society are the following: a sensitivity-which grows more acute each day-to the problems of social injustice in the fields of economics, politics and culture; the longing for a legitimate liberation and promotion of the whole person as well as of all persons and groups; the more widespread study and application of the Church's social teaching; and the many instances of solidarity at the regional, national and international levels.

33. Nevertheless, difficulties and obstacles can also be detected in the Church's life of communion in America. For example, opportunity or room for dialogue does not always exist among different members of the Church. Likewise, the lack of effective structures oftentimes causes problems in pastoral collaboration. Tensions and frictions are sometimes present. Within the Church, the crisis of obedience to the Church's magisterium-manifested in many ways-does not foster communion, i.e., some theological or pastoral positions in certain matters, the dissent of some theologians, the attitudes of groups and persons who, although they call themselves "Catholics," are in open contradiction to the teachings of the Church in the matter of morals as well as in some aspects of dogma.

Some members of the people of God are not rooted firmly enough in the faith so that the sects, with their deceptive proselytism, mislead them to separate themselves from true communion in Christ. Within the Church community, the multiplication of supposed "apparitions" or "vision" is sowing confusion and reveals a certain lack of a solid basis to the faith and Christian life among her members. On the other hand, these negative aspects in their own way reveal a certain thirst for spiritual things which, if they are properly channeled, can be the point of departure for a conversion to faith in Christ.

34. Certain aspects of today's society cause the weakening of communion. They are manifested particularly in the dominance of such countervalues as materialism, egoism and hedonism. Furthermore, subjectivism is on the rise, oftentimes seen in an attitude of confrontation with authority, that of the Church or of other types of institutions: familial, educational or civil. In families-even Christian ones-there can be seen a weakening of religious values, a relative increase in separations and divorces, and a growing number of children being born out of wedlock. Last of all, reference must be made to a greater diffusion of a certain "culture of death," as illustrated in the rising practice of abortion and an increasing tendency toward euthanasia. The lack of a positive attitude toward life is also expressed in the lower birthrate as well as in the segregation of the elderly from the family nucleus and society.

III. Those Who Work for Communion

35. The Holy Spirit, the principle of communion in the Church, "was sent on the day of Pentecost in order that he might continually sanctify the Church and that consequently those who believe might have access through Christ in one Spirit to the Father."38 It is he who is guiding the Church "into all the truth" (Jn. 16:13) and unifying her in communion and ministry. He supplies and governs her with diverse hierarchical and charismatic gifts and enriches her with his fruits (cf. Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Cor. 12:4). The faithful's communion with the Holy Spirit and their communion among themselves were the subjects of one of the most insistent petitions which Christ made to the Father after instituting the Eucharist and before going to his passion (cf. Jn. 17:21-26). The people in America, the more they believe in Christ the more they will strive to work for the above communion by abiding in his love, observing his word and, above all, by practicing fraternal charity. The members of the people of God in America-according to each one's vocation-are called to build up communion, practicing the words of Christ in the Beatitudes: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Mt 5:9)

36. As the Successors of the Apostles, "the individual Bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches."39 Therefore, they must be the first builders of communion, living in unity with the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of St. Peter, and with the other members of the episcopal college. In the same way, Bishops work for communion in their own particular Churches by promoting and guarding the unity of faith and the common discipline of the entire Church, and by fostering among her members a love for the whole Mystical Body of Christ, especially those who are poor, suffering or persecuted for the sake of justice as well as those whom the Lord has called "blessed" (Mt. 5:1-12).40 Bishops are also agents of communion at the level of the universal Church.

37. In the particular Church, there are many signs which show a fruitful increase in the building up of communion, e.g., the Bishop with his presbyterate, priests with one another and with the laity, and women and men religious, who contribute their charism to the life and apostolate of the diocese, in dialogue with the other members of the local Church and in obedience to the local Bishop. All combine in this fruitful structure of ecclesial communion.

The Church in America is living a very important historic moment in celebrating for the first time the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will gather together pastors of the particular Churches of the continent. The people of God in America and the whole universal Church look with hope to this Special Assembly with the view of achieving a more effective building up of communion in the various areas of ecclesial and social life.

38. The laity have, in turn, the mission of building up communion in the broad context of their activities in the world. In virtue of their baptismal consecration and their mission to bear witness to the Gospel, reinforced in a special way by the sacrament of confirmation, they are contributing their charism to the growth of the whole Mystical Body, the Church. They bring the new leaven of the Gospel to temporal activities by the witness of their Christian life and charity in the family, and by promoting respect and peace in civil society. The following are some of the many concrete expressions through which the laity make communion visible and effective in the Church and in society: the welcoming of migrants and foreigners; helping marginalized minority groups; and involvement in programs promoting peace, the respect for life, the defense of human rights and ecology.

The family, the "domestic church" and image of the Trinity, is an important element in communion because it is the place where one learns to love God and neighbor. "All members of the family, each according to his or her own gift, have the grace and responsibility of building day by day the communion of persons, making the family a school of deeper humanity."41

Young people in America have also given-and continue to give- evidence of a renewal in vitality, assuming their place in the fabric of this great tapestry of communion among people. With their enthusiasm and sincerity, with their capacity for friendship and service of great causes, they are building up communion, thus inserting themselves among the new generations in the life of society.

39. Woman is especially gifted by her feminine genius to be a builder of communion: in the family as a place of love, encounter and reconciliation, in society as a promoter of assistance and service to those in need, in the consecrated life as a witness of love of God and of availability to serve others, and in cultural, professional and political life as the bearer of humaneness, sensitivity, patience and serenity. Quite rightly, Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Women June 29, 1995, wrote a beautiful word of thanks to all the women of the world, among whom the women of America have proven themselves deserving in a particular way:

"Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life. Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands in a relationship of mutual giving at the service of love and life. Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family and then of all society you bring the richness of your sensitivity, of your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

"Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life-social, economic, cultural, artistic and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of 'mystery,' to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

"Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God's love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a 'spousal' relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.

"Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world's understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic."42

In the life of the Church woman occupies an irreplaceable role, which unfortunately is not always entirely understood in its true dimension. This no doubt accounts for movements- among some faithful of the particular Churches, above all, in North America- which demand the Catholic Church to accept the ordination of women. The magisterium of the Church has addressed itself repeatedly to this topic to make clear not only the impossibility of changing the precise will of Jesus Christ in this matter, but also to point out the rich and countless possibilities for women to participate in the life and mission of the Church.43

IV. Areas and Ways for Communion

40. The Church continues Christ's work and is herself a Mystery of communion and unity. She is the flock of Christ, God's cultivated field, the mystical vine planted by God, God's building, the family of God and his people and, above all, the Mystical Body of Christ. All these images are recalled by the Second Vatican Council.44 She has the mission of continuing and fulfilling the work of communion begun by Christ. She also has the mission of living and building communion among Christ's disciples and among all people because "the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of a sacrament, a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men."45

The ways of transmitting this communion, under the guidance of the Spirit, are first of all the sacraments, which signify and produce grace as well as the vital union with Christ. Hence, in the new evangelization of America, primary importance belongs to the liturgical life of Christian communities. In fact the Eucharist is the summit and source of all the Church's life,46 "because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (I Cor. 10:17). It is a very positive sign that in many communities the conscious and active liturgical participation of the faithful is increasing. This contributes to regaining the religious sense of the Lord's Day, to pray to the Father in the Spirit as the Lord Jesus taught, to render to the one and Triune God the worship which is due as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. In this way, Sunday continues to be not only a festive day and a day of repose, but also and above all a day of worship, prayer and adoration. The faithful leave the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist fortified and stimulated to give witness to Christ before the world and to perform works of charity and solidarity.

41. The communion in the people of God is manifested primarily in the unity of faith: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4:5). The faith of the people of God is being weakened today by many factors, e.g., a secularist mentality, materialism, relativism, the aggressive programs and proselytism of the sects and the lack of religious formation of some of the faithful. Hence, educating the people of God in the faith is one of the urgent priorities for the Church in America. To achieve this end requires the proclamation of the word at all levels: catechesis of children, young people, adults, the teaching of religion in primary, middle and secondary schools, and courses on religious topics for nonreligious students in universities and centers of advanced learning.47

In this duly adapted effort at catechesis, a special place needs to be given to those categories of persons who have greater influence on society: politicians, economists, business people, the intellectual community and those involved in entertainment and the mass media. The example of Christ, who addresses his word to all-poor and rich, educated and unlearned, children and adults- sets the pattern for the evangelizer.

Education in the faith is intrinsically united to education in charity. Therefore, another way to cultivate church communion is the practice of fraternal love, which includes among its many aspects: the service of charity, social advancement of those most in need and dialogue at all levels, not only with the members of the ecclesial community but also with all people of good will. An important place in the practice of love of neighbor is held by intraecclesial cooperation expressed in the charity among particular Churches: sharing of human and material resources, communication of cultural values, cooperation through joint pastoral initiatives and solidarity among the various local Churches, including those beyond the nation's borders.

42. Ecumenism is also a privileged area for the exercise of communion. This dimension of the apostolate, developed in varying degrees by the initiative of diverse particular Churches on the continent, is a response to Christ's desire and also the subject of his prayer to the Father: "That they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee" (Jn. 17:21). The unity of the people of God is being built in the following ways: through prayer; through respectful and sincere dialogue which always gives priority to loyalty and truth; through cooperation in the social field, in ecology and in charitable activities; and through initiatives on behalf of peace.

The Catholic Church in America, trusting in the Holy Spirit, the source of unity and truth, does not cease being a promoter of initiatives aimed at fostering ecumenical dialogue. While the duty to work for communion is the same for the whole Church, it is worked out in different situations. In countries where the vast majority of the people have traditionally been Catholic-like the Latin American countries-these ecumenical initiatives are undertaken with caution so as not to endanger the faithful's adherence to the Church's doctrine, their participation in the Church's liturgical and sacramental life, and their practice of traditions and activities which express their faith. In countries where Catholics have traditionally lived with other confessions-as in the North and in some countries of the Antilles-the initiatives and cooperation with members of other confessions are more in evidence and more easily undertaken. One example of the greater possibility for dialogue with other confessions is demonstrated by the work of some Bishops of the Caribbean, who contributed to the founding of the only ecumenical organization present in their region.

V. Goals and Challenges

43. In order to fulfill the mission of building unity and communion, the Church in America proposes various goals, which are also challenges to her faith, hope and charity as well as to her courage and effectiveness. Among these goals is the promotion of the holiness of her members, revitalizing a sense of mission, working for inculturation and contributing to the achievement of unity and peace.

The Church is perfectly holy because the Son of God loved her as a spouse, offered himself for her sanctification (Eph. 5:25-26) and enriches her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. The Church, in turn, invites all the faithful of whatever state or condition of life to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.48 In reality, it is above all through holiness that the Church brings about her work for the salvation of humanity. In the lives of the saints, martyrs and confessors of the faith, the Church in America sees the most sublime fruits of Christ's action and the best instruments for the new evangelization. The pilgrim Church in America recalls with gratitude and veneration her saints, the faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, the savior and evangelizer: the martyr saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and their companions, St. Rose of Lima, St. Toribio de Mongovejo, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, St. Martin de Porres, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Juan Macias, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, St. Ezequiel Moreno, St. Peter Claver, St. Francis Solano, St. Teresa de Los Andes, St. Maria Ana de Jesus Pareres y Flores, and the Blesseds Kateri Tekakwitha, Junipero Serra, Katherine Drexel, Juan Diego, Miguel Pro, Rafael Guizar y Valencia and many other saints and blesseds who have borne witness to the Gospel in America. From heaven they sustain the faith and life of the people of God in their earthly pilgrimage, confirming that the call to holiness continues to represent one of the most important goals and challenges for communion within the Church in America.

44. The catholicity and universality of the Church demonstrates that one of her most essential tasks is that of mission, i.e., proclaiming the Gospel to all peoples. Everyone-pastors and faithful-should consider as their own the missionary task both within their particular Churches and beyond its borders. A sign of the vitality and authenticity of the Christian faith on the continent is the many missionaries who, departing from those Churches with a greater number of vocations, have worked generously- and continue to do so-in regions where the proclamation of the Gospel has not borne such abundant fruit. The exchange of gifts, beginning with the gifts of persons such as priests and religious, is a concrete application of the principle of communion among the particular Churches.49 The growing awareness in America-in the North, Central and South alike-that the faith is strengthened by passing on the good news even beyond one's borders is giving new life to the apostolate and providing new opportunities for mission on the whole continent.

45. In our days culture has acquired a great importance, since it is both the fruit and the source of human formation and advancement. At the same time, culture is a fruitful area for evangelization and for communion as well. Culture treats not only those factors which develop the countless spiritual and physical qualities in a person, but also those distinct lifestyles and diverse values of peoples which succeed in making social life more human.50 In order for evangelization to be truly effective, it will be necessary to go to the roots of culture- as Pope Paul VI suggested-in order to transform with the power of the Gospel "the criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration and models of life which are in contrast with the word of God and the plan of salvation."51

America is composed of a variety of peoples with as many cultures. Instead of impoverishing the American continent, this multiplicity is a source of enrichment. Analogously speaking, just as each person has a soul, each people has a particular spiritual form which is expressed in cultural categories. America is adorned with a splendid mantle of the diverse cultures of her peoples: indigenous peoples, African-Americans, mestizos, Creoles, those of European and Asian origin and other ethnic minorities. In this mosaic, there is also a place for what we could call the "modern" and "postmodern" cultures of today with their numerous values such as freedom, democracy, participation, equality, solidarity, progress and scientific and technical knowledge.

A new evangelization has already begun which places a great emphasis on culture so that once culture is evangelized it can translate the Gospel message into its own language. This is the process known as inculturation. For this process to take place properly, evangelization must follow the stages of the Mystery of Christ, i.e., Incarnation, Paschal Mystery, Pentecost. By the Incarnation, the word of God enters our human reality, assumes it and expresses himself in it; by the Paschal Mystery, everything which is transitory and sinful in human existence is purified and born to new life; through Pentecost, human and Christian life, in the multiplicity and diversity of the peoples, languages and cultural forms, is transformed through the Spirit into an expression of the mystery and unity of the faith. Indeed, the Church, in welcoming the diversity of peoples and cultures, assumes, purifies and unifies them, leading them to confess one faith and to experience one life in charity.

46. On the other hand, the Church, in order to effectively gather the diverse cultures together in unity, must herself work tirelessly to achieve unity among her sons and daughters: Pastors with their flock, Bishops with their presbyterate, priests with their pastors, priests among themselves and with the faithful, priests with religious, lay movements with one another and with the ecclesial structures of their respective particular Churches, theologians with pastors, particular Churches with one another at the regional, national and continental level. Therefore, Pope John Paul II says: "Among the sins which require a greater commitment to repentance and conversion should certainly be counted those which have been detrimental to the unity willed by God for his people."52

Each Christian community in its particular Church is faced with a vast field of work in promoting communion. In this sense, the effort expended by each person in these communities to soothe the tensions and disagreements in the doctrinal and pastoral field is of great importance. In this way, the heightening of ethnic, cultural or national differences may be avoided. Thus, the people of our day should be able to say about the Christian communities of America what was said of the first Christian communities, "See how they love one another," because they will see in them and among them one soul and one heart in virtue of their one faith in Christ, their fraternal love and concrete works of solidarity.

47. Today the great task of building peace and of making humanity one great family is an inescapable challenge for all people of faith.53 In this task, Catholics and members of other Christian confessions must work together through patient, sincere, ecumenical dialogue founded on truth, charity and prayer. Furthermore, praise must be given to initiatives leading to dialogue with believers of non-Christian religions such as Jews and Muslims, as well as with members of other religions who share the belief in one God. The great challenge of peace and unity also presupposes a disposition for dialogue with all people of good will.

The road to achieving this goal, which responds to God's plan in Christ, is long and difficult. It is a work which implies various steps oriented toward the formation of intermediary communities at the regional, national and international level. The tendency to form communities of peoples at the national level, as well as communities of nations at the international and continental level, is a sign of humanity's desire to acknowledge itself as one large family.

On the other hand, a certain unity has already taken place as a result of the means of social communication, which are gradually making our planet a "global village." Examples can be seen in the Internet (a network of information and international communication) and in activities done at the international level such as tourism, sports, culture, science, technology, trade, economics, etc. Other signs also point to a gradual process- great and inevitable-which is leading humankind to unity. In using all the above elements which promote unity, the Church can prepare for the encounter with Christ. When he will have reunited in his risen body all his members, then will the kingdom of the Father come and God will be all in all (cf. I Cor. 15:24-28). This is a magnificent task and an enormous challenge facing the Church in America-working for communion while preparing to cross the threshold of the third millennium of the Christian era.


I. Solidarity, Born of Communion

48. Communion, properly understood and lived, is the basis and source of solidarity. St. John, the Beloved Disciple, understood quite well the Master's spirit and teaching: "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us All who keep his commandments abide in him, and he in them" (I Jn. 3:23- 24).

For the past 2,000 years, the practice of this commandment of fraternal love has been the principle for transforming societies. Today at the dawn of the third millennium this is equally true. The practice of this commandment of fraternal love has the power to renew society in America. Indeed, most of the problems afflicting the various peoples of the continent have their origin in socioeconomic causes, which can be overcome if each person or group-including nations-applies the principle of solidarity. In the present situation of economic, cultural and political interdependence, what was done in the past by individual persons must today be done by entire peoples and nations.

49. The Church's social teaching, the body of principles which the Magisterium has drawn from her study of the word of God (with special reference to the virtues of justice and fraternal charity), as well as the demands of the natural law and the analysis of the concrete historical situation, presents a full understanding of the human person, justice, development and solidarity.54

Everyone, in virtue of being created in God's image and likeness, is called to participate through Christ in the divine life. The human being has a body and soul and therefore has needs and desires for fulfillment at the physical and immanent level as well as at the spiritual and transcendent level. Hence, when one speaks of human promotion and development, it should be pointed out that these must concern "the whole person" because "man does not live by bread alone, but ... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt. 8:3; Mt. 4:4). The human person is the measure and center of all economic, political, social and cultural activity. Therefore, one speaks of an integral development in the sense of a change from "less human conditions" to "more human conditions," e.g., bread, clothing, housing, work, instruction, freedom, openness to God and Jesus Christ.55 At the same time, reference is made to an authentic development, that is, a development that is "more human and able to sustain itself at the level of the true vocation of men and women without denying economic requirements."56

50. The human being, whom God created male and female (with a fundamental equality, although with different characteristics and gifts respectively), was placed in the world to form a family and live in society. Therefore, a person cannot claim to seek development and fulfillment without others. On the other hand, however, the Creator has desired man and woman for themselves. This means that, although God has created them as members of a community, any social problem necessarily implies the integral development of man and woman individually as persons. Hence comes the constant duty for solidarity among individuals, groups and peoples, so that each man and woman can achieve fulfillment in accordance with God's plan.57

Man and woman disfigured their original image as children of God by sinning against the divine command. By sinning they separated themselves from God and introduced selfishness into their hearts, the origin of so many sins of domination and injustice against neighbor. Christ, with his redeeming grace, renews man and woman and shows each the way of justice and love, which is expressed concretely in solidarity. This solidarity is born of communion and has its roots in union with Christ, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, St. John says in his first letter: "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (I Jn. 1:7), for "this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another" (I Jn. 3:11). "He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling" (I Jn. 2:9-10).

Charity and solidarity are demands of an active faith because, if not, as St. James the Apostle says, "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him: If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas. 2:14-17).

51. The sight of many people in need in America has stirred many persons from their indifference, from their passivity and from their fatalistic resignation, and has made them take on an attitude of service. Christ encourages them and shows them the way: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:33). Indeed, he overcame sin through the depth and authenticity of his love, which caused him to sacrifice himself in a selfless act of service. The Son of Man came not to be served "but to serve, and to give his own life as a ransom for many" (Mk. 10:45). Therefore, following the example of Jesus, the Lord and Master, who washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of love and humility, Christians are called to express fraternal communion in their service of solidarity on behalf of others (cf. Jn. 13:1 ff). This love is manifested in the service of solidarity and is the most effective witness of evangelization. This love contains in itself all the power for a real transformation of society. This love- fundamentally an act of self-sacrifice and service, not words or mere sentiments-helps the person to rise above thoughts of self, to forget about comfort, to overcome selfishness and to serve Christ in the brethren who are in need. This is a love of solidarity which will ultimately determine a person's eternal destiny: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did unto me.... Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt. 25:40, 45).

52. The Church in America, above all in the developing countries, has always manifested a special desire to respond to the needs of the poor. In this way she echoes the message and life of Jesus Christ, who rich though he was, made himself poor for our sakes so that we might be enriched through his poverty (cf. 2 Cor. 8:9). This special concern has stimulated theological reflection which- as rightly pointed out by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instruction on some aspects of liberation theology-rests upon three pillars: the truth about Jesus Christ, the truth about the Church and the truth about the human person.58 For this reason, preferential love for the poor must be interpreted in the light of the experience of the Church, which shines forth with particular light in the life of the saints.59 Therefore, to be of assistance in pastoral life and theological reflection, the congregation's second instruction on liberation theology insists that it is indispensable to maintain a clear distinction and, at the same time, a just and necessary interrelation between evangelization and the promotion of justice: "Hence she (the Church) takes great care to maintain clearly and firmly both the unity and the distinction between evangelization and human promotion: unity, because she seeks the good of the whole person; distinction, because these two tasks enter in different ways into her mission."60

It will be important to keep in mind that the goal of the mission of the Church in America is the true liberation of the contemporary person, who suffers great oppression and is yearning for freedom. This mission extends not only to the developing countries of the Central and Southern parts of the continent, but also includes the geographical area of the most developed countries of the North where the very phenomenon of industrial and technological development is giving birth to new forms of poverty and slavery, e.g., moral decadence, corruption, extreme poverty and loneliness of some persons living in densely populated urban areas; delinquency and violence by young people, a certain slavery generated by consumerism and materialism, social marginalization of some groups in the big cities, etc.

II. Some Urgent Social Problems and Their Causes

53. The Church in America must face many complex problems in the social field. On diverse occasions the Bishops of America, gathered in episcopal assemblies at the national and continental level, have concerned themselves with these problems, treating them in various documents, e.g., La Iglesia en la Actual Transformacion de America Latina a la Luz del Concilio (Medellin, 1968), La Evangelizacion en el Presente y en el Futuro de America Latina (Puebla, 1978) and Nueva Evangelizacion, Promocion Humana y Cultura Cristiana (Santo Domingo, 1992) of the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, "Economic Justice for All: Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy" (1986) and "Moral Principles and Policies for Welfare Reform" (1995) of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States of America; and Les Couts Humains du Chomage (1980) and various documents from the Commission for Social Affairs of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. These statements are an echo of the Popes' messages in diverse Encyclicals, in particular Populorum Progressio, Laborem Exercens and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

The problems referred to most often in these documents are: poverty, injustice, migration, international economic relations, the spread of multinational corporations, the free market, external debt, disparity in development and an unequal distribution of resources between North, Central and South America, the lack of solidarity, the clandestine drug trade, the situation of women in some countries, the rights of ethnic minorities (primarily those of indigenous peoples and African- Americans), health care, etc. New problems must be added to this list, which have recently resulted from scientific advances in the area of bioethics, above all in matters concerning genetic manipultion.61 All the pastors of the continent are showing that they well understand the problem these facts represent for those who bear the name of Christian.

54. Employment is a particularly important social problem. Experience teaches that economic growth may cause difficulties in employment. Pope John Paul II has placed the topic of work at the center of the social question in his Encyclical Letter Laborem Exercens:

"Human work is a key, probably the essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that question really from the point of view of man's good. And if the solution-or rather the gradual solution-of the social question, which keeps coming up and becomes even more complex, must be sought in the direction of 'making life more human,' then the key, namely human work, acquires fundamental and decisive importance."62

In this sense, the fundamental affirmation underlined in this same document becomes basic; according to this affirmation, the means of production "cannot be possessed against labor ... because the only legitimate title to their possession-whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of public or collective ownership-is that they should serve labor."63

Another subject deserving attention is the relationship of transnational corporations. These have acquired great power in recent years and are assuming greater importance with the markets becoming more global. This increase of power must be commensurate with a greater responsibility on the part of the executives of these corporations. Therefore, the Church has the important mission of making her social message also reach this sector.

The Church's presence in the social field is brought about--among many other ways--through the proper diffusion of documents on this topic by the Holy See and the Bishops. In this regard, communication is crucial. In some cases, the contents of important documents receive only a superficial treatment and distribution through some type of communication at the time of their publication. The challenge of the new evangelization on the American continent is to find ways of utilizing the means of social communications available, so that the Church's social teaching might become better known.

Still in the context of the social question, reference must also be made- beyond the positive aspects of life in the city-to the problems caused by urbanization: persons without "roots," anonymity, loneliness, immorality, etc. This situation is of particular concern when these factors combine with other elements- especially poverty and indigence-which define the complex social question of the poor barrios or favelas on the outskirts of the cities in Central and South America and the marginalized areas of the large cities in North America. On the other hand, urbanization as well as industrialization is causing a progressive destruction of natural resources and a contamination of the whole planet's environment. Simultaneously, the immigration from country to city is causing the appearance of a new type of "cultural and Christian desert" in urban societies, most of all in the countries in the south of the continent.

55. These few observations on the social situation in America will serve no purpose unless the possible causes of the problems be pointed out and some means to overcome them suggested. The guidelines for reflection must always be the documents of the Church in the social field. The Church places the most emphasis on the moral causes of these social problems. In the Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II clearly affirms that, among the attitudes to be kept in mind as contributing to the economic imbalance, are "the all-consuming desire for profit and the thirst for power."64 Such attitudes give rise to acts of omission or negatives acts of commission, which end up creating structures of sin, in turn aggravating the divisions existing among the few who have much and the many who have little.

In keeping with the Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, it is possible to say: If the cause is moral, the solution must also be moral. Therefore, Pope John Paul II proposes the cultivation of the virtue of solidarity.65 Solidarity is understood to be a morally necessary reaction to the existence of injustice in social conditions which many individuals suffer today. Solidarity as a virtue implies the necessity to act in a habitual manner and not one consisting simply of sporadic acts of good will. Growth in this virtue will be motivated by an awareness of the interdependence which unites all people in a common destiny. Each person achieves salvation through assuming the responsibility of working for the salvation of others.

It is also important to consider the whole meaning of solidarity as proposed by the Church's social teaching. It is not some one- way action bestowed from above to those below. Everyone must take part. Pope John Paul II's Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis and the document on the external debt by the Pontifical Justice and Peace Commission insist on the responsibility of all parties and social groups.66

56. There are those who say that Catholicism-or more appropriately the cultural tradition with Catholic roots -is to some degree "culpable" for the underdevelopment of some countries. This theory is dangerous because it can be understood as saying that progress should be achieved at the expense of the faith. One cannot deny that religion has an influence on the culture of a people and their concept of history, time, work and life in general. However, that influence is not always negative, as some people might wish to portray the influence of Catholicism in relation to other religions. Therefore, it is important to study more thoroughly and to reflect on the relationship between the Christian religion-and more concretely the Catholic religion-and the development of peoples.

Sometimes the analysis of social problems is very difficult because of their complexity and their link to the social sciences. For some problems, however, such as poverty, there is no room for indecisiveness. In those cases where there is a difference of opinion or no perfect solution, there is the moral obligation to act. In this regard, it is important to recall a warning made by Pope John XXIII:

"However, when it comes to reducing these teachings to action, it sometimes happens that even sincere Catholic men have differing views. When this occurs they should take care to have and to show mutual esteem and regard, and to explore the extent to which they can work in cooperation among themselves. Thus, they can in good time accomplish what necessity requires. Let them also take great care not to weaken their efforts in constant controversies. Nor should they, under pretext of seeking what they think best, meanwhile fail to do what they can and hence should do."67

One way to make practical reasoning more effective is to try always to place oneself in the other's position. To carry out this aim, it is good to remember the golden rule: "Do unto others what you would have them do unto you." This in turn is a logical conclusion to the first principle of the natural moral law: "Do good and avoid evil." Changing the viewpoint from which problems are studied could be an important step in conversion, since the root of injustice-as mentioned above-is in the moral field.

III. Those who Work for Solidarity

57. The responsibility of the pastors of the people of God (Bishops and priests) in the above-mentioned areas is clear and certain. A valuable contribution in this area is made by men and women religious, those belonging to apostolic movements and those in other institutes. These dedicated people work with families, children and young people. They run centers of charity and assistance. They work in schools or live among the poor, bringing the witness of their love along with their assistance in solidarity. Many such experiences in the Church in America show that they too are effective agents of solidarity.

In this commonly shared task of solidarity the laity have a decisive role. A great potential for generosity in response to human suffering and need exists in the Christian laity of North, Central and South America. Past and recent history is filled with examples of this effective cooperation at the time of natural disasters or social or political conflicts (wars, guerrilla attacks or other more or less chronic problems of a social or cultural nature).

In all parts of the continent solidarity is enriched by the vitality and spontaneity of young people. They have within themselves an enormous capacity for self-giving. They await from their pastors the invitation which Christ addressed to the workers in the marketplace: "You go into the vineyard too" (Mt. 20:4). Yesterday and today alike, they respond to this call, e.g., as priests or religious, consecrated persons, lay missionaries, lay volunteers, etc.

The family also plays a primary role in forming new generations to practice solidarity toward those in need. The example and witness of parents is decisive in teaching children and adolescents to be sensitive to others and to have an altruistic attitude. Woman, to whom God "entrusts in a special way man, that is, the human being,"68 has a very important role in the field of solidarity. Indeed, she "cannot find herself except by giving love to others."69 Woman's proper participation in the Church, in accordance with her particular vocation to life and love, makes her an effective agent of solidarity at the service of the Gospel.

IV. Possible Ways for Achieving Solidarity

58. Programs of formation for priests and religious in the Church's social teaching are an aspect of fundamental importance in preparing the way for solidarity.70 To the degree that those responsible for pastoral leadership are better able to understand human problems in light of important elements in contemporary social life (politics, finances, culture, social justice, economics, etc.), they can more effectively act in the social area to bring about practical initiatives for solidarity. Indeed, the aim of formation in this area is twofold: on the one hand-on the level of enduring principles-to achieve an objective judgment in the social situation, and on the other hand, to put into effect the most appropriate options for eliminating injustice and promoting political, economic and social changes in accord with the particular circumstances of each case.71

59. There are diverse possibilities for achieving solidarity at various levels in the Church in America. A way of solidarity between the Christian communities of North America and Central- South America has already been opened. This can be seen, for example, in the initiative of teaching the Spanish language in many seminaries of the United States of America so that future priests can be better prepared for pastoral work with Spanish- language communities and immigrants. There is also the fact of the voluntary service offered by lay men and women coming from North America to the neediest regions of the continent's Central-South. At the same time, it would be beneficial for those who find themselves in countries not their own to develop an attitude of respect for and understanding of the culture of their host country. Likewise, one can promote programs which consider the possibility of priests from Latin America to visit the countries of the continent's North in order to give spiritual care to the people of Latin American origin.

The way of solidarity undertaken by many lay men and women, especially professionals, who give generously of their time and knowledge on behalf of the poor, remains open to the creativity of new forms. One aspect deserving of special consideration is volunteer work not only at the local level, but at the international level. The three parts of the continent have much to exchange in this regard.

Though the city poses many problems, it also presents new opportunities for action. The Church, with her parish structures and various programs, is very much a part of the urban structure. These settings offer people new areas where they can experience religion. The urban apostolate continues to be a priority in the formation of priests, religious and lay workers. In this regard there are many opportunities for creativity in devising new methods, new ways and new languages of evangelization.

V. Aspiration and Challenges of the Church in America

60. In keeping with the above considerations, the Church in America seeks to promote and practice solidarity among the continent's North, Central and South. She searches for ways to channel effective aid to groups and nations which suffer from poverty and the need for education, medicine, health care structures, housing, employment, etc. In this case, the real challenge is forming a moral conscience in those who can have a decisive influence on economic programs and policies, on social communication, on culture, on health care, etc.

In promoting proper political, economic and cultural plans, such people could work for the benefit of others not simply in the local communities and among local peoples, but also in national or international structures.

It is not the Church's mission to resolve all social problems. However, the Church can doubtlessly contribute to the partial solution of some fundamental problems. For example, she could help in areas which touch the basic things needed for a dignified human life- food, housing, education, clothing, medicine, etc. Many particular Churches in America give Gospel witness to a communion in solidarity by creating programs to foster cooperative initiatives between one church and another. They also do this at the continental level within already existing structures of aid and, when opportune, apart from these structures. The example of the primitive Christian community in apostolic times continues to be the Church's inspiration in the area of a real communion and sharing of gifts, including material ones. The text from the Acts of the Apostles is clear and simple in its teaching:

"Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the Apostles gave their testimony to the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the Apostles' feet, and distribution was made to each as any had need" (Acts 4:32-35).

The example of St. Paul, who did not hesitate to organize a collection among the Churches in Asia Minor on behalf of the persecuted sister community of Jerusalem, provides a concrete and direct model as to how to meet the needs of the brethren in the name of he who "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).

61. The Church's social teaching is demanding because the Gospel itself is demanding. But to enter into the spirit of the Gospel, it is necessary to undergo conversion, which is a change of heart and mind. When it is authentic, this interior change leads to changes in one's way of acting. The Church in America has shown- and continues to show today as well-a particular involvement in the area of social programs to benefit all persons on the continent. This particular interest is demonstrated in the Gospel option for the most helpless and needy as well as in the Church's desire to promote the integral development of all persons at all levels -physical and spiritual, material and cultural. In the Christian sense, promoting social involvement implies the challenge of forming in the laity a social conscience of solidarity and generosity. This will allow those in regions which are more privileged and self-sufficient to share material and human resources with people in regions less favored.

Regarding promoting social programs, the Church in America has always shown a particular interest and concern for academic and cultural education- at the primary, secondary and advanced levels- as a basic condition for the development of peoples. This concern for education, together with an adequate religious formation, has always been shown by the Church. She has insisted on this so that Christians might give the reason for their hope and might respond appropriately to the challenge of secularization and to questions posed by various religious confessions. Indeed, religious sects and pseudospiritual movements are undermining the religious and cultural unity of the Catholic people of America. Through the use of abundant economic and technical resources, they proselytize in a manner which often manipulates consciences. In Latin America these sects frequently attack the identity of a nation, an identity which is closely linked to the Catholic faith. In the area of religious formation, this constitutes another challenge for the Church in America.

62. Since the concept of culture involves the ways in which people develop their relationships with God, others and nature, inculturation is another great aspiration for the Church in America. Indeed, by evangelizing culture it is possible to promote human relationships which reflect the commandment of love of God and love of neighbor through concrete forms of fraternal solidarity. To know, to respect and to promote the culture of each ethnic group, and to proclaim the Gospel to each culture-so that, once it is evangelized, it will in turn express the content of the Gospel in its own forms-is the cyclical process of inculturation, which is presented as one of the goals in the new evangelization.

Peoples enrich the human and ecclesial communities through the contribution of their own cultures. The Gospel, incarnated in the diverse cultural forms of peoples, displays its inexhaustible richness. Therefore, in all which is positive and in all which is in keeping with the perennial message of the good news, the Church values and defends the culture of each people and every group. In America there are heterogeneous cultural expressions: those of contemporary societies, those of the indigenous or autochthonous groups on the continent (from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego), those of the African-Americans of the North, Central, Caribbean and South, and those of the ethnic minorities who have come to America in the last two centuries, enriching it with their cultures. Each of these groups possesses a cultural heritage which can be recognized in its artistic expressions, religious practice and innate qualities. Each of these groups is a precious gift for the continent and the whole world.

63. In the ecumenical field there are many initiatives. Some have already been accomplished, and others have just begun. These are meant to build up unity through acts of solidarity with the brethren of other Christian confessions not only in matters pertaining to interconfessional dialogue, but also in other areas, e.g., economic and social assistance, culture, health care, etc. The words of the Second Vatican Council encourage Catholics to cooperate with their brothers and sisters of other Christian confessions: "Since cooperation in social matters is so widespread today, all men without exception are called to work together; with much greater reason is this true of all who believe in God, but most of all, it is especially true of all Christians, since they bear the seal of Christ's name."72 In light of the spread of indifference and a mentality with no place for God, efforts at collaboration will make it possible to preserve better the patrimony of common Christian truths and values. Gatherings for prayer and reflection, organized by those in charge of these Christian communities, provide opportunity to continue on the road leading to the unity desired by Christ.

64. The communion and solidarity of the whole human family must be accomplished in gradual stages so as to reach a true and solid integration of communities at the national and continental level. In this way channels for reciprocal relations will be created among North, Central and South America, all the while respecting the diverse sociocultural realities. As in the initial stages of any endeavor, there are difficulties. Some people may view such an undertaking as a utopia, unlikely and impossible to achieve. Without a doubt, the difficulties to be overcome are not simply technical, i.e., economic, juridical, cultural or political, but, above all, human, i.e., suspicious and mutual distrust, historic resentments, enduring attitudes of discrimination, and a strict and exclusive nationalism.

Great problems require great solutions, which often imply great gestures of generosity and sacrifice. In this case, what is at stake is adopting communion and solidarity-as desired by Christ- as a way of life for all Christ's disciples. This is not only the innermost desire of humanity, but also the goal toward which the people of God is journeying, guided by the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ. The efforts being made at present in the various parts of the world to create communities of nations in the fields of economy or culture-in Europe, in the Eastern Pacific, in North, Central and South America-are like the pieces with which the mosaic of an immense community of nations is being created. The ultimate goal, which responds to God's plan and Christ's plea, is always the unity of the human family, which is bound together by faith in Christ. Indeed, the Church herself, one in her faith, one in her sacraments and one in her hierarchy, is catholic in the universality of her members and her communities with their respective cultures. She is already an anticipation of the one people and one family desired by God since the dawn of creation.


65. Christ's command, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19), continues to be as pressing today as when he first addressed it to the Apostles on the mountain in Galilee shortly before he ascended into heaven. At the approach of the third millennium, Christ is once again sending forth his Church in America to evangelize contemporary society. Mission is one of the first and most urgent duties of the entire people of God. In light of a rapidly changing world and society, which is profoundly different from those of previous decades, all Christians should feel within themselves the urgent need of mission. To fulfill this mission requires following the same salvific way which Christ followed 2,000 years ago. He is today, as yesterday and forever, "the way, the truth and the life" (Jn. 14:16) of every person on pilgrimage toward heaven.

The objectives pointed out by Pope John Paul II for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America are difficult yet challenging-to foster a new evangelization in every part of the American continent, to increase solidarity among the various particular Churches and to shed light on the problems of justice and the international economic relations among the North, Central and South.

66. The discussions and the suggestions for implementation resulting from the Special Assembly for America will not have a sociological or technical emphasis, but one based on the Gospel. Peter said to the crippled man at the beautiful gate of the temple in Jerusalem: "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). In a similar way, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America, over which the Successor of St. Peter will preside, will help indicate to the people of God the path to walk so as to meet the living Jesus Christ, the Lord of time and eternity.

At this moment in history the Spirit of the Lord invites us to stop being fearful or hesitant, and to set out with courage to proclaim the word in America with parresia or "boldness" and with all its power to transform hearts, societies and cultures. This demands conversion and a change of heart. Today the echo of the Apostle's voice is heard in America, encouraging the Church with the words: "We beseech you..., be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). Conversion and reconciliation with God the Father, and with all people, our brothers and sisters, is the first condition required by Jesus at the beginning of the new evangelization: "The kingdom of God is at hand: Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk. 1:15). In order to be good evangelizers, one must first be evangelized. Only by preparing the way with a genuine conversion will it be possible to set out confidently toward the goal, which is communion with God in Christ, and to be able to yield the abundant fruits of love and solidarity in the Spirit.

67. The Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Church,73 is the Star of the New Evangelization. She is surely guiding the people of God in America to meet the Lord.74 She makes her maternal presence felt among her people as she did at the beginning of the Church's life, and today, as in the past, she continues to invite all her children to conversion, communion and solidarity.

In this age, which has many causes for concern and likewise many signs of hope, the occasion of the Special Assembly for America invites the entire people of God to abandon fear and discouragement and to listen attentively to what the Spirit is saying to the pilgrim Church on the continent: "America, open your heart to Christ."


Encounter with the Living Christ

1. How is the person of Jesus Christ, the savior and evangelizer, proclaimed and presented to the men and women of the present era so that they might have a true encounter with him in the concrete situations of life? Describe the ways in which the Church can maintain the centrality of the living Jesus Christ in the various manifestations of the Church's life: liturgy, systematic catechesis, formation in the faith, apostolic and charitable activities?

Conversion in Church and in Society

2. List and describe concrete signs of the religious awakening in the local Church. On the other hand, what are the most urgent aspects needing conversion within the Church?

3. What elements in contemporary society in your area can be considered positive with regards to the Gospel message? What elements of society call for conversion?

Communion in the Church

4. In your area, what are the factors causing significant divisions in the Church with regard to Bishops, priests, men and women religious, ecclesial movements, the faithful in general? How can these elements which damage communion be overcome?

5. Evaluate to what measure the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, especially in relation to ecclesial communion, have been faithfully applied in your particular Church. In what ways can all the doctrinal and pastoral richness of this Council be proposed in response to the Holy Father's invitation to make an "examination of conscience" which "must consider the reception given to the Council, this great gift of the Spirit to the Church at the end of the second millennium" (Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 36).

Ecumenical and Interreligious


6. What is being done concretely in the particular Churches or at the interdiocesan level to promote ecumenical dialogue, prayer and cooperation in acts of solidarity with our Christian brethren? How are pastoral workers prepared to develop ecumenical activities oriented toward building up the unity of the one people of God?

7. Evaluate the relations which your Christian community maintains with other non-Christian religions?

The Problem of Sects

8. Describe briefly the religious situation concerning sects, syncretistic religious movements and other spiritual currents. What are they? What type of activities are they developing?

What can the Church do to confirm believers in their faith in light of this situation?

Evangelization and Culture

9. What is the Church doing to evangelize the world of culture (the arts, literature, science, etc.)? How is the Church involved through programs of evangelization in the various fields of education: primary or elementary, secondary or middle school, university, etc.?

10. What are the most significant elements in the cultures of indigenous groups, African-Americans or immigrants-found in the territories of your country or local communities-which deserve to be reconsidered or utilized as "seeds of evangelization"? To what measure do these elements enrich Christian spirituality? To what measure must they be purified of elements which are alien to the Christian faith?

11. What are the more significant characteristics of popular piety in your area and to what extent are those aspects taken into consideration in pastoral planning? What place does the Blessed Virgin Mary hold in popular devotion?

Social Communication

12. What is the Church in your area doing at present to promote the proper use of the means of social communication and to make them useful tools at the service of the new evangelization? Describe the Church's presence in the many forms of the so-called modern areopagus.

Social Solidarity

13. What activities are promoted by the Church in your area to offer assistance in solidarity to those most in need, and how do the faithful respond in general to these initiatives? What external collaboration, at the ecclesial or civil level, does the Church receive for this aid of solidarity? Are there programs for forming a consciousness of solidarity in persons or groups having a significant role in society?

Social Problems

14. What use is being made of the Church's social teaching in your area in the new evangelization in light of the diverse situations which demand social action, e.g., human development and promotion, migration, the problems of the world of work, etc.? What means are being used to spread an awareness of the Church's social teaching within the Church and beyond the ecclesial dimension?

Promotion of Human Life

15. How does the Church promote respect for human life in all its phases, from conception in the mother's womb to the point of natural death? Give concrete examples of the sensitivity of the Christian community in your area concerning this aspect.

Other Common Themes

16. In light of the topic of the Special Assembly, give any remarks and suggestions on matters common to the whole American continent which, in your opinion, have not been treated sufficiently in the Lineamenta or not included in the above series of questions.


1 John Paul II, Opening Address, Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Santo Domingo (Oct. 12, 1992), 17: L'Osservatore Romano: Eng. ea., Oct. 21, 1992, p. 8.

2 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente (Nov. 10, 1994), 38: Acta Apostolicae Sedis 87 (1995) 30.

3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 429.

4 Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.

5 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation Libertatis Conscientia (March 22, 1986), 99: AAS 79 (1987) 594.

6 Cf. Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (Dec. 8, 1975), 75: AAS 68 (1976) 64-67.

7 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 160.

8 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Dec. 7, 1990), 37.

9 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 63; cf. St. Augustine, Sermo CCXV, 4: Patrologia Latina 38, 1074.

10 Cf. John Paul II, opening address Santo Domingo, 31.

11 John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Mater (March 25, 1987) 37.

12 Cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 59.

13 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (Dec. 2, 1984): AAS 77 (1985) 199.

14 Ibid., 4.

15 Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 36.

16 Cf. ibid.

17 St. Augustine, Confessions 1, 1.

18 Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 36.

19 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis (March 25, 1992), 9: AAS 84 (1992) 670.

20 Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 13.

21 Pius XII, Radio Message to U.S. National Catechetical Congress, Boston (Oct. 26, 1946), Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, VIII, 1946, p. 288; cf. Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 18.

22 John Paul II, Angelus (March 14, 1982) L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ea., March 22, 1982, p. 2.

23 St. Leo the Great, Tractatus 63 (De Passione Domini) 6: Collected Works of Christian Writers, Latin Series 138/A, 386.

24 Catechism of the Catholic Church 13-17.

25 John Paul II, Encyclical Evangelium Vitae (March 25, 1995), 76.

26 Second Vatican Council, Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 7.

27 Ibid., 6.

28 Cf. ibid., 8-11.

29 Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, 2.

30 Cf. Statement by the Heads of the Doctrinal Commissions of the Latin American Episcopal Conferences, Guadalajara, Mexico, May 6- 10, 1996: L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ea., May 15, 1996, p. 12.

31 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 6.

32 Cf. ibid., 7.

33 Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 40.

34 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter to the men and women religious of Latin America for the Fifth Centenary of the Evangelization of the New World (June 29, 1990), 22: AAS 83 (1991) 37.

35 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (March 25, 1996), 81.

36 Pastores Dabo Vobis, 15.

37 Letter to Diognetus VI, I: F.X. Funk, Patres Apostolici, Tubingen 1901, Vol. I, 401; cf. Liturgy of the Hours II, Office of Readings for Wednesday of the fifth week during the Easter season.

38 Lumen Gentium, 4.

39 Ibid., 23.

40 Cf. ibid., 24-27.

41 John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (Nov. 22, 1981), 21d.

42 John Paul II, "Letter to Women" (June 29 1995), 2: L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ea., July 12, 1995, p. 2.

43 Cf. ibid., 11; cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood Inter Insigniores (Oct. 15, 1976): AAS 69 (1977) 98-116; cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici (Dec. 30, 1988), 51.

44 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 6-7.

45 Ibid., 1.

46 Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10.

47 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Catechesi Tradendae (Oct. 16, 1979), 35-45.

48 Cf. Lumen Gentium, 39-40.

49 Cf. Pastores Dabo Vobis, 74.

50 Cf. Gaudium et Spes, 53.

51 Evangelii Nuntiandi, 19.

52 Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 34.

53 Cf. Gaudium et Spes 77-78.

54 Cf. Libertatis Conscientia, 71-96.

55 Cf. Populorum Progressio, 20-21.

56 John Paul II, Encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (Dec. 30,1987), 28.

57 Cf. ibid., 29.

58 Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Some Aspects of the Theology of Liberation Libertatis Nuntius (Aug. 6, 1984), V, 8: AAS 76 (1984) 887; cf. John Paul II, opening address, Third General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate, Puebla, Mexico, Jan. 28,1979, I, 2-9: AAS 71(1979), 189-196.

59 Cf. Libertatis Conscientia, 70.

60 Ibid., 64.

61 Cf. Evangelium Vitae, 4.

62 John Paul II, Encyclical Laborem Exercens (Sept. 14, 1981), 3.

63 Ibid., 14.

64 Cf. Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 37.

65 Cf. ibid. 38.

66 Cf. ibid., 39; Cf. Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, "At the Service of the Human Community: An Ethical Consideration of the International Debt" (Dec. 27, 1986), Vatican City, Vatican Polyglot Press, 1986, 1-2, 5.

67 John XXIII, Encyclical Mater et Magistra (May 15, 1961), 238.

68 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (Aug. 15,1988), 30.

69 Ibid.

70 Cf. Congregation for Catholic Education, "Guidelines for the Study and Teaching of the Church's Social Teaching in the Formation of Priests" (Dec. 30, 1988), Vatican City, Vatican Polyglot Press, 1986, pp. 71-77.

71 Cf. ibid., p. 13.

72 Unitatis Redintegratio, 12.

73 Cf. Paul VI, Closing Address to the third session of Vatican Council II (Nov. 21, 1964): AAS 56 (1964) 1015.

74 Cf. Tertio Millennio Adveniente, 59.

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