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Panorama of Missionary Activity in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America

by Fides Dossier


This Fides Dossier covers World Mission Sunday 2008 and reports from the missions in Africa, Asia, Oceania, and Latin America.

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Fides Dossier

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FIDES News Service, Rome, October 19, 2008

World Mission Sunday 2008

Panorama of Missionary Activity in

Missionary activity in Africa

Over the last year the political and social panorama of Africa has been marked on the one hand by serious crises in certain reference countries for the continent, (Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa) and situations of persisting violence (Darfur, eastern Democratic Congo, Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia), and on the other by the continuation and consolidation of democracy with elections in Angola, and the start of an electoral process in Ivory Coast.

The Catholic Church in Africa is never a passive spectator to such events. It intervened with Bishops' documents, with activity of evangelisation and human promotion on the part of missionaries, priests, men and women religious and lay Catholics, and with charitable activity by local and universal Church agencies.

The Church raised its voice to defend the helpless and to denounce situations ignored by the international media and politics. A report sent to Fides by Rev Justin Nkunzi, head of the Justice and Peace Commission of the archdiocese of Bukavu, in southern Kivu, in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, denounces crimes of sexual violence against women and adolescents. The area most affected by sexual crimes is Walungu, in the district of Kaniola.

The report is based on interviews with 100 people, of whom 65 were victims of this violence. The people interviewed said that in the country's history such crimes were unprecedented. "These facts have no cultural foundation, they can be neither understood nor explained" the report affirms. "This is unimaginable barbarism " which must be brought to light because "at certain times, we fear more the silence of the good, than the barbarity of the bad". "In the face of this continuing inhuman and unjustifiable situation in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo, with all kinds of violence from serial sexual abuse to the trivialisation of the lives of our brothers and sisters, we Major Superiors of the Religious Congregations operating in the Province of Katanga cannot remain silent" says a statement sent to Fides by the Superiors of male and female religious congregations operating in the southern Congo province, another zone where armed gangs continue to harass the population.

In this context the Catholic Church represents an indispensable reality for safeguarding human life and human dignity, especially through human and spiritual formation. "Formation is the key to rendering the situation in Congo stable and safe — Rev Justin Nkunzi, told Fides When people are ignorant and illiterate they are more easily convinced to take up arms. But when they are aware of their history and their rights, the people realise that weapons only serve to destroy the country. We have an opportunity with the Constitutional Charter which created a Federal State to help Congo develop".

The Bishops speak out

On various occasions the Catholic Bishops' Conferences intervened to warn and urge the governments and the people to work to promote authentic human development, centred on an anthropological vision respectful of authentic universal values.

We are still far from the dream of building a Congo "more beautiful than ever" wrote the Bishops of the Democratic Republic of Congo in a message with the title "It is time for us to wake up" issued at the end of their annual Plenary Assembly. The publication of the message coincided with the 48th anniversary of the nation's independence. The Bishops took the opportunity to assess the country's present political and social situation.

Quoting the national anthem ("we will build with work a country more beautiful than ever"), the Bishops' Conference recalled the dramatic conditions in which the people still live saying that the dream of a better Congo is still far from realised. They described "the spectacle of a Congo where more and more people are killed, impoverished, thrown into endless unhappiness, and continue to see everything bad and cry with desperation: "how long must this suffering last?"

The Bishops of Congo also asked for a revision of "unjust" mining contracts stipulated with foreign companies, calling on foreign governments and international finance institutions to respect the process of revision. "We call on our government — the Bishops wrote in a message made public in February — to make the juridical picture of the stipulation of mining and forestry contracts clear and transparent. Mining and forestry companies must respect obligations in social and environmental matters". The Congolese Bishops spoke out firmly in favour of national unity against any attempt to divide the national territory. On the eve of the opening of a Conference in the east of Congo on January 6, the Bishops issued a document offering guidelines to the Conference participants. They stressed first of all the need to reject "the ideology of balkanisation with the creation of "dwarf nations". Territorial integrity, intangibility of the frontiers and national unity of the Democratic Republic of Congo are not negotiable" they stated. The Congolese Bishops' Conference also said that the "Constitution of the DRC has solved the issue of nationality" and that "war as a means of resolving disputes among the people is useless and must be absolutely condemned. War shows total contempt for human life and can never be justified".

Another country facing the question of correct use of natural resources (in this case oil), is Nigeria. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Nigeria spoke out on several occasions calling leaders to use oil profits to promote human and social development in the country. "Our country needs radical reforms with policies focused on the people and the sector of education" the Bishops of Nigerian said in a message issued in February at their end of the Plenary Assembly. "We praise certain well intentioned persons for launching a campaign to convince the National Assembly to pass a law on the rights of the child. In view of the increase in crimes such as sexual abuse of children, trafficking of minors, abandoning of children etc . . . the law is necessary".

The local Church, the Bishops said "is ready to play its part to reject all injustice, violation of human rights, corruption and discrimination, both in the Church and in society. We challenge Christian politicians to support Christian values and to work vigorously for a better society". The Bishops end the message recalling the imminent opening of Nigeria's new Catholic University: "Aware of the vital role of university education for the growth of the nation, we look forward to welcoming students to the Veritas University of Nigeria (VUNA) this year. We are committed to running a university renowned for spiritual, moral and academic excellence, a university which will prepare the young generations to be the future leaders of our country".

Africa's tragedies

On the whole, Africa registered economic growth rates promising for eliminating poverty in the long term. However the process must go hand in hand with reforms of the system of economic and financial relations between the countries, equal sharing of resources among all Africans and a stabilisation of crisis areas. In Africa in fact situations of serious social and political instability persist, causing apparently irresolvable human tragedies. One of these areas of crisis is Somalia, a mainly Muslim country where the Catholic Church is a tiny but significant presence with a dispensary at Baidoa, in southern Somalia. The structure run by Caritas Somalia, cares for 170 patients a day; every month about 4,000 people come to the dispensary for medical care. The local Caritas office told Fides that the dispensary is a point of reference for the people in a vast area of the southern Somalia, a country which has been without a central government since 1991. At the request of Pope Benedict XVI the Baidoa Dispensary was the beneficiary of the annual special collection taken during the 2007 Holy Thursday Mass of the Last Supper presided by the Holy Father in Rome.

It is normal for people to walk even 75 km for medical treatment" the Caritas workers say. Davide Bernocchi, head of Caritas Somalia, said the dispensary at Baidoa proves that it is possible to work among the people of Somalia and even with limited resources improve living conditions and meet basic needs. Bernocchi added: "we were very touched that the Pope thought of the people of Somalia, it was a sign of love and solidarity towards one of the world's smallest and most fragile Catholic Churches at the service of some of the world's poorest people".

The most common illnesses among the patients who come to the dispensary are respiratory conditions, tonsillitis, bronchitis, rhinitis, which can lead to pneumonia if not treated properly.

The Caritas Somalia structure in Baidoa with support from Catholic Relief Services, Caritas USA and British NGO Merlin, is able to give specialised treatment to the numerous people affected by Kalaazar. Besides treatment the dispensary also feeds many patients who come from such distant areas that the families are unable to bring food for them. Grace Kyeyune, head of UNICEF office for southern and central Somalia, acknowledges the validity of the structure and says "we ask local medical centres to take the Caritas clinic as a model. The organisation and efficiency is an example of what it means to operate in a war zone with scarce means".

The Baidoa Dispensary is not the only presence of Caritas in Somalia. Other articulations of Caritas have been present for many years even during the most difficult periods. Since the civil war started, Caritas Somalia has always operated in the country, directly or indirectly through partner agencies. Caritas Switzerland and Caritas Ireland (TRÓCAIRE) have operated here for the past 13 years, respectively in Hargeisa, in the north and Gedo, in the south. Catholic organisations operate in a spirit of ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, with similar structures of other Christian confessions and Muslim charity agencies.

In an interview with Fides, Bishop Giorgio Bertin, of the diocese of Gibuti, who is also Apostolic Administrator of Mogadishu, expressed hope for peace: "In an article which I wrote recently for the diocesan weekly publication of the diocese of Troyes, with which we have excellent relations, I posed the following questions: should we still work for peace in Somalia? We have seen 14 unsuccessful international peace conferences for Somalia. Should we abandon Somalia to face this failure? My reply is no: we must make even greater effort to restore peace, to see what went wrong in those 14 peace conferences and remain firm in our hope that peace will return, that peace is possible, because if we give up we are accepting the rule of death. So we must all roll up our sleeves and try once more to bring peace to Somalia. I had a message of gratitude from Somali Opposition members, presently living in Asmara, Eritrea, who wrote: "we heard that in the past month Pope Benedict XVI mentioned Somalia three times. As you will be seeing him soon, please thank him on our behalf". These people acknowledge the Church's contribution to keeping hope alive even in the darkest moments when discouragement threatens.

Another often forgotten tragedy which has raged for more than twenty years, is the violence in northern Uganda where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army LRA forces the people to abandon their homes and land and live in camps as refugees in their own country. "The people are ready to forgive the LRA for the suffering inflicted" Fides heard from Archbishop John Baptist Odama of Gulu, in northern Uganda, commenting the results of a mission undertaken by a LRA delegation to the affected areas to request forgiveness for the crimes committed. "The people are applying the Gospel teaching: "love your enemies and pray for their conversion". At the end of 2007 and in the first few months of 2008 we had concrete hopes of peace: the rebels seemed ready to sign a peace pact. Sadly, at the last minute the LRA leadership decided not to sign the agreement.

However undeterred by the set back, the local Catholic Church continues to work for peace. Last November Archbishop Odama, as President of the Justice and Peace Commission, opened a John Paul II Peace Centre at Nsambya, not far from Kampala the Ugandan capital. "The Centre is a new contribution on the part of the Catholic Church for peace in our country " said the Archbishop of Gulu. The Centre is promoted by various missionary congregations working in Uganda: Jesuits, Comboni Missionaries, Missionaries of Africa, Maryknoll Missionaries, the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The Archbishop of Gulu is also president of an Acholi peace initiative launched by Acholi religious leaders, the Acholi people are principal ethnic group in northern Uganda.

In his discourse during the opening of the Centre, Archbishop Odama called on all Ugandans to strive for authentic conversion, to leave ways of violence and turn to ways of peace.

The director of the John Paul II Centre, Fr Lazaro Bustince a White Father, or Missionary of Africa, said the purpose of the structure is to promote and spread the Christian faith by addressing social difficulties, building a more just society, giving special attention to the poorest people.

The Centre will sponsor and build networks to support initiatives for peace and social justice, by meeting the basic needs of the people.

African and European Bishops denounce human trafficking

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery, the Council of European Catholic Bishops CCEE and the Symposium of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) organised in November 2007 in Ghana a Seminar on the theme "I know the suffering of my people " (Es. 3, 7). Slavery and new forms of slavery". The seminar followed a first such jointly organised gathering held in Rome 10-13 November 2004. "In this era of global interdependence and new technologies, we witness persisting 'traditional' forms of slavery and new ones in addition. Many in Europe and Africa are slaves of poverty, injustice, especially because of unequal distribution of the resources of our planet " Cardinal Josip Bozani? Archbishop of Zagreb and CCEE vice president, denounced in his opening discourse.

The Seminar was part of a three year CCEE-SECAM plan 2007-2010 described by Cardinal Bozanic as "a path of cooperation for our two continents, to preserve, protect and increase the integrity of the faith of the universal family of peoples" also in view of the 2nd Special Synod of Bishops for Africa to be held in 2009.

The dramatic phenomenon was also mentioned by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral care of Migrants, who quoted the International Labour Organisation's estimate of 27 million modern day slaves.

"During our work there emerged the suffering of the victims of modern slavery. Suffering which does not leave the Church indifferent. During the Seminar we were informed of numerous initiatives on the part of Catholics to denounce the scandal of exploitation of human beings and to assist the victims. I would mention especially the activity of many congregations of Catholic women religious to assist women and girls to escape forced prostitution. Initiatives to denounce this crime and offer solidarity are launched by diocese, parishes, associations and Bishops' Conferences" said Bishop Aldo Giordano, CCEE general secretary, who added "The Seminar drafted action lines to combat the sad phenomenon. The first is to denounce at all levels of Church and public opinion the unbearable nature of the scandal of the exploitation of human beings. The second is to provide formation at all levels from the clergy to the civil society, to put people in a condition to help resolve the problem. The third aims to increase awareness among politicians and convince them to take action".

At the end of the Seminar the African and European Bishops announced that they had drafted letter for African and European heads of state which they would send to the Europe - Africa Summit in December 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal. In the Letter the Bishops of both continents called on African and European political leaders to "combat all these modern forms of slavery" including: human trafficking; exploitation of African material and human resources (the Bishops mention the brain drain of the African continent's medical personnel); to reach the UN Millennium Goal to eradicate poverty by 2015; to pursue the common good and good governance and to combat corruption; to recognise the contribution of migrants to the development of the hosting country and to the country of origin by means of earned money sent back to families.

The crisis in Kenya and Catholic Church's efforts to restore peace

The dramatic Kenyan crisis (more than one thousand dead and some 350,000 displaced) caused by reciprocal accusations of fraud between the then outgoing president Kibaki and Opposition leader Odinga, saw the local Catholic Church take a clear position to denounce the atmosphere of violence and urge political leaders and the people to work for peace and assist the crisis victims. The crisis was eventually settled with an agreement mediated by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan for power sharing between Kibaki, who will remain as President and Odinga, who will be Prime Minister.

Just before the 27 December vote, Cardinal John Njue Archbishop of Nairobi and president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Kenya, agreed to be interviewed by Fides We publish the full text below.

AFRICA/KENYA — "We intend to continue our mission with the same enthusiasm of the first missionaries" says new Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, in Rome for ad limina visit

Rome (Agenzia Fides ) — "We are satisfied with the growth of the Church thanks first of all to the work of missionaries" said Kenya's new Cardinal Archbishop John Njue Nairobi and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Kenya, in a conversation with Fides The Cardinal is in Rome for the ad limina visit and to receive his Cardinal's hat from the Pope on Saturday 24 November.

"In recent decades our dioceses have grown and so has the faith of our people. We see this in the increasing numbers of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life: this is a grace from God" Cardinal Njue told Fides "Of course" — he adds — "we have difficulties to face, including spreading sects and evangelical communities. The solution is to ensure proper formation for the faithful consolidating catechesis and teaching catechism. We hope to have a translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the local language soon" the president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Kenya told Fides

In view of elections in Kenya on 27 December, the local Church is helping to build awareness among the people on how to vote and play their part in this important event in the life of the country. Cardinal Njue recalls that "as the Bishops Conference we have issued various pastoral letters in view of the elections urging people to make informed choices: we have indicated the qualities necessary for national leaders who can respond to the needs of the people. We have urged young voters in particular not to be persuaded with promises or money. We continue to insist on national unity: Kenya must remain united and not cede to tribal tensions and divisions. We have appealed for no violent action because elections cannot be free if there is violence. We hope the new leaders will continue the progress made in recent years along the same path ".

Violence is a major social problem in Kenya, especially street bandit murders. In recent years two priests were victims of these episodes. Cardinal Njue says however that "the murders of some priests like Fr. John Anthony Kaiser, American Mill Hill missionary assassinated in 2000, are not common crimes. Perhaps some political leaders see these people or the local Church take positions contrary to their interests and have recourse to murder. But this does not frighten us and the Church continues her mission with the enthusiasm of the first missionaries".

Kenya a major junction for drug-trafficking in east Africa. Cardinal Njue said this is because "criminal organisations in the east and the west see the poverty of people in certain areas as an opportunity to find people willing to become traffickers. Kenya's geographical position makes it an important junction for east west drug trafficking. The government of Kenya is actively trying to stop this crime. We, as the local Church, do our best to help our young people who are unemployed avoid being recruited by criminal organisations". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 21/11/2007 righe 38 parole 519)

At the most dramatic moment of the crisis Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, harshly condemned tribalism. The Cardinal urged Catholics to renounce the customs of tribalism: "I know my words will not please some people here, but it is my duty to speak out".

As talks mediated by Kofi Annan between Kibaki and Odinga began, Cardinal Njue expressed to Fides the hope that "the leaders will continue on the path of dialogue giving priority to the common good and the real needs of the people of Kenya. The path of dialogue now open must not close". In mid February Cardinal Njue issued a message underlining the need to accept one another, to take the path of love in order to restore peace through reconciliation, and he urged everyone to help those in difficulty because of the violence.

Pope Benedict XVI launched an appeal at the height of the Kenyan crisis. "The local press gave ample coverage to the Holy Father's appeal: in some papers it was on the front page" Fides was told by Consolata missionary Fr Eugenio Ferrari, at the time National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Kenya. Nn Sunday 3 February 2008 after the Angelus prayer, Pope Benedict XVI said "I invite you to join our brothers and sisters of Kenya — some of whom are here in St Peter's Square — in praying for reconciliation, justice and peace in their Country. As I assure them all of my closeness, I hope that the efforts for mediation now under way will succeed and, through the good will and cooperation of all, will lead to a rapid solution of the conflict which has already taken too heavy a toll of victims".

Before the elections the local Catholic Church had actually issued a Pastoral Letter calling on Kenya's Christians and all citizens of good will to take the path of dialogue and reject any temptation to use violence.

In the letter "Love God and your neighbour" the Bishops offered criteria for the choice of the nation's new leaders: guaranteed freedom of religion for all citizens; respect and protection for the dignity of the person; respect for life (no to abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment); acknowledgement of the family's central role in society; promotion of the common good and war on corruption; protection for the poorest and weakest citizens; guaranteed security and respect for the law; promotion of work and economic development; respect for the environment and guaranteed access for all to water, food, education and healthcare; promotion of a culture of peace and harmony; launching of an agricultural reform to ensure that ever citizen benefits from the country's natural resources.

The Bishops urged the media to "play a positive, constructive and honest role in society. The media must educate the people on the rights and duties during and after the imminent elections" they said, stressing also the importance of civic education to consolidate democracy in Kenya and prevent illegal practices such as the buying and selling of votes and incitement to electoral violence.

"We call on Catholics and all men and women of goodwill at this delicate time to use dialogue for the betterment of all. We urge everyone to work to build a civilisation of love" the Bishops concluded.

The local Catholic Church condemns xenophobe violence in South Africa and shelters victims

In May 2008 a series of attacks on immigrants coming from nearby countries (Mozambique and Zimbabwe especially) creates chaos in South Africa's townships. The local Catholic Church intervened denouncing the violence and assisting the victims.

AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA - "A new apartheid mentality is killing our country," affirms the Archbishop of Johannesburg in condemning the xenophobia attacks on immigrants

Johannesburg (Agenzia Fides ) — The South African Church has spoken out against the serious acts of violence committed against immigrants from Zimbabwe and Mozambique in the township of Alexandra, a lower-class suburb near the commerce area of Johannesburg. Since early this week, a series of repeated attacks carried out by a group armed with machetes and guns have killed two people and injured several others.

"The recent attacks on those who were not born in South Africa are a cause of real shame and concern," said Archbishop Buti Tlhagale. O.M.I., Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg and President of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC), in a statement sent to Agenzia Fides "Basic human rights are part of our basic human dignity, given by God. God creates us all equal and creates us all for community. God does not have borders. Jesus, the Son of God, broke all social conventions by showing God's Love to all. No one has the right to remove our God-given dignity and our human rights, as we have shown in the battle against apartheid," the Archbishop of Johannesburg affirmed.

"Let us remind ourselves of a few basic points: the Ten Commandments extend to our treatment of foreigners. This means that the statement 'you shall not kill' stands in condemnation of the actions of the South African mob which is currently running amok in Alexandra. There have been over 15 incidents of violence against foreigners in South Africa in the last 5 months.

It also means that the statement 'you shall not covet your neighbour's goods' stands in condemnation of those thugs who out of envy attack others who have the skills and industry to get jobs," Archbishop Tlhagale continued.

The Archbishop exhorts those Catholics who sympathize with the violence, saying, "I am being blunt because bluntness is called for in this situation. Everyone who takes a step in a march in a township to protest 'foreigners' is taking a step closer to hell.

I forbid any catholic in this archdiocese from assisting these unruly people or approving of their behaviour. I call on the Catholics and people of good will in Alexandra to be the first to come to the aid of their neighbours who have been so ill treated. I call on the police to enforce the human rights guaranteed in our constitution for all human beings. This is a guarantee of rights of which our country is justly proud."

In closing his statement, the Archbishop of Johannesburg says, "I call on the victims of this violence to forgive us for our sins." (LM) (Agenzia Fides 15/5/2008 righe 34, parole 426).

AFRICA/SOUTH AFRICA — "Xenophobia challenges the very Catholicity of the Church," says Archbishop of Johannesburg, inviting Catholics to take action in helping the victims of the violence

Johannesburg (Agenzia Fides ) — Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg has called for an emergency response by Catholic parishes and institutions in Johannesburg, asking that they offer aid to the immigrants who have fled their homes in recent days.

"Facing the reality that many refugees and foreign born South Africa residents have fled their homes with nothing, the Archbishop has called for Catholic Parishes to become both centers of welcome and collection points for relief," a statement sent to Fides from the Archdiocese of Johannesburg said.

Archbishop Thlagale, the statement says, "recognized the enormous contribution that has already been made by so many communities and individuals. He has visited a number of sites where refugees are being accommodated and expressed his profound gratitude to the South African community who had responded so generously."

The Archbishop of Johannesburg, who is also the President of the SACBC (the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland), condemned the violence and xenophobia. "Xenophobia challenges the very Catholicity of the Church. Maybe we should be looking at Xenophilia — the love of the stranger," said the Archbishop after an emergency Clergy meeting where the situation in a number of parishes was assessed.

The Archbishop has asked all Catholics to bring their contributions to their local parishes. A structure has been established for collection, sorting and delivery of contributions. The Archdiocese has committed to work with other structures and the Disaster management process.

The violence in recent days has resulted in at least 56 deaths, numerous arrests, and over 30,000 evacuees. The Council of South African Ministers has drawn up a plan to help victims of the xenophobe violence on the outskirts of Johannesburg, which includes the establishing of seven refugee camps, in order to accommodate foreign immigrants fleeing the violence that is afflicting the country. (LM) (Agenzia Fides 29/5/2008)

The Catholic Bishops of southern Africa launch a united appeal for an urgent solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe

Another dramatic crisis affecting Africa is the situation in Zimbabwe, where, in addition to the economic disaster (galloping inflation, 80% of the population unemployed, millions leaving the country) there is a political battle between the regime of President Mugabe and the Opposition. The Catholic Bishops of southern Africa made several appeals for a decisive intervention on the part of the international community to help the desperate people.

AFRICA/ZIMBABWE — "We ask that a international mediator of the stature of Kofi Annan intervene in the Zimbabwean crisis": appeal from Bishops of Southern Africa

Harare (Agenzia Fides ) — The Bishops of Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland (gathered at the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference), in a statement issued immediately prior to the Summit meeting of Southern African leaders on Zimbabwe, asked that an international mediator of the stature of Kofi Annan be sent to intervene in the Zimbabwean crisis. The Bishops ask "the leaders of the Southern African Development Communities and the African Union to take prompt action in order to reduce tension, sending in a mediator of the international stature of Kofi Annan in order to ensure a resolution that will be acceptable to all Zimbabwean citizens." The petition comes in a statement sent to Fides and signed by Archbishop Buti Tlhagale of Johannesburg, President of the SACBC. The Archbishop asks that "President Mbeki, the leaders of the Southern African Development Communities, and the African Union exercise their influence in publishing the results of the elections in Zimbabwe." Archbishop Tlhagale states that "the apparent impunity and lack of respect for the democratic process that has caused this delay are reason for serious concern. The postponing of the publication of the results has only increased tension and fear in Zimbabwe. The credibility of the peaceful vote has been undermined by this delay and by the behavior of the political parties. The uncertainty that has been fostered has created the perfect opportunity for anarchy."

The National Electoral Commission has not yet published the results of the presidential elections. A representative of the Commission has said that they cannot be revealed due to a question that must be resolved by the magistrates. This statement came in response to the MDC's (Movement for Democratic Change) petition to the High Court of Justice to intervene with an order obliging the Electoral Commission to release the results of the March 29 elections. The verdict is expected to be declared April 14.

The opposition in Zimbabwe announces that they refuse to participate in the second round, which seems increasingly more likely to take place, declaring that they already one the first round of elections on March 29. "We will not participate in a second round of elections because we already won. We do not need a second round," said Tendai Biti, Secretary General of the MDC.

The political state in Zimbabwe is under the vigilance of all the governments and diplomats of southern Africa, whose Heads of State will meet on April 12 in Lusaka (Zambia) for an extraordinary summit meeting of the Southern African Development Communities (see Fides 10/4/2008), on the crisis in Zimbabwe. President Robert Mugabe has confirmed his participation in the event. The Summit has also invited Tsvangirai, who is currently on a visiting tour of the various neighboring countries. The leader of the MDC met with South African President Thabo Mbeki. The dialogue with Mbeki took place some days after his meeting with African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma, whose position on Zimbabwe differs from that of Mbeki (Zuma is considered to be the likely successor to Mbeki in the leadership of South Africa following upcoming elections in 2009). Zuma seemed to be in favor of increased commitment on the part of his country and from all the other members of SADC in the Zimbabwean crisis. He asked that "all the parties (of Zimbabwe) respect the will of the people, beyond the election results and in respect of the law . . . if there are conflicts, they should be resolved through appropriate legal means." (LM) (Agenzia Fides 11/4/2008; righe 46, parole 574)

AFRICA/ZIMBABWE — "If nothing is done, we shall soon be witnessing genocide": appeal from the Christian Churches of Zimbabwe to the international community

Harare (Agenzia Fides ) — Representatives from the Christian Churches in Zimbabwe have launched an appeal to the international community, asking that they intervene in their country's crisis. In a statement sent to Agenzia Fides and signed by the Zimbabwean Bishops' Conference, leaders of various local Christian groups affirmed that the delay in the release of the March 29 election results has caused, "political uncertainty, anxiety and frustration" among the country's citizens.

In the document, they condemn the political violence "perpetrated against individuals, families and communities who are accused of campaigning or voting for the 'wrong' political party. . . particularly in the countryside and in some high density urban areas. People are being abducted, tortured, humiliated . . . ordered to attend mass meetings where they are told they voted for the 'wrong' candidate and should never repeat it in the run-off election for President, and, in some cases, people are murdered."

The political violence is worsening the conditions of people's lives: "There is widespread famine in most parts of the countryside. . . The shops are empty and basic foodstuffs are unavailable. Victims of organized torture who are ferried to hospital find little solace as the hospitals have no drugs or medicines to treat them."

The Christian Churches of Zimbabwe are asking the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union, and the United Nations "to work towards arresting the deteriorating political and security situation in Zimbabwe. We warn the world that if nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hot spots in Africa." They also request the closing of veteran/military base camps that have been set up in different parts of the country as, "a step towards restoring the peace and freedom of people's movement that was witnessed before and during the March 29, 2008 elections." The local Christian leaders ask that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission "release the true results of the presidential poll of March 29, 2008 without further delay."

Their last word is dedicated to the people of Zimbabwe, commending them for exercising their democratic right peacefully and encouraging them to "maintain and protect your dignity and your vote," rejecting all forms of threat, blackmailing, and violence. (LM) (Agenzia Fides 22/4/2008 righe 31, parole 372)

Significant events in the life of the Catholic Church in Africa

Among the significant events which marked the life of the Catholic Church in Africa over the past twelve months we mention celebrations on 28 November 2007 to close a Jubilee year for the 25th anniversary of the first apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Kibeho, diocese of Gikongoro in Rwanda, on the same date in 1981.

Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, was invited by the Bishops of Rwanda to preside the closing Jubilee Mass. The open air Mass attended by state authorities was concelebrated by the papal nuncio, all the Bishops of Rwanda, bishops from neighbouring countries, and numerous priests from diocese in Rwanda and other countries. There were numerous men and women religious in the huge crowds of faithful. Bishop Misago of Gikongoro told Fides : "about 35,000 thousand people were present from all over Rwanda, other African countries and even from the United States". "The Mass lasted five hours, an event of great grace for everyone with active participation and deep devotion".

Bishop Misago said there had been great participation all through Jubilee Year: "Every month a different diocese would organise pilgrimages of young, families, associations etc".

The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI's affection for African Catholics was underlined by the fact that Josephine Bakhita, the first Sudanese saint and Africa's first non-martyr woman saint was mentioned in his second Encyclical Spe salvi." We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonised by Pope John Paul II." (n.3).

An important step for more intense collaboration between the local Catholic Churches of west Africa was the fusion of the Conferences of English and French speaking Bishops' Conferences of West Africa, respectively AECAWA and CERAO, into the Association of West African Bishops' Conferences. Cardinal Peter Turkson, Archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, was elected the Association's first president and Cardinal Theodore Sarr, Archbishop of Dakar, in Senegal as vice president.

"This is a dream come true after seven years of prayer, meetings, documents and drafts of statutes" says Cardinal Turkson in a message issued at the end of the plenary assembly, sent to Fides "We are very encouraged by the realisation of the dream of forming one Association of all the Catholic Bishops of West Africa" continues Cardinal Turkson, who recalls the "abundant fruits of the first missionaries to our region. We cannot fail to express our gratitude to all the different missionary congregations which planted the seed of evangelisation in our countries".

The duties of the new Association will be to maintain and promote relations between the member Bishops' Conferences; establish brotherly relations with other Bishops' Conferences through the respective Secretariats; coordinate studies of common interest and forms of collaboration between the Bishops' Conferences and other bodies; serve as a liaison office for urgent issues for the Catholic Church in West Africa such as proclamation of the faith, inculturation, justice, development and peace.

Confirming renewed commitment to promoting the concept Church-Family-of-God, the Bishops of West Africa intend to address the "challenges posed by present economic, socio-political and cultural developments in the region". To do this the Association has created five regional sub-commissions for the following sectors: seminaries, clergy and religion; justice, peace and development; the laity and family life; interreligious dialogue; catechism and social communications. Lastly the Bishops placed the new Association under the maternal protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

AFRICA/CAMEROON — Bishops' Pastoral Letter for the Year of St Paul: " imitating St Paul, we must harness our energies for evangelisation"

Yaounde (Agenzia Fides ) — "In communion with the universal Church, the Christians of Cameroon welcome the initiative of His Holiness Benedict XVI to indict a Year of St Paul and we render thanks to God" the Bishops of Cameroon say in a Pastoral Letter for the occasion of the Year of St Paul. A copy of the letter was sent to Fides

The Bishops write "The Holy Father wishes this year to be a time to rediscover the figure of the Apostle, his life, activity, journeys; to re-read his Letters addressed to the early Christian communities; relive the early times of our Church; learn more about his rich teaching to the Gentiles and meditate on his vigorous spirituality of faith, hope and love; vivify our own faith and our place in the Church, in the light of his teaching; pray and act for the unity of the Church the Mystical Body of Christ."

The Bishops hope celebrations this Year will give new impulse "to Christian life and missionary activity. We call our people and all men and women of good will to learn more about his guidance reflecting on the theme "Called to be apostles of Jesus Christ " (1 Co 1, 1)".

The life of St Paul is a source of reflection and inspiration for Christians today often in difficult situations, the Bishops write. ("If we have religious freedom in Cameroon it is still hard to accept the faith in all serenity "); encounter with Christ which changes the person (conversion of St Paul from persecutor to witness of the Gospel); the meeting with Ananias and the importance of other people ("We all need a spiritual guide for our journey"); Paul, and missionary work today ("our energies must be mobilised for evangelisation, following the example of St Paul who established Christian communities in many different nations "). The Bishops recall the many missionaries who came to Cameroon following the example of St Paul: "Pallottine fathers, Sacred heart Fathers, Spiritans, Mill Hill Missionaries, Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, numerous consecrated persons, local clergy and a host of catechists".

In the Letter the Bishops give the main dates of the Year of St Paul in Cameroon: opening 29 June, feast of Peter and Paul; ecumenical celebration in January 2009, during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; closing of the Year during the Bishops' Conference plenary 22 - 28 June 2009. The Bishops' Conference encourages parish and diocesan processions on St Paul; preparation of a booklet on St Paul; in depth study of St Paul's Letters; social work inspired by St Paul's spirituality.

To co-ordinate Year of St Paul celebrations the Bishops have set up an ad hoc Committee and composed a special prayer. Other material prepared includes a hymn and a play on the Life of St Paul. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 27/6/2008 righe 38 parole 534)

AFRICA/ANGOLA — "Building a community based on the law of love, following the example of Saint Paul": Pastoral Statement from the Bishops of Angola, Sao Tome and Principe for the Year of Saint Paul

Luanda (Agenzia Fides ) — "We are invited to live this year as a year of grace, a year in which each of our hearts is called to conversion, to a more intense living of the Gospel in our lives, a credible testimony of the Christian faith. For this to take place, we entrust ourselves to the means that the Church places at our disposition. Among them are the indulgences that can be obtained by visiting a church dedicated to Saint Paul, the Cathedral, or other places of worship indicated by the Bishop of the Diocese, with a prayerful spirit. The necessary conditions are confession, communion, the recitation of the Creed, prayers for the Holy Father's intentions, and the practice of charity," the Bishops of Angola, Sao Tome and Principe wrote in a Pastoral Statement issued upon the inauguration of the Year of Saint Paul.

In the Statement, a copy of which was sent to Agenzia Fides ,it says that the Year of St. Paul is also an opportunity to review the Pastoral Plan of the CEAST (The Bishops' Conference of Angola, Sao Tome and Principe), begun in 2005 and set to conclude in 2010. The motto of the Pastoral Plan is "Put out into the deep" (Lk 5:4). "It is an invitation to deepen in our faith, which will be impossible without the joyful proclamation of Christ's Paschal Mystery, Christ who has died and who is risen. This announcement should come forth from the people who have had a profound encounter with Christ, as did Paul of Tarsus, becoming builders of a community based upon the law of love," the document reads.

"Saint Paul, the communicator par excellence, leads us to turn our attention to the media available to the CEAST in proclaiming the Good News," the Bishops continue. "In Angola, there is 'Radio Ecclesia' and the magazine 'O Apostolado,' diocesan and parish bulletins, and in Sao Tome and Principe, 'Radio Jubilar.' These deserve our support in order to achieve the purpose for which they were formed."

"Just days ago, the Conference for Catholic Radios ended in Rome, an event promoted by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which highlighted the great importance of the radio in evangelizing," the statement recalled. "Aware of this fact, we Bishops reaffirm our support for Radio Ecclesia, its directors and workers, acknowledging their contribution to the evangelization effort and to affirming freedom and justice in Angola. We hope that one day, the programs on Radio Ecclesia can each all the people of Angola."

Lastly, the Bishops recalled the fact that "in Angola, Parliamentary elections are approaching, set to take place on September 5. It is an event that is worthy of our attention, because of the importance it has in the life of our nation. Saint Paul reminds us of the importance of each person taking up his responsibility as a citizen (Rm. 12:2-13)." (LM) (Agenzia Fides 15/7/2008)

Panorama of missionary activity in Asia and Oceania

Economic phenomena such as the food crisis; major ecclesial events such as World Youth Day in Sydney and the Year of St Paul; worrying political information such as the UN Report on Corruption in Asia: among these realities, which demand complex and delicate responses, the mission of the Asian Churches moved in 2008. Many of these Churches live in a minority context and face difficulties every day to profess their faith and even more to share the Good News with those who have yet to hear it. Priests, missionaries and lay faithful in Asia, in very different contexts — from central to southern Asia, from the Far East to South West Asia — share the same passion for the Gospel, the same determination to give Christian witness, to offer hope to the poor and marginalised in the name of Jesus. This will emerged from the experiences and activities presented in our panorama, which offers an overall idea — necessarily concise — of how during 2008 the Church's mission took small steps forward over the immense Asian continent and in the remote Pacific Islands in Oceania.

Starting with the near east, in Turkey the beginning of the Year of St Paul on 29 June 2008, its inauguration and connected pastoral and cultural activities were lived intensely. For Catholic community in Turkey the Year of Saint Paul as an unforgettable time of grace: all the faithful have been invited to live a year of grace following in the footsteps of St Paul and to announce with him, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Year of St Paul will be an important opportunity for the Church's mission (the country's 100,000 Catholics represent merely 0.8% of the population) in a land where in the past Christians were attacked by Islamic extremists. It will also be an opportunity to intensify ecumenical ties and interreligious dialogue. In fact in presenting the person and work of St Paul the local Church emphasised the multi-cultural nature of the Saint's message: a multicultural person, Paul was a citizen of the world and still today his message is of universal dimension speaking to all people, of all times, of all religions. Making this universality resound amidst the mainly Muslim Turkish population, the Church notes similarity of expressions in Paul (cfr Phil and Rom) and in the Koran: 'Compete with one another in doing good works, and you will all return to God' (Koran 5,48).

According to information collected by Fides, there is a good spirit in Turkey in this year of St Paul and the Church, cautiously optimistic, sees good presuppositions for living the Christian faith in an ecumenical spirit and in dialogue with the Muslim world.

During the year of St Paul Tarsus and Antioch will be centres from which to irradiate St Paul's spirituality, places of tireless and continual pilgrimages expected from all over Europe and from the other continents, with the participation of many young people.

In Tarsus there remains the open question of the church-museum dedicated to Saint Paul: in the past the local authorities gave permission for religious services to be held inside the building, once a church, today a museum. The Catholic Church in Turkey has now asked permission either for the permanent use of this building for religious services with pilgrims during this Year of St Paul, or permission to build a new church in the city.

A Pastoral Letter issued by the Catholic Bishops of Turkey for the Year of St Paul (cfr Fides 28/1/2008) was welcomed by the local Catholics and communities of other Christians. In the Letter the Bishops called on all believers in the region in this Year of St Paul, to put even more visible effort into working together to build peace.

Moving to the Indian subcontinent, in Pakistan we find a delicate situation for political balance in the region. A process of democratic transition started in the north of the country in 2007 and led in 2008 to elections to renew parliament and provincial assemblies, then the resignation of Musharraf, followed by new presidential elections which took Asi Ali Zardari to the summit of the country. In this transition, in which war on terrorism and radical Islamic groups seems to be determinant for internal balance, the local Catholic Church, together with civil society bodies and other religious minority communities, has always condemned acts of extreme violence (like the attack in September 2008 on the Marriott Hotel), stressing that contempt for life is an aberrant action, which reveals the evilness of any ideology at the base of such terrorist attacks, the cause suffering to innocent people.

In particular for several years the Catholic Church in Pakistan has indicated priorities for the country, calling for reforms, guarantees and rights, and political and economic stability. Recently the Catholic community underlined the urgent need of a process of democratic reforms, combat against fundamentalism, economic measures to guarantee the well-being of the people particularly the most disadvantaged. In this picture still unresolved is the question of religious minorities, including the Christian minority, who must be guaranteed the same rights, freedoms and respect as all Pakistanis.

Above all, addressing the country's new President, the local Catholic Church warmed of the danger of instability and revenge on the part of extremists groups which threaten normal democratic activity and respect for the basic rights of the people, in a climate of intimidation and hostility towards religious minorities. In north west Pakistan especially Christians all over the area are subject to violence and threats by rampant terrorist groups. The Catholic Bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace, receives numerous requests for help coming from Catholics in North West Frontier Province, where radical Islamic groups operate.

The most delicate points presented to the new President were: prospects for religious minorities in a democratic system; role, functions and potentials of civil society in Pakistan; human rights, religious freedom, education, and the 'blasphemy law'.

However if in Pakistan Christian minorities are threatened by radical Islamic groups, in neighbouring India, the other " regional giant ", 2008 has not been a happy year for Christian minority communities, targeted by radical Hindus promoting the nationalistic "hindutva" ideology ("induità"), which intends to rid India of all non Hindu believers.

Anti-Christian violence exploded in the State of Orissa, killing 26 and leaving thousands homeless, and then spread to other states in the Federation. Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, President of the CBCI, firmly condemned the attacks and said that "the heightened attacks on Christians, their dwellings and places of worship in different parts of the country are the manifestation of the growing intolerance of certain sections of society that blatantly defy the constitutional rights of the citizens of this country. We ask them to desist from such provocation of religious minorities in India and follow a path of dialogue and dignified approach to sorting out any social, religious and political issues." The Bishops reiterated their stand that they abhor violence as it undermines civilized form of living, "and we, as a nation, cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into the vortex of primitive instincts of conflict and destruction. The Christian community in India has been conducting itself in a peaceful manner all this while, and even under extreme provocation it has exercised restraint. However, it is not to be construed as weakness, but a preferred option based on sound principles of civilized living. The Christian community continues to render its services to all sections of Indian society without any discrimination. Nevertheless, baseless allegations of fraudulent conversion have been hurled at it for long by certain vested interests whose chief agenda seems to be social polarization on the lines of religious beliefs. We, as responsible citizens of India, will not succumb to their divisive tactics, but continue to work, in the spirit of Christ our Master, for the unity, integrity and progress of the nation."

The Church, responding with non-violence, called Christians all over India to join in a Day of Prayer and Fasting for peace in Orissa. Messages of friendship and solidarity were received from members of other religions. While anti-Christian violence continued in several states of India, the diocese of Varanasi sent a peace mission to Orissa led by an interreligious delegation of different Christians, as well as Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists. The task of the delegation was to promote reconciliation to restore peace and harmony among the people, the Bishop of Varanasi, Bishop Raphy Manjaly, told Fides

The second outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Orissa, which began at the end of August 2008, was more serious than the previous such violence in December 2007. It looks like a "plan to eliminate Christians from Orissa", orchestrated thanks to pretexts for unleashing violence, said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar (capital of Orissa) in a detailed report sent to Fides (see Fides /9/2008 e 30/1/2008).

According to the CBCI this was the worst attack on Christians in recent years, acts of "grave violation of human rights, in particular the right religious freedom and the right to life", and the Bishops called for international mobilisation. The "Christian-phobia" virus has yet to be eradicated (see Fides 2/4/2008 )

Despite these attacks the Catholic Church in India continues to proclaim the Gospel, as we see from two National Mission Congresses, one in Karnataka in November 2007, and the second to be held in November 2008 in Gujarat, north west in India, on the theme "Walking in the footsteps of Christ".

The Indian subcontinent is not at peace: even the island which is part of it, Sri Lanka, suffers from civil conflict, with the regular army fighting Tamil rebels in a war which has been even more ferocious, radical and bloody during year 2008.

In the midst of civil war the Catholic community in all its components is deeply committed to working for peace and reconciliation. Day after day numerous priests and religious and lay Catholics as well as missionaries help alleviate the suffering caused by the conflict and to spread a culture of peace. Fides spoke with Sr. Christobel Wijesekera, a member of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, who said that Sri Lankan Catholics in the north and the east of the country give assistance to the victims of the violence and the homeless. Many members of different religious orders operate in collaboration with the Centre for Society and Religion in the capital Colombo, run by Fr. Rohan Silva, an Oblate Missionary of Mary Immaculate, OMI.

In the midst of bloody conflict Catholic religious strive to build bridges of peace and reconciliation operating in schools, pastoral centres, and public places. The local Catholic community prays continually for peace in a prayer campaign involving every church reality, and every level. The Bishops recall "war and violence can never lead to a lasting peace: a political solution to the crisis must be found ".

In the face of violence ever more intense Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo urged Christians and all men and women of goodwill in Sri Lanka to forgive one another and to pray that their tormented nation may find peace. The Bishops launched several appeals for peace (see Fides 15/4/2008 and 13/6/2008), offering the Church's services to promote peace and reconciliation at all levels, and calling on the Tamil rebels to stop violence and take part in negotiations, for the common good of the country.

Particularly important in the area of Madhu, the national Marian Shrine, hit during the fighting in 2008 although Christians have always asked for this holy place to be spared. The shrine had to be closed in 2008 and the famous, much loved statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary moved away to safety. Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar diocese has asked the government of Colombo to declare the Shrine a "demilitarised zone" so the statue of Our Lady of Madhu can be returned to its proper place.

An important figure for the mission of the Church in Sri Lanka is Blessed Joseph Vaz, acknowledged by the local Church as the one who helped Christianity to re-flourish on the island. Considered the "founder" of the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, he was called by John Paul II "the Saint Paul of Sri Lanka". In January this year the local Church started three years of preparation for celebrations to commemorate the saint, on the third centenary of his death, in January 2011. In view of the Year of St Paul, the Bishops have called for initiatives and seminars at the diocesan and parish level, in schools, Church movements and associations to help the faithful "imitate, study and follow these two great men of God".

People suffering in other parts of South east Asia, also experienced concern and care on the part of the local Catholic community. In Myanmar in 2008 the people suffered devastating natural catastrophes: cyclone Nargis, hit the south west of the country on the 2 and 3 May, affecting more than 2 million people. And while the military junta took a long time before allowing international NGOs to bring relief to the victims, local Catholic volunteers worked tirelessly to help face the emergency. Many of those affected would have certainly died without the assistance offered by the local Church workers and Caritas staff who despite scarce means manage to offer shelter to many in church buildings and to carry food, blankets and medicine to victims in remote isolated villages.

During the stage of emergency aid following cyclone Nargis, " the language of compassion was the language of the local people, Buddhists, Christians and other believers ", said Archbishop Charles Maung Bo, Catholic Archbishop of Yangon. Buddhist monks worked in Christian villages to save lives and help survivors; and Catholic volunteers carried food, blankets and medicine to people in need in all-Buddhist areas.

Solidarity makes no distinction between religions. The victims were of many different religions and the cyclone damaged churches, temples alike some of them among the most sacred and famous in the region. Many of the survivors worked tirelessly helping others. In this Buddhist majority country "compassion exploded as a form of healing following the deluge of evil. Both churches and monasteries were turned into 'camps' offering the homeless shelter, assistance and consolation.

Catholic volunteers were the first to care for mothers who had lost children, to gather together the orphans, to comfort people in devastated rural communities, with prayer and simply with their presence.

In Myanmar where the Burmese people suffer under an oppressive military regime, in the Year of St Paul the words of the Apostle can be a source of encouragement and a point of reference for the small Catholic community: " But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6,14). The words of Paul: "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ " (Rom 8,35-39) has been chosen as the central theme for pastoral work in Myanmar for the coming years and in this Year of St Paul a point of departure for reflection in parishes, religious communities, church movements and associations.

Burmese Catholics have been asked to take the Apostle of the nations as an example of an evangeliser totally dedicated to Christ, despite persecution. Fr Dominic Thet Tin, executive secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said the chosen theme "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ " "will give new impulse to the local Church's missionary activity in Myanmar: Saint Paul urges us to think of the glory that awaits us and not to despair in the pain and sufferings of today".

Another country which faced a humanitarian crisis was the Philippines. Like other east Asian countries it suffered a serious food shortage. The "rice crisis", the result of rising prices of basic foods all over the world, is affecting the living conditions of millions of people all over Asia. Rice is the food on which 2.5 billion Asians depend for life. Moreover 90 per cent of the world's rice is produced in Asia. The crisis was serious in the Philippines: and the local Church mobilised to help alleviate the food shortage. Help to the network to distribute the precious food; moral and spiritual counselling to prevent disorder and stealing; awareness building in public opinion and institutions to find solutions to the crisis: these were the action lines adopted by the local Catholic community, fully committed in its different articulations and at various levels.

The Church all over the country was present with Caritas and parish centres. It worked with the Government Department of Agriculture to distribute about 50,000mila sacks of rice every week for Catholic parishes in Manila to distribute to people in need. The government called on the Church to help prevent speculation and corruption, seeing that in the process of rice distribution, some rice stolen before it reached the hungry was being sold on the black market.

The Church insisted on help for farmers. Potentially the Philippines can produce enough rice for the country's needs, but the government must support farmers with subsidies for fertilisers, irrigation and transport.

Another motive for more suffering was a new outbreak of conflict in the southern islands between the regular army and Muslim separatist rebels. Those most affected were the small Christian communities in the area, impoverished, excluded and homeless and some even abducted by extremist groups like Abu Sayyaf. PIME missionary Fr Sebastiano D'ambra working in the area and committed to Muslim-Christian dialogue told Fides that the attitude of Christians here is one of non-violence, striving to live the Gospel and build friendly relations with Muslim neighbours. Conflict between the army and Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels became more intense at the beginning of August, when the Supreme Court of the Philippines failed to approve the ARMM, (Memorandum of Agreement on the extension of the autonomous Muslim region of Mindanao). The local Church continues to work hard to promote reconciliation and peace, striving to build good relations with the Muslim community, entrusting the task of dialogue and encounter especially to young people.

In 2008 progress was made in another Asian country where the Catholic faith is very present in society and mission South Korea. In the field of mission ad gentes the first three fidei donum missionaries were sent by Suwon diocese to the martyred country of Sudan: the priests, Rev John of God Han Man-sam, aged 36; Rev Anthony Kim Tae-ho, aged 39; Rev Alex Lee Seung-joon, aged 37, were called to "live for the people of Sudan as witnesses of God's love", said Bishop Paul Choi Deong-ki, Bishop of Suwon and president of the Korean Bishops' Commission for Evangelisation. After a period of spiritual, cultural, technical and linguistic formation the three missionaries will be involved in pastoral service in the diocese of Rumbek.

Korean lay Catholics resident in other countries, increasingly more numerous, also represent a force for evangelisation. Practising Korean Catholics living abroad are an estimated 149,966 (out of a total 7 million Koreans living outside the country), a number which continues to grow steadily in recent years. Pastoral care for Korean Catholics abroad is guaranteed in 165 parishes and 170 mission stations established in 61 different countries. The Korean Church has sent a total 203 priests, 39 brothers and 131 sisters to care for the faithful overseas.

Korean Catholics abroad demonstrate the vitality of their Catholic Church, as well as the valuable collaboration on the part of Korean lay Catholics in the Church's missionary activity. Korean laity are an example of vivacity, dynamism, maturity, and ability to evangelise. The Korean Church has grown thanks to active participation of the laity and their essential contribution in pastoral service, as it was said during recent meetings of the Korean Catholic Council for Lay Apostolate.

This was also affirmed in a research study undertaken by the CBCK Commission for Lay Apostolate at the Institute for Social Apostolate in Seoul. After interviewing more than 3,100 lay Catholics in dioceses all over the country the study found that most had acquired knowledge of the contents of fundamental Church teachings from Sunday homilies. Another important emerging aspect was the need for more accurate and effective formation of the lay faithful, often hindered by the absence of specific pastoral plans. The report urged dioceses to offer special formation programmes. Positive aspects and experience include the activity of Lay Institutes of Theology which form catechists, animators, deacons and special Ministers of the Eucharist. Lay Catholics are called to be the engine of the Church in Korea: their valid collaboration has made it one of the Churches which has been most successful in putting into practice the spirit of Vatican II.

In this field women are ever more active in pastoral work in the Church, which has a duty to valorise the female charisma and human resources in the different communities. The CBCK Commission for Lay Apostolate has a special group for promoting the inclusion of women in pastoral work. The Catholic Women's Organisation of Korea also promotes formation for the presence of women in various pastoral areas: catechetics, liturgy, charity work. The organisation helps the Church in Korea to valorise the 'female genius' and special charisma of women. The organisation's source of inspiration and reference point is the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem, written in 1988, by John Paul II who highlighted the important role of women in the Church. With groups all over the country, the Catholic Women's Organisation of Korea works to promote a culture of life in Korean society, especially to counter new measures with regard to bioethics.

In this area in which the Catholic Church in Korea is known to be very active, two important announcements were made in 2008: Cardinal Nicholas Cheoung, Archbishop of Seoul, who established a Commission for Life in 2005 announced that he intends to establish an International Academy for Life to unites efforts in eastern Asia and act as the engine for research in the use of adult stem cells.

The Catholic Church always responded to tests with human embryos in Korea, by denouncing manipulation of human life and violation of the human person, issuing Guidelines in Ethics for Catholic Doctors drafted jointly by the Catholic Institute of Bio-Ethics and the Bishops' Commission for Life.

The second announcement is that in 2009 the diocese of Incheon will open a Diocesan Centre of the Pontifical Institute John Paul II for the study of Matrimony and the Family, the first such Institute in Korea. A Preparatory Commission was set up to liaison with the country's ecclesial, university and civil structures on the details of the project at the bureaucratic, technical-organisational, and pastoral levels.

The Centre will offer formation for pastoral workers, theologians, laity, doctors, teachers, catechists, and lay Catholics involved in politics, voluntary work or in other sectors of society.

Lastly the Catholic Church in Korea continues a central aspects of her mission: assisting the brothers and sisters in North Korea with a steady flow of humanitarian aid and promoting national reconciliation with continual prayer. In recent years progress has been made in North - South relations and this is encouraging for the local Church. In order to collect more aid for the poverty stricken people in the North a novena of prayer and offerings was launched in preparation for a special Day for Reconciliation with the North on 22 June.

In neighbouring Japan Catholics are looking forward to the Beatification of 188 Japanese Martyrs, to be presided in Nagasaki on 24 November by Cardinal Josè Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

In a message for the occasion the Bishops urge Japanese Catholics to keep in their hearts "the authentic significance of the precious legacy of our predecessors in the faith". They underline the importance of the example of the martyrs today when religious freedom is often threatened and the family is attacked. The martyrs died to defend their right to freely profess their faith, resisting their persecutors with non-violence. "They were not human rights activists, or political militants protesting against the regime. They were men and women of deep, genuine faith, ready to give their lives for what they believed in. They offer food for thought to each one of us ", the Japanese Bishops wrote.

A total 193 of the 188 martyrs of the 17th century were lay people; five were priests including Jesuit Fr Petro Kibe. The cause for beatification, started in the early 1980s, closed on 1 June 2007 with approval from the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the signature of Pope Benedict XVI.

Japanese Catholics say the example of the martyrs will serve as a source of encouragement for all Christians in the land of the Rising Sun where Catholics are a minority (450,000 local faithful and 550,000 immigrants, in a population of 127 million). Japanese martyrs already acknowledged by the Church include Paul Miki and Companions, Grace Hosawaka, Ludovico Ibaragi, Michael Kozaki and Takayam Ukon.

Certain that the event will be an opportunity for evangelisation among non believers, the local Church expressed gratitude to the Holy See for recognising these Japanese Catholics who died for the faith.

Another fruitful field of mission for Catholics in Japan is the international nature of the community: immigrant Catholic workers from the Philippines, Korea, China, Peruvian number about 550,000, even more than locally born Catholics. Sharing their different traditions these Catholics from overseas are channels of evangelisation. For the small local Catholic community immigrant Catholics, many of them young, are a source of hope. For the local Church immigration, now major phenomenon in Japan, is a an opportunity for evangelisation not to be missed.

The Bishops' Conference in fact assessed the results of a year long survey at every level of the local Church with regard to a National Evangelisation Initiative programme launched to give new impulse to mission initiatives a few years ago. One such initiative is a new Catholic Church opened in the Chofu district of Tokyo, a visible sign of a small community which mediates, celebrates and lives the Gospel of Charity.

The new church, dedicated to Saint John Bosco, was consecrated this year by the Archbishop of Tokyo, Archbishop Peter Okada Takeo, who expressed great joy and hope that the new Catholic Church in Chofu might be a centre of irradiation of the Gospel. The church will serve some 1,300 local Catholics for the celebration of the Sacraments. It will also offer Bible courses and organise initiatives to foster solidarity with the local poor as well as to support missionary activity ad gentes.

In Vietnam, Catholics are rejoicing at the news of the opening of the diocesan stage of the Cause for the Beatification of Cardinal Francois Nguyen Van Thuan, unforgettable Shepherd of the Church in Vietnam, who died on 16 September 2002. The Cardinal was a former president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The postulator of the process is Argentinean church lawyer Silvia Correale, who will collect information, listen to testimony which will later be sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome. After 13 years in prison in reunified Vietnam under Communist rule on his release Cardinal Van Thuan was called to Rome. That difficult and painful experience taught him authentic 'love of enemies' as the Gospel teaches, and in later years that attitude influenced Church-state relations for the better.

For the Catholics of Vietnam the Cardinal is a point of reference, "a man with a great heart and deep faith ".

It is also thanks to his example that Catholics in this country are ever more committed to mission ad gentes: for example the Salesian community in Vietnam, mindful of the first expedition of Salesian missionaries sent by Don Bosco to Patagonia (Argentina), every year promote initiatives of a missionary nature, involving clergy, religious, the laity and young people.

Great 'missionary' festivities were organised in Dalat, in central Vietnam, where the Gospel arrived borne by the first missionaries about 80 years ago. Today the fervent Catholic community lives difficulties trusting in God's Providence. To mark the 80th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries, the diocese of Dalat organised a Youth Day on the theme: "Being missionaries, loving and serving others, especially the poorest people and ethnic minority groups". The participants included 4,000 young people from all over the diocese, where 25 different religious orders operate. The young people expressed a desire to live an experience of communion with young people from all over the world at World Youth Day in Sydney.

More good news for evangelisation in Vietnam came from My Tho diocese, where the small Catholic community is building a new house for Christian catechesis and formation. The rural communities in this mountainous region are very poor, and in some parishes Catholics travel many kilometres to attend Mass. Vinh Hung parish church is one of these: opened in 2006 it serves a poor underdeveloped area near the border with Cambodia. The area has very few schools and hospitals and jobs are hard to find.

For years the Catholic community, some 1,400 faithful, had nowhere to meet and therefore no Sunday Mass. Until 2006 they travelled 60 km to Mass in Moc Hoa. In 2006, the faithful decided to build a small chapel with their own scarce means. When the chapel was built, a hall for catechism and formation for children and young people was added.

Now the people are rejoicing since the parish priest at Vinh Hung, has obtained permission from the local authorities to enlarge the hall into a House of Catechism and Formation. The building is involving everyone, each with their own skills or material or some other means.

Passing to nearby Cambodia, Catholics here celebrated a great sign of hope and an historic event with the consecration of a new Catholic Church dedicated to the Child Jesus. This is the first new church opened in the capital since the time of the Red Khmer Communist revolution. In Cambodia some 15,000 Catholics live the faith with hope and charity, bearing witness to the Gospel of Christ and promoting integral human development.

In the field of education a new Saint Francis University, was opened in the province of Takeo, with lecture halls, a library, an agriculture-food laboratory and a hostel for 100 students. For its efforts to promote education and training for young Cambodians, the local Catholic Church received official thanks from the Minister for Culture.

Catholic schools are "channels of charity", which aim to offer concrete help to promote the socio-cultural development of local youth, small bricks in building a society which is just, open, free, marked by respect for the dignity and rights of every human person. All over the country church run schools are appreciated for the high level of education and training provided and increasing numbers of Buddhist families choose to register their children at Catholic institutes. In recent months no less than 2,000 young people applied for a place at one of the country's two Salesian training schools in Phnom Penh and in Sihanoukville. Don Bosco Technical Schools prepare students to work as electricians, general mechanics, car mechanics, or in secretarial work, tourism and social communications. The schools, run in agreement with the Cambodian Ministry of Education, take pupils living in particularly difficult situations of poverty and maginalisation and aged 16 to 21 years.

In the district of Siem Reap with the collaboration of Volontariato Internazionale Donna Educazione Sviluppo, the Salesians opened a Bosco Bakery School, about 300 km from Phnom Penh.

Good news for evangelisation also comes from little Laos where the local Catholic community of 35-40,000 in a population of about 6 million, rejoiced for the ordination of another Laos born priest, Fr. Benedict Bennakhone Ithirath, aged 35, a member of the Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate. Fr Benedict was ordained at his local parish church by the vicar apostolic Vientiane Bishop Jean Khamse Vithavong. Fr. Bennakhone trained for the priesthood in Australia, where he was ordained a deacon on 14 June 2007. His ordination brings to five the number of Laos born priests, all members of OMI, ordained in the last two years with the permission of the civil authorities after decades of government restrictions and scarcity of vocations. For the local Catholic community the communist regime in power since 1975, seems to have taken a new course with timid opening in matters of religious freedom since 1991, and the approval of a new Constitution.

To help the small Catholic community in Laos to improve pastoral work, formation for clergy, religious and laity, and foster more vocations, the vicar apostolic of Savannakhet, Bishop Sommeng Vorachak, recently invited the Redemptorist community in Thailand to send some fathers to Laos to help parishes most in need. The Bishop hopes the Redemptorist family C.Ss.R, which has priests, sisters and lay members, will eventually establish a permanent presence to help give new impulse to evangelisation.

In our panorama special consideration must be given to Indonesia, an important country on the south east Asian chessboard, where the Christian community lives alongside a Muslim majority population in the institutions and in the political parties. Despite obstacles and difficulties of all kinds Indonesian democracy is making progress. The country with the largest Muslim community in the world (220 million, 85% Muslim) has experimented with democracy since the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998. Ten years after that event, which can be seen as the beginning of the path to democracy, the country has announced elections for 2009. Here the political field has urgent need of Christian witness. In view of the elections Indonesian Christians are encouraged to take a more active part in the political life of the country to promote values such as unity, pluralism, freedom, respect for human rights. This was affirmed by the Forum of Christian Communication, an ecumenical association established in 1996 whose members include also Catholics, at a meeting on the theme "Christian political commitment in the elections 2009".

The Christian churches in the country stressed the importance of Christian presence in public life to build a better nation and to counter extremist ideologies and groups which threaten the constitutional principals of Pancasila, the basis of harmony among the different ethnic and religious groups in Indonesia. This effort must involve all Indonesians since everyone stands to benefit from the values and principles of freedom and democracy.

In times of elections the Catholic Church in Indonesia has always called for transparency, respect for the dignity of every human person, dialogue among believers of different religions, rejection of extremism, attention for social and economic development with justice and solidarity, never hesitating to denounce violation of human rights. According to several Christian organisations, since 1994 anti-Christian discrimination and violence on the part of Islamic extremists has forced at least one hundred Christian places of worship to close. This violence is a phenomenon which Indonesian political authorities must address in order to guarantee freedom of worship and protection for Christians faithful and Christian buildings.

Despite this situation, Christian/Muslim dialogue in Indonesia is bearing fruit, building good relations. The frame which guarantees dialogue is Pancasila, the nation's founding philosophy ratified by the Constitution. It is a philosophy of five principles: Belief in the one and only God; Just and civilised humanity, The unity of Indonesia, Democracy guided by the inner wisdom in the unanimity arising out of deliberations amongst representatives, and Social justice for the whole of the people of Indonesia.

Followers of Christ live and foster a spirit of brotherhood and equality among communities of different culture, ethnic origin or religion, as a basis for social harmony.

A chapter which made progress in 2008 concerns East Timor, the newest nation in Asia, where the political leaders of Indonesia and East Timor accepted and endorsed a Final Report issued by the Commission for Truth and Friendship, established in 2005, on crimes against humanity committed by pro-Indonesian militia against the people of Timor following a vote in favour of independence in 1999.

This decisive step in the history of relations between the two countries and recognition of past errors, can serve as a basis for national reconciliation and good relations between the two states : Indonesia, former coloniser and little East Timor, which after a transitional period of UN administration, proclaimed itself a republic in May 2002.

The report speaks of a vast campaign of atrocities and destruction against families and groups known to be in favour of independence for East Timor. More than 1,000 people died in a few weeks and hundreds of others were tortured in the 1999 clashes.

At the time the Indonesian government rejected all charges of involvement of its army. Today it has admitted that the army, police force and public officers were involved in episodes of grave violation of human rights, killing, raping, torture, illegal detention and deportation.

The Report affirms that pro-independence militia organised by Timor citizens were also guilty of human rights abuse and violation.

The aim of the Commission is to find a path of reconciliation ascertaining the truth but without indicating individual responsibility. In fact the Commission's findings have no legal value and cannot be used as evidence against suspects.

The political leaders of both countries say the past is only overcome by admitting mistakes and looking to the future in order to build neighbourly relations: and in East Timor where most of the population is Catholic, this has always been the attitude of the Catholic Church which holds that the ascertaining and acceptance of the truth is fundamental and propaedeutic for reconciliation.

In 2008 in East Timor longed-for national reconciliation received new impulse, also symbolic: in fact in the same place where John Paul II celebrated an open air Mass for crowds of young people on 12 October 1989, bearer of a message of peace and hope, there now stands a chapel and a statue to commemorate his visit. The chapel in the Tasi-Tolu suburb of the capital Dili, was consecrated by Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli papal nuncio to Indonesia and East Timor. Tasi-Tolu is the symbol of the suffering of the people of Timor. When the Holy Father visited the island in 1989, East Timor, under Indonesian rule, was fighting for its freedom which it then gained in 1999. On that occasion John Paul II kissed a cross on the soil as a sign of his closeness to the people and sympathy for their suffering.

"This monument is a sign of hope for a better future for the Timorese, in which all citizens ca live with dignity. Justice is essential for this future and the Timorese are fighting for justice", Fr. Filomeno Jacob, national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in East Timor, told Fides

The Apostolic Nuncio was also clear in his speech: "We should not forget past suffering, but instead, learn from history, so as not to repeat the errors that have caused so much pain and suffering for the people of Timor. That is why we cannot forget justice: for Christians, forgiveness does not equal impunity. Forgiveness implies justice. Justice is a priority everywhere in the world, especially in the beloved country of East Timor."

He continued, saying, "justice implies the realization of all judicial procedures. It implies respecting the fundamental rights of each person. However, justice cannot be separated from love, fraternity, and solidarity, which are factors that promote reconciliation. For this reason, today in the world justice and reconciliation go hand in hand. We cannot have authentic and lasting peace without justice".

* * *

Looking at mission in Oceania in 2008 we cannot fail to note the important event of the 23rd World Youth Day held in Sydney (15-20 July 2008). The fact that the venue was Australia, meant that thousands of young Christians from East Asia and the Pacific were able to take part for the first time in these extraordinary youth events. The theme of the 23rd WYD was "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit".

For young participants from Fiji, this unforgettable experience was a " tsunami of faith and joy ". On returning home the young people are urged to share the experience with their communities, their peers in particular, to be evangelisers and witnesses of the power of the Spirit received at the WYD.

It is an experience that the youth are called to transmit to their local Church, especially to their peers, in order to be protagonists in evangelizing and witnessing to the power of the Holy Spirit they received at WYD.

The 596 (a fairly large number, considering the size of the Pacific island) youth pilgrims from Fiji who attended WYD in Sydney were hosted mainly by Fiji immigrants in Australia and thus, were able to feel at home even in the big city of Sydney.

The youth were sponsored by the "Pilgrim Partnership Support Program," begun by WYD organizers in May 2007 in order to offer poorer youth, especially in Oceania, the chance to participate in the biggest event for youth in the world. The group from Fiji was accompanied by Archbishop Petero Mataca of Suva and the Vicar General, Fr. Beni Kaloudau.

The youth of Fiji have lived the WYD event with important roles, exhibiting their prayers, songs, and traditions in various moments during the WYD, such as the Way of the Cross and the Closing Mass, as well as in the evening World Youth Festival.

"They are days to remember. This is a good time to be Catholic. Tens of thousands of happy young people make the rest of the population happy too. All Sydney, and not just Catholic Sydney, has taken the pilgrims to their hearts. I see a city that has re-flourished": These were the words of Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, in making a preliminary evaluation of the 23rd World Youth Day which has recently concluded.

The Archbishop showed his great joy and satisfaction for an event that has been met with success, that has made Sydney "the center of the world" for a few days, and that has given a substantial boost to the Christian message in Oceania.

Cardinal Pell thanked the pilgrims, volunteers, and members of the Australian Government, who have supported the WYD event and made it possible, as well as the people of Sydney, for their welcome to Benedict XVI and the youth from all over the world. All have given of themselves so that "the hand of God could write another chapter in Australia's history".

Among the numeric statistics mentioned by the Cardinal were: 400,000 pilgrims attended the Closing Mass at the Randwick Racecourse; youth from 170 nations participated in WYD; 8,000 volunteers worked on logistics and organization. The Archbishop mentioned that the event in Randwick had been the largest gathering of people in the history of Australia.

Another record was set in the transmission of the event: in addition to the official site available in 4 languages,, which was among the most visited sites worldwide, there were other video-web services that offered images from the Vatican Television Center (CTV) of the Pope and other major international agencies, in addition to those in the news updates. The website, a joint media venture offering media coverage from several Catholic sources, has likewise offered a significant contribution with its many links. WYD was even given coverage on "YouTube" where, with over 3,000 active pages, has shown itself to be a worthwhile means of evangelization among the new forms of media.

Among the most remote communities which participated we mention a vivacious group of 48 Polynesian youths from the Island of Wallis, a French overseas territory in the South pacific Ocean halfway between Fiji and Samoa.

To be present in Sydney was a dream come true for 410 young people from Solomon Islands: an important step awaited and lived with enthusiasm and hope and which will be unforgettable. The young participants had undertaken a year of preparation, establishing fruitful twinning and bonds with their Australian peers.

Among the persons whose lives the youth have reflected on were Saint Maria Goretti and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, among WYD's patrons who will be a sure point of reference for all the pilgrims.

From nearby New Zealand came more than 10,000 Kiwis, as the islanders call themselves, to take part in WYD in Sydney: an unexpectedly high number seeing that only about 100 pilgrims managed to take part in previous editions. WYD in this region has given a boost of confidence and enthusiasm to New Zealand's Catholic youth who have taken part in various initiatives of mission to invite friends to take part in the event.

WYD 2008, with the participation of young people from all over Oceania, had a heart which was not only Australian it was globally Pacific.

Lastly we must mention a recent Pro-Life campaign launched by Christians in Australia at the beginning of October. Thousands of Catholics, Christians of other denominations, and members of social movements and associations marched through the streets of Melbourne, participating in the "Day of Intercession for Life" called for by the Diocese, in order to say "no" to the new law on abortion, being debated in the Parliament in the state of Victoria (southern Australia). The bill in question would allow abortion up to the 24 week of pregnancy.

Christians of many denominations lived a solemn moment of prayer inside St. Patrick's Cathedral, led by Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, who told them: "We are all brothers and sisters because we value the great gift of life . . . we testify to the unique value of each human without distinction from conception to natural death." The faithful gathered prayed especially for all mothers, for all unborn children, victims of human manipulation, and for all children yet to be born, highlighting that the Christian community is willing to place all its resources and energies at the service and support of women with difficulties, whether they be psychological or economic, in carrying their child to term. The Archbishop also pointed out that the reform of the system could not in any way lead Catholic hospitals to perform abortions, which Christian doctrine considers murder. Those present affirmed that such a law would be "morally repugnant." The law, the Church observes, should in every way possible provide a possibility of "conscientious objection" for doctors who do not wish to practice abortion. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 18/10/2008)


The Third American Mission Congress CAM 3

If in 2007 the principal ecclesial event at the continental level was undoubtedly the 5th General Conference in Aparecida, for 2008 the principal event can only be the Third American Mission Congress CAM 3 held in Quito (Ecuador) from 12 to the 17th August on the theme "The Church and missionary discipleship" with the motto "America with Christ: listen, learn and proclaim".

In an interview with Fides in June 2006, Fr. Timoteo Lehane, at the time National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Ecuador, CAM 3 hosting country, said the Congress would "reflect on how the local Churches can respond to the challenge of new evangelisation and identify new means and approaches for working with young people". "America — said Fr. Timoteo — must support the Church's universal mission missione, she must resume the missionary proposal from her beginnings, her poverty and her martyrdom. The local Churches must realise their responsibility. Mission awareness must be awakened. We already see growing missionary spirit in many young priests, and adults young and adults, anxious to go on mission. Important in this sense are new local missionary congregations and movements ever more numerous in America. The Catholic Bishops of America must also open to the world. Europe responded in her time, now it is America's turn.

In another interview in 2007 Fr. Lehane recalled that "although America has considerable experience of missionary animation, thanks to all the Mission Congresses held here, it now certainly needs to take steps to be more missionary, to go beyond its frontiers. America can be missionary from her poverty, from her beginnings and from her martyrdom and she must decide how to go about it". This is why he said he hoped the principal fruit of the Congress would be " that America may consolidate her missionary commitment, that many more dioceses will realise their missionary call and that many more people will consider collaborating with the Church's missionary activity".

In preparation for the Congress the relics of St Therese of Lisieux, Patron Saint of missions, were brought Ecuador, where they remained for eight weeks. First they were devoutly welcomed in every diocese across the country and then they remained until the end of Congress. During the closing Mass on 17 August 2006, the Great Continental Mission was official launched.

Preparation for the Congress

From 30 November 2003, from the moment when, at the end of the closing Mass of CAM 2 Cardinal Antonio González Zumárraga accepted, on behalf of the Church in Ecuador, to host CAM 3, he followed preparations for the great event step by step. In April 2004 the Catholic Bishops of Ecuador in plenary assembly elected the Cardinal president of the CAM 3 Central Commission and from then on together with the coordinator general Fr Timoteo Lehane, SVD, and the executive secretary Osvaldo Fierro Terán, Cardinal Antonio González Zumárraga encouraged initiatives for the organisation of CAM 3 and supervised its preparation in Ecuador and the rest of America. Cardinal Antonio González Zumárraga, seriously ill for some time, died on 13 October 2008.

The three central points of preparation for the Congress were the following:

  • relive the Pentecost event in the local Churches and help the People of God to "remember with gratitude the past, live with passion the present and open with confidence to the future ", in the Church's historical responsibility in proclaiming the Gospel (NMI, 1).
  • use new creativity and imagination, to give impulse to new evangelisation in the context of a globalised world, which has the same fresh "ardour" of the Lord's disciples, generator of "irrepressible enthusiasm for proclaiming the Gospel" and identifying new "ways for Evangelisation (SD 28-30).
  • Help the local Churches of America open to mission ad gentes in places where Christ and his Gospel have yet to be heard or where there are no Christian communities sufficiently mature to incarnate the faith in their environment and share it with others " (RM 31.33).

The main goal of CAM 3 was the following: "that all the local pilgrim Churches of America, may realise their co-responsibility for evangelisation and mission ad gentes" . Other aims included: form missionary disciples of the Gospel of life and hope, involve Christian families in the evangelising mission, and foster a missionary dimension in every parish.

In view of the preparation and celebration of CAM 3 with the support of the Bishops' Conference of Ecuador the following commissions were formed: Central, Executive, Theological, Finance, Methodological and a special CAM 3 Venue Commission in the city of Quito.

International missiology symposiums

As part of preparation two international missiology symposiums were organised on the CAM 3 theme. Participants' interventions served as a basis for the drafting of the CAM 3 Working Paper.

At the first missiology symposium held in Quito 1-5 August 2006 participants from all over America included mission activity delegates; presidents of Bishops' Conferences Missions Commissions; CELAM delegates; missionary Bishops; National Directors of the Pontifical Mission Societies; provincial Superiors of some missionary congregations in Ecuador; vicars general of the dioceses of Ecuador; representatives of lay and youth Movements and special guests. Three were the main goals of the first Symposium: in depth reflection on the vision of mission in the face of today's world; preparation of CAM 3 working paper contents and missionary key intervention for the 5th General Conference of CELAM. Addresses were based on the Working Paper's three thematic axis: Pentecost, Discipleship, Evangelisation. We mention the following: "Pentecost: the newness of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost"; "Pentecost: the Holy Spirit in the world today "; "Discipleship: at the permanent school of God and his plans"; "Discipleship: ongoing listening to today's world "; "Evangelisation: the mission of the Acts of the Apostles "; "Church: evangelising community in the world today".

The second missiology symposium in preparation for CAM 3 was also held in Quito, in 2007 from July 30 to August 3, with the title "Anthropology and Pastoral of Mission". The general aim was to reflect on the Anthropology and Pastoral of Mission and give contribute to the presentation of CAM 3 and the Great Continental Mission.

The general themes were the following: "Our missionary discipleship today", "Guided by the Spirit we meet in the mission " and "Our Church today: disciple and missionary".

During the symposium the CAM 3 Working Paper was presented to delegations of 17 different countries of America. The working paper is the fruit of three years work by the CAM 3 Theological Commission. The working paper, presented by Commission president Bishop Julio Terán Datari, and Fr P. Santiago Ramírez, a member of the commission and sent to all the Bishop Presidents of the national Bishops' Conferences for them to examine, was closely related with the final Aparecida document. It had five chapters: "The Church and missionary discipleship", "Our missionary life in America based on CAM and COMLA", "Discipleship: community, a disciple of Jesus ", Pentecost: community guided by the Spirit"; "evangelisation: community, missionary for humanity".

In November 2006 CAM 3 president, Cardinal Antonio González Zumárraga, made a request to the Holy Father for a prayer for the Congress. The prayer was officially presented in August 2007, during the 2nd International Symposium of Missiology. The prayer served as valid means of spiritual preparation for the Congress.

The Missionary Letter of the Bishops of Ecuador

The Bishops of Ecuador gathered for a plenary assembly 23 to 27 April 2007 reflected on the missionary dimension of the local Church. During the meeting a general presentation of the Congress was given by CAM 3 hosting Archbishop Monsignor Raúl Vela, Archbishop of Quito. The Bishops also discussed the draft of a Missionary Letter as part of the preparatory process.

The purpose of the Missionary Letter, presented during a later plenary 15 - 19 October 2007, was to animate the Church in Ecuador in view of CAM 3 and the Great Continental Mission, strengthening enthusiastic faith in Jesus Christ as disciples and missionaries.

The bishops give a brief history of mission in Ecuador, where "missionary activity started at the dawn of the Conquest, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under whose protection the Church has always placed her missionary activity". "With a true spirit of faith, heroic sacrifice and generous devotion — the bishops write — the missionaries instructed the native people in the Catholic faith while at the same time promoting human development". However even missionary work has its dark sides which need to be acknowledged. The Bishops say too little attention was given to "fostering and forming mission awareness at every level. No adequate response of evangelisation was offered to the secular culture. We need to be more open and more generous: we are accustomed to receiving and we find it difficult to give of our poverty. This is why Ecuador has so few missionaries ad gentes".

The Church is the continuation of the evangelising mission of Jesus Christ. Therefore "it is necessary to kindle new desire for holiness among missionaries and the whole Christian community, especially among those who work closely with missionaries". The work of evangelisation, the Bishops say, "has an essential role in the Church which at different levels is the depositary of Christ's mission. The Church cannot fail to carry out her mission among the baptised and among those who have yet to hear of Christ". The Bishops say mission communicates life which "grows when it is shared and weakens in isolation and comfort ". In fact "those who enjoy life more are those who leave security and comfort, to enthusiastically communicate this life to others ", the Letter affirms. Following the guidelines and instructions of Aparecida, the Bishops of Ecuador announced a Great Mission to involve every ecclesiastical jurisdiction in the country.

They ended the Letter encouraging the people to "enact and personalise Christ's mission or call. The command to evangelise which Jesus Christ gives the universal Church, is addressed to every Particular Church, and in that Particular Church every parish community, every parish priest and every individual Christian. The response must come from each and every one".

National Congresses

In addition to the celebration of the Third American Missionary Congress, National Missionary Congresses were celebrated in 10 countries: Venezuela (9 - 13 April); Bolivia (16 - 20 April); Ecuador (2 - 3 May); Brazil (1 - 4 May); Uruguay (5 May); El Salvador (16 - 18 May); Mexico (30 - 31 May); Costa Rica (31 May); Paraguay (11 - 13 June) and Dominican Republic (17 - 20 July).

The celebration of CAM 3

According to information given by the Congress organisers, the total number of participants at CAM 3 was 3,110 ; 1,219 missionaries from all 5 continents who stayed with local families in Quito; 955 national missionaries ; 94 special guests including presidents of Bishops' Conferences; General and Provincial Superiors of religious congregations, delegates from religious communities, ecclesiastic authorities, speakers, animators, other guests. Present at CAM 3 Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples and Fr. Vito del Prete, PIME, Secretary General of the Pontifical Missionary Union (PMU). The participants came from Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Portugal, Colombia, Brazil, Honduras, Ethiopia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Delegations from 33 different countries included 80 bishops, 465 priests, 250 religious, 22 deacons, 87 seminarians and 816 lay men and women. The Holy Father Benedict XVI was represented by Cardinal Nicolás López Rodriguez, Archbishop of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Primate of Latin America.

Four cardinals, over 100 bishops from all over America including the main authorities of the Ecuadorian Bishops Conference, the Council of Latin American Bishops Conferences CELAM, bishops and delegations from other Bishops' Conferences of America, Europe and Africa, 600 priests from all over the world and 16,000 assistants gathered in Generale Rumiñahui Sports Centre in Quito, for the opening Mass of the Third American Mission Congress CAM 3 presided by the Papal Delegate Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López.

His Holiness Benedict XVI sent a Message which was read during the opening ceremony. In the message the Pope said he was present through his Special Envoy. Expressing his "spiritual closeness and joy" he said the Congress was an "incomparable opportunity offered by the Holy Spirit" to deepen the important experience of the 5th CELAM Conference in Aparecida, and the ensuing programme for evangelisation, giving new impulse to mission ardour in America.

The Pope said he was certain the Lord, the true Teacher, would illuminate CAM 3 participants "to make room in their hearts for His message of love and redemption and to bear abundant and lasting fruits of holiness". He recalled that the Congress would solemnly launch the "Continental Mission", involving "local Churches in America which would intensify their efforts to make the Lord ever more known, loved and praised in these blessed lands". "Dear Brothers and Sisters — the Pope continued — with gentleness and force, with the charity with which the Holy Spirit has filled our souls, I urge you to share this treasure with others, because there is no greater wealth than to enjoy the friendship of Christ and to walk at His side. It is worthwhile devoting our energies to this marvellous task, knowing that God's grave precedes and accompanies our labour". The most important service we can offer "is to clearly but humbly proclaim Christ, who came on earth that we might have life and life in abundance".

In his message the Pope referred to the triptych he offered each of the Bishops' Conference presidents; the triptych portrays the Risen Christ arms outstretched to welcome all, since, the Pope said "He goes ahead of us in life and helps us aspire to holiness so that the missionary in every baptised person may awaken, overcoming all hesitancy or mediocrity".

The Archbishop of Quito Raúl Vela Chiriboga offered the participants a warm welcome. Key-note speakers included: Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), August 13 "Apostleship; the Apostolic Community of Jesus"; Archbishop Luis Augusto Castro of Tunja, President of the Colombian Bishops' Conference, August 14 on "Pentecost: a community lead by the Spirit"; and Bishop Edwin Krautler of Xingu (Brazil), on August 15 on "Evangelization: the missionary community for mankind."

Throughout the Congress, there were various testimonies from missionaries, as well as open forums and workshops on the themes of the Gospel, the Mission, and humanity. The forums were prepared in turn by one of the various countries participating in CAM 3. The forum themes were the following: Ad Gentes Mission in Today's World (missionary congregations); Mission and Family (Puerto Rico); Mission and Globalization (Uruguay); Mission, Exclusion, and Migration (Brazil); Mission and the Laity (Venezuela); Mission and the Youth (El Salvador); Mission, Human Acts and Dignity (Colombia); Mission, Cultures, and Peoples (Bolivia and Ecuador); Mission and Ecology (Chile y Panama); Mission and Mass Media (Bolivia); Mission, Ecumenism, and Interreligious Dialogue (Chile); Mission, Education and the Intellectual World (Mexico); Missionary Spirituality (Argentina); Mission and Religious Fundamentalism (Peru); Mission and Women (Paraguay and the Dominican Republic); Mission, Science, and Technology (United States).

The final Declaration

In a final document issued at the close of the Third Missionary Congress (CAM 3) missionaries from all over the world declared their willingness to announce the Gospel, to build a world of brotherhood, justice, and solidarity, and collaborate with the Spirit, to build up the Kingdom of God.

The declaration has 17 points on various aspects of the Church's mission. Firstly, referring to mission ad gentes, "mission for humanity", the missionaries confirm their commitment to "mission ad gentes with enthusiasm and co-responsibility with the Church, implying a personal conversion and the change of certain pastoral structures so that the Gospel can reach all people." Within this mission, "there is a strong emphasis on the formation and guidance of Christian families, so that they become evangelizers and missionaries in their lives, in fidelity and communion," and thus, they hope to boost to Family Pastoral Care and family missionary experiences in the mission ad gentes.

Another important subject is immigration and the exclusion of those that present "a first-rate challenge, noted in the situation of children, women, men, and families that struggle for their rights." Therefore, a culture that promotes the dignity of the human person must be fostered.

As to the laity, there is a great need for an integral spiritual formation which is both pastoral and missionary, that is, one that makes them collaborators in the Great Continental Mission. Likewise, the youth assume the American Missionary Project.

"As Church, we value and respect the indigenous peoples and those of African-descent on the continent. We are aware of the urgent need to recognize their role and traditions, so that they can find their place in society and in the Church," the declaration continued.

Another important point was the mission and its relation to the mass media in order to "respond to the new historical, social, and ecclesial situations, transmitting God's love and the Good News of the Kingdom with a communication that gives testimony and is both coordinated and integrated into the routine of pastoral care."

The missionaries are also committed to education, in order to "work with members of the educational field in creating areas for formation and dialogue in order to bear witness to the Good News of the Kingdom in the modern world."

The religious men and women are also called to be missionary disciples "with a solid Trinitarian spirituality in their work with the poor and marginalized, maintaining an undivided heart that is capable of loving all people and being present in every culture without preferences, open to the mission, especially the mission ad gentes."

"Missionaries of America, today as the CAM 3 comes to a close, Jesus sends us out to all the ends of the earth to be witnesses to all that we have heard, learned, and announced," the Final Declaration stated in conclusion.

CAM 3 Message to humanity "God's Family"

At the close of the Congress, the Message of CAM 3 to Humanity, the Family of God was distributed. The document clearly states that "the Spirit is the one who leads us to unite ourselves with Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania in sharing our faith." The missionaries also reaffirmed their desire to be missionaries in every circumstance and "continue leaving behind establishments, nets, boats, parents, land, everything; plans, successes, and personal styles that create a certain security." In fact, "Christ as the center of our lives as disciples is the root of the missionary identity. It is what constantly creates and renews the fraternal communion and sustains the commitment we have to transform the world through our missionary service." In a mission that is counter-cultural, one must take up "the challenge of an increase in poverty that is effecting a greater part of the world's population and which is the result of the spread of social, political, and economic structures and systems that are unjust."

The Mission, it said, is situated in the heart of the world and thus, "we look towards all of society as a whole, in its desires, expectations, humanism, and thirst for God. We are united to them, as we witness their suffering for the crises: economic, social, ecological, cultural, and democratic, and even more for the poverty, exclusion, violence, and persecution."

In response to this situation, the missionaries recall that there are no ready-made solutions other than "trust in the Lord, an open heart, and placing faith in our hope, at the light of the Gospel." "We are called to commit ourselves to the Church and society, helping to find the priorities and goals of history, living in solidarity, dialogue, and in gratitude for the missionary community."

They end the document expressing their desire to "unite themselves to the Church in a permanent state of mission," "be servants among the poor, consolation, and fortitude" and "give life to all of humanity, communicating the beauty and strength of the Lord, reconciling and uniting the entire human family."

The Congress in figures

Information from CAM 3 organisers:

57 months of preparation; 85,000 copies of the Working Paper in Spanish, Portuguese, English and French studied all over America; 14 National Mission Congresses; 22 Diocesan Congresses in Ecuador.

Participants from other countries:

33 countries, 80 bishops, 465 priests, 250 religious, 22 deacons, 891 laymen 665 lay women.

During the Congress:

2,153 families and 91 parishes offered accommodation to missionaries from all over the world; 15,000 people working closely with missionaries;. 45,000 homes in Quito were visited on Saturday 16 August 2008; 500 young volunteer helpers; 300 people in 16 different commissions guaranteed functioning in strategic areas.

Delegation from Ecuador

A total number of 1,465: 21 bishops; 133 priests; 307 religious; 21 deacons; 87 seminarians. 680 lay men 785 lay women; 955 national missionaries stayed with families.

Accredited media and media operators

206 journalists. 84 media including: 76 radio journalists Radio; 35 TV journalists; 39 print news journalists ; 7 Web journalists; 13 journalists from unspecified media.

Interview with Fr. Timothy Lehane, SVD

Fr Timothy Lehane SVD, while national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Ecuador, was one of the main organisers of the 3rd American Mission Congress. Shortly after the Congress he was appointed Secretary General of the Pontifical Mission Society Propagation of the Faith in Rome. Fides spoke to Father Lehane about CAM 3.

How would you asses the Third American Mission Congress CAM 3-Comla 8?

The Congress was a wonderful event for the whole Church in Ecuador and the local Church in Quito with intense collaboration in every sector: the clergy, religious, lay people, young people, families of the diocese in all the different parishes with the respective parish priests. Everyone contributed to making the congress a success, each according to his or her own possibilities.

A very moving moment was the arrival of the missionaries, most of whom were offered accommodation by local families or parishes. This was important because it helped the people realise that the Church is universal. They experienced the joy of being Christians and the joy of being missionaries. I personally saw the happiness of many families when they were told they had been chosen to offer accommodation to a missionary, a priest or a religious or a lay person, clearly they considered it a great honour, a time of joy and blessing for the whole family and an opportunity to deepen their faith. The parish priests of Quito were all anxious to have missionaries to stay during the congress, to share their experience with the local pastoral workers. I think this is a most important and fruitful aspect of these congresses for the families and the parishes in general.

Another important aspect was the celebration and development of the congress in the three important venues: Generale Rumiñahui Sports Centre, with the opening Mass on 12 August attended by 18,000 people; the Agorà of the House of Culture where the conferences were given; The Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, which hosted 17 forums, and its campus' Sports Ground which hosted the closing Mass on Sunday 17 August.

Some 5,000 people gathered every day at the Agorà of the House of Culture, and the people of Quito saw the joy of the missionaries as they walked through the city streets. When we moved from the Forum to the University for the 17 forums, it was a time of testimony, the people wondered at the joy and brotherhood among the participants. There were also interesting meetings on topical questions which provoked reflection and helped us listen to the process of evangelisation because evangelisation is giving and receiving. They also served to plan a possible future mission project in Latin America.

And after CAM 3 . . .?

CAM 3 closed with a commitment to carry forward a mission project in Latin America. In recent years church documents in America have spoke of mission at home looking also abroad. In Puebla came the commitment to "give of our poverty" in Santo Domingo "the time has come". CAM 2 also spoke of the new mission dimension of the American continent and the need to "give of our poverty, our littleness and our martyrdom ", stressing that America must be a missionary not only from her poverty but also from her littleness and martyrdom. Although we did not actually call it a project, we did promise to help the Churches in America give new impulse to the missionary spirit ad gentes. I think it is important to consolidate this, putting it in writing and promoting animation to help the Churches in America concretise this project for mission ad gentes, we must not forget that half the world's Catholics live in Latin America and many, especially young lay people, are ready to go on mission to other countries. This is why this project must not remain in paper it must take concrete shape according to the different circumstances.

Another important point in this field is to listen to the voice of our lay people many of whom wish to go on mission but lack the means or have difficulty finding an institution willing to send and support them. Not many lay people have adequate formation and it is difficult for them to find a job or a means of financial support, especially if they have a family to look after. This is another aspect to keep in mind and to address for the future. The Congress enabled the participants to see all these difficulties. Bishops, priests and religious all saw the present needs and the possibilities for the future and they also saw the necessity to work together. These themes will need to be addressed by coming Congresses.

At the end of the Congress, the Great Continental Mission was launched. What is the goal of the Mission and how was it received?

The Congress closed with two important moments: the Congress Message addressed to Humanity, a message of hope. A message which recalled that we are living an experience of Pentecost. This experience is always new and it leads us to live like the Apostles. Just as they left the Upper Room, where they had prayed with Mary, totally changed after receiving the Holy Spirit, no longer afraid, so we too after this experience of the Holy Spirit must go out into the world today, to speak everywhere, to face the circumstances of life and find ways to make the will of God present in this world of ours. We must learn to see the world with God's eyes, with God's heart and to carry God's love and true freedom to all peoples.

The second important moment was the launching of the Great Continental Mission called by CELAM its 5th General Conference in Aparecida. The Mission was launched at the end of CAM 3 in the presence of the presidents of all the Bishops' Conference presidents of America or their representatives. The CELAM President urged those present to return to their respective countries to start the Continental Mission. Each country will decide how the mission is put into practice. But the first aim is to put the whole continent in a state of mission, to realise that the working of the Holy Spirit continues and that all are called to be bearers of hope. In this spirit, as the document of Aparecida stated, the local Churches need to renew pastoral activity and identify new ways to reach the world today.

Finally, I would mention my deep grief for the death of dear Cardinal Antonio González Zumárraga, who assumed with authentic responsibility and commitment his charge as president of the CAM 3 Central Commission. He was a great friend and father, a devout and humble man, a man of profound faith. He put all his experience at the service of a successful Mission Congress. But above all he was a man of prayer who demonstrated his humility and joy all the time to all of us involved in CAM 3. We are certain that now he intercedes so that all that was lived and said during those days may become reality.

The Great Continental Mission

On Sunday 17 August, at the end of a crowded CAM 3 closing Mass, CELAM President, Monsignor Raymundo Damasceno Assis, officially launched the Great Continental Mission, fruit of CELAM 5 held in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007.

Mgr Raymundo Damasceno, accompanied by first vice president Mgr Baltazar Porras, and secretary general Mgr Víctor Sánchez Espinosa, received the symbols of the mission and presented them to the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences of America. Earlier Mgr Víctor Sánchez Espinosa, handed Bishops Conference Presidents Continental Mission guiding material: catechesis on the meaning of the triptych, and Part One of a collection of hands books on formation for missionaries and pastoral workers.

The Bishops' Conference will now distribute the material and decide the different stages to render the Continental Mission a concrete part of pastoral activity in the spirit of Aparecida.

Mgr Raymundo Damasceno Assis said "in the mission we wish to reach out to everyone, especially the suffering, the needy and to promote the common good for a society of justice, solidarity and peace". He said the Continental Mission intends to foster permanent missionary awareness and activity, to make a spirit of mission permeate all Church structures and that at the same time this Continental Mission is an opportunity to renew commitment to following Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life and to be united with Him as disciples obedient to his command.

The challenge is to encounter the neglected, the forgotten, the abandoned, the builders of society, to proclaim the Good News of Salvation to all and to follow Christ who is life and gives life in abundance. This special Year of St Paul, tireless apostle, evangeliser and missionary, offers encouragement to the Church's missionary activity. The Continental Mission has been placed under the protection of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Aparecida. Mgr Damasceno called everyone to follow Jesus Christ: "to be His follower is the best gift we can receive, to meet Him in the faith and to follow Him is the best thing that can happen to us and to announce Him is our greatest joy ".

Called by name one by one the presidents of the Bishops' Conferences received the triptych of the Ascension, recalling His words: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit". The Triptych and a copy of the Bible were then carried in procession by the national delegations. After a prayer of sending, a group of missionaries was sent on mission to various distant lands.

Asked about the key to a fruitful mission in America, Bishop Víctor Sánchez, auxiliary Bishop of Mexico and CELAM secretary general said "they key can only be a personal encounter with Christ, a profound experience of faith, which makes us aware of our missionary duty and enables us to serve with joy, to bear witness to the faith, to live according to the Gospel, to celebrate the joy of being with Jesus, and loving as He loves, of being sent on mission". He stressed the importance of the Mission for the Church in America "at this moment as many of our peoples prepare to celebrate the bi-centenary of their independence, we are celebrating the Year of St Paul and the Synod of Bishops on 'the Word of God in the life and the mission of the Church' is taking place in Rome. These events demand renewal in our hearts and in our lives so we may celebrate what we believe in and live what we celebrate".

Continental Mission Stages

CELAM (Council of Latin American Bishops' Conferences,) proposed the following stages for the Continental Mission, aimed at putting the Church in a permanent state of mission:

  • stage 1: increase awareness among pastoral workers and evangelisers so that priests, consecrated persons and those involved in services and ministries in Church communities (catechists, animators) may be the first to assume the call to missionary discipleship and personal and pastoral conversion.
  • stage 2: In depth discussion with priority groups. Promote missionary discipleship in important church realities for example colleges, universities and high schools, media, family pastoral, youth pastoral, etc.
  • stage 3: Mission by sector with the presence and assistance of those who, after taking part in stage one, offer themselves for permanent mission.
  • stage 4: territorial mission, involving parishes to render them communities of missionary disciples, adapting parish structures in view of permanent mission.

As this is a Continental Mission, dioceses and countries throughout continent will have common and even simultaneous symbols and celebrations.

An ad hoc commission of 7 bishops and experts was formed to draft a paper containing a series of proposals made by the Bishops' Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Commission is also supervising the preparation of 45 handbooks on Aparecida and the Continental Mission. Fifteen handbooks of the series have been completed.

Principal agents of mission

A. the role of the Bishops' Conferences

  • Issue pastoral guidelines in the light of the Continental Mission (harmony and synchrony) to ensure that all ecclesiastical circumscriptions assume a permanent state of mission.
  • Create a central commission for missionary animation at the national level.
  • Draft handbooks for the formation of pastoral agents and evangelisers involved in the missionary project.
  • Revise or elaborate General Pastoral Guidelines in the light of Aparecida in conformity with the formation and activity of missionary disciples.
  • Prepare teams at the national level to lead spiritual retreats based in Aparecida.
  • Create missionary centres at the national level.

B. the role of dioceses

  • "The diocese, communities and structures, is called to be a missionary community " (DA 168) and therefore as an agent of mission it shall:
  • Revise pastoral plans in the light of Aparecida, giving new mission impulse which envisages, as a sign of maturity, commitment to mission ad gentes. The Continental Mission must lead people to go beyond the frontiers.
  • Set up a central diocesan commission for missionary animation in the diocese.
  • prepare Handbooks on the formation of pastoral workers and evangelisers for the missionary project.
  • Offer courses of formation and spiritual exercises for pastoral workers and evangelisers at every stage.
  • Work, in a spirit of ecclesial communion, with neighbouring dioceses, at the level of ecclesiastical province.

C. The role of CELAM for mission

  • Support and prepare the implementation of the continental mission.
  • Offer courses of formation and spiritual exercises for pastoral workers and evangelisers at every stage, coordinated with ITEPAL and CEBIPAL.
  • For a team to send to Bishops' Conferences to diffuse the contents of Aparecida.
  • Diffuse existing handbooks and prepare new ones for each sector in which pastoral workers and evangelisers operate.
  • Offer information on missionary experience of the past or underway in countries on the Continent, relying on the support of the Pastoral Observer.
  • Elaborate catechetical and liturgical material for mission, to be used all over Latin America and the Caribbean.

Since the Mission is Continental emphasis was given to certain signs of ecclesial communion and shared ideas:

  • Enthroning of the Bible and the Triptych with a brief catechesis on the significance, especially as a model for a "family altar" in every home.
  • Prayer for the Mission Continental.
  • Logotype of Aparecida.
  • Promote shared celebrations of important missionary feasts for example, the Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost. The national Marian Feast day in every country.
  • Production and sharing of formative missionary texts.
  • A significant social action in each country is suggested.

The Continental Mission is moving

On 1 and 2 October 2008 there was a meeting of the ad hoc Commission for the Continental Mission in Mexico, DF, at the Bishops' Conferences offices. Participants included Commission president and CELAM general secretary Bishop Victor Sánchez Espinosa, auxiliary of Mexico; CELAM secretary general adjunct Fr. Sidney Fones; Bishop Marcelo Palentini, S.C.I., of the diocese of Jujuy, Argentina; Bishop Socrates René Sándigo Jirón, Bishop of the diocese of Juigalpa, Nicaragua; Bishop José Dolores Grullón Estrella, Bishop of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic; Fr Paulo Crozera, vice academic rector of ITEPAL Centre; Mgr Cristián Precht Bañados, bishop's delegate southern zone archdiocese of Sanatiago de Chile; Mgr Alberto Márquez, bishop's delegate of the archdiocese of Mexico; Mgr Juan Carlos Guerrero, bishop's delegate for the Laity of the archdiocese of Mexico; Fr Leonidas Ortiz Lozada, director of the Centro Osservatorio and executive secretary of the Continental Mission Commission.

During the meeting the members of the Continental Mission Commission adopted the following goals:

1. Ample diffusion of the Document of Aparecida

The first step of the Continental Mission is to reflect on the spirit of Aparecida. The Bishops' Conference should encourage and support the dioceses in this initial stage, to help them grasp the significance of being missionary disciples of Jesus Christ in these times of globalisation, secularism and religious pluralism.

2. Pastoral conversion is a fruit of the encounter with the Living Christ.

Every man and woman must be offered the chance to have a personal encounter with the living Christ. An encounter which is an itinerary of experiences which complete and support one another in silence, to reach the school of Mary who lead us along her same path.

3. Define and assimilate the missionary pastoral demanded by Aparecida.

The finality of mission must be to found and strengthen Christian communities so that every person has can undertake the journey of community missionary discipleship. To reach this goal, it is necessary to change from a pastoral of preservation to pastoral which is markedly missionary. To do this groups, movements and communities must see what they must do in order to be once again fully missionary.

4. Promote formation for missionary disciples, on the basis of their charisma and experience, to help them become part of the parish and diocesan community.

There is also need for conversion at the hard core of the Church: bishops, clergy, men and women religious, active lay people, . . . to enter fully into the process of missionary discipleship. Discipleship cannot be taken for granted in the life of the Church.

5. Continue to animate the Continental Mission, starting from CELAM.

The most influential document is the relationship CELAM-Secretaries General of Bishops' Conferences. With this in mind it is suggested that members of the CELAM Continental Mission Commission should attend the next meeting of Secretaries General of Bishops' Conferences; and that Secretaries General be asked to give regular reports on the progress of the Mission. This next meeting is to be held in Bogota, 9 to 12 March 2009.

The launching of the Continental Mission in the different countries

The Continental Mission ahs started in most countries. Each country has its own rhythm according to the processes of pastoral organisation in the different ecclesiastical circumscriptions.


In Chile the Continental Mission was launched on the same day as in Quito, on 17August. The Archdiocese of Santiago de Chile started the Great Continental Mission on Sunday 17 with a concelebration of the Eucharist presided by Bishop Cristián Contreras Villaroel, auxiliary Bishop and vicar general on behalf of the archbishop Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz. He called on all Catholics in the archdiocese to 'boldly' start the Continental Mission and to assume the missionary spirit necessary for the Church in America today. A Mass for the sending on mission was celebrated in the cathedral by Auxiliary Bishops Andrés Arteaga and Fernando Chomalí; Mgr. Juan Suárez, Dean of the cathedral chapter; Mgr. Fernando Ramos, rector of the pontifical major seminary; and by almost all the local bishop's delegates.

The Mass concluded with a moving call. The bishop's delegates received the Maipú Cross, a candle and the Continental Mission triptych and were encouraged to spread the light of the mission, in the different environments.

In a message to the diocese, Cardinal Errazuriz urged the people to welcome the rich experience and guidelines Aparecida and let themselves be guided by the Holy Spirit to face the challenges encountered "when in our country we will start the next centenary of our sovereign history".

The Cardinal explained that this is no ordinary mission, because it aims to "reach the roots of our identity and our mission as Christians" in view of a "living and profound encounter with Jesus Christ so he may make us his disciples who respond with fidelity and consistency in our personal, family and social life". He said to be coherent Christians must build a society, "based on justice where all may live in peace and friendship in keeping with their identity as children of God". This mission cannot be achieved with "human strength alone", said the Cardinal, but with the Holy Spirit. Through the working of the Spirit it is possible to live "an encounter with Jesus which revives the spirit of mission to proclaim Him to those who have abandoned God and live as it he did not exist; he kindles in us love for our people, so that the poor, the afflicted, the marginalised, the desperate, may have abundant life in Christ ".

The Mission has four stages: preparation, calling and formation of missionaries; mission by sectorial mission and territorial mission.

As preparation the Archbishop stressed the need to study carefully the guidelines issued by Aparecida as well as the pastoral guidelines of the Chilean Bishops' Conference. This request was addressed to leaders of parish communities and Basic Ecclesial Communities; religious institutes and church movements, new communities, paths of Christian initiation; educational communities and other lay associations.

The Cardinal says those called to be missionary disciples must be persons of prayer, conversion, communion and solidarity. First they will reflect on the encounter with Christ in the Church and the sacraments, in the Word of God and in "lectio divina"; in the poor and the suffering; "especially in the family the domestic church, the sanctuary of life", and in popular piety. Then they will reflect on the calling to be missionary disciples in communion with the Church. This stage will begin in March 2009 for priests, deacons, members of institutes of consecrated life and lay men and women actively involved in the life of the communities and the organisation of the diocese.

The two final stages sectorial mission and territorial projected "towards those furthest from Christ and his Church, will be a time of grave in which to pray that the Church may remain in a permanent state of mission".

According to National Director of Pontifical Mission Societies in Chile Fr. Jorge Patricio Vega, "shortly after the 5th General Conference of CELAM which convoked the Continental Mission, our Bishops' Commission for Missions, began to reflect on how to take up the challenge raised by Aparecida. The Commission asked Mgr Cristián Precht to plan the Continental Mission in Chile. Various Bishops' Conference pastoral services are already giving a new missionary dimension to their pastoral publications.

Each of the 27 dioceses in our country are increasing awareness and reflecting on the Aparecida proposal discussing how to implement it in the local Church. Many have asked for help outside the diocese for illumination in this final stage.

The National Mission Council formed of different religious congregations and lay movements involved in mission Ad Gentes, plans to draft schemas with interventions given during CAM 3 to help Christian communities grow in their mission dimension on the basis of what they received from the congress. For our part the Pontifical Mission Societies suggested that the goal should be to be a missionary rather than engage in missionary activity. This proposal intends to foster a missionary culture in local Churches, parishes, schools, movements and institutions to help the faithful look beyond the frontiers. With this in mind we will intensify our courses, symposiums, reflection workshop etc . . . ". Special web site for the Continental Mission in Chile: continetal/.


In Costa Rica the Continental Mission will be launched on 4 January 2009, the Epiphany in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago, and in the dioceses on 11 January. So far the missionaries, the receivers of the mission, the best paths, materials and methods for the mission, have been identified. The first step will be to create awareness in the respective diocese among the faithful and the clergy and religious according to the different situations and pastoral plans. A national team which will set general instructions is headed by Monsignor Oscar Fernández and Monsignor José Rafael Quirós with the pastoral delegates of each diocese.

"We want our families to be evangelised and evangelising, our parishes to be centres of evangelisation and for the whole community to assume responsibility for mission" said Bishop José Francisco Ulloa Rojas of the diocese of Cartago who said the challenge is to put the Church in a state of mission in an increasingly materialist and secular world: "This calls for new evangelisation to help all baptised persons to be aware of their faith and how to live it and share it with others".

For his part Bishop Vittorino Giraldi of Tilarán said the mission is a challenge to "overcome discouragement in the institutions of the Church which has appeared in recent years and which could render the mission difficult because unless we offer it with confidence our message will not be accepted". The Church is concerned not only about her members but for all the others who have yet to hear the Gospel, for those who do not practice the Christian life and do not feel involved. "We must pass from a pastoral of looking after our own to a pastoral of proclamation, going beyond our frontiers" he added. He also said that although Costa Rica is small it is intercultural, pluri-cultural. Each Bishop is responsible for the mission but there will be a central Commission to offer encouragement.

The Diocese of Tilarán already has a plan for the Continental Mission. During the first stage priests will be prepared with the use of fourteen booklets on the 5th General CELAM Conference in Aparecida 2007. The following year missionaries will be identified and formed, 2010 will be the time for the Continental Mission and in 2011, the 500th anniversary of the diocese, celebrations through the year will conclude with a Diocesan Eucharistic Congress.


The Continental Mission in Cuba will be planned around celebrations to mark the 400th anniversary in 2012 of the finding of the lost image of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. A period of three years of preparation for the anniversary was opened on 30 August at the National Shrine of Cobre Basilica. People came from all over Cuba and some even from other countries to take part. The Mass, presided by Archbishop Dioniso García of Santiago de Cuba, was concelebrated by most of Cuba's Bishops. Archbishop Juan García of Camaguey, President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Cuba opened the three years of preparation for the 400th anniversary of the finding of the lost image of Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, with which the Church in Cuba will join the Grat Continental Mission, fruit of the 5th General Conference of CELAM.


The Great Continental Mission was officially launched in Ecuador at the end of CAM 3 as host country. The Bishops will soon meet to elaborate proposals and guidelines for the Great Continental Mission in the country.


In Nicaragua the Great Continental Mission will begin officially in the month of December when the Bishops will meet to invite all the dioceses to take an active part in the initiative.


Panama at the moment is forming the missionaries The Bishops' Conference will launch the Great Continental Mission on the first Sunday of Lent 1 March 2009. March 1st is also the feast day of the national Shrine of Jesus of Nazareth. The months leading up to that date will be a period of formation for the missionaries. The document of Aparecida is being carefully studied in dioceses across the country.


On Saturday 30 August a special Mass presided by Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani and concelebrated by all the Peruvian Bishops marked the beginning of the Great Continental Missione in Peru with the theme "I say to you: Mission is now ". In his homily, Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Peru, explained what it means to be a disciple and a friend of Christ. "To be disciples we must draw near to Christ, convert our hearts and minds to him. We must out on Christ, which means passing from 'my' view to the view of God, from 'my' world to that of God; from revenge and hatred to forgiveness", he said.

Archbishop Cabrejos said that missionary disciples must seek to become familiar with God. Real familiarity with God unites more than blood ties. He said "This is the Church: familiarity with God, with Christ, God's family" and ended by calling on Most Holy Mary to interceded that the Continental Mission may bear much fruit.

At the end of the Mass each bishop received a copy of the Triptych as a symbol of the call to follow Christ.

In a special papal message for the occasion of the launching of the Continental Mission in Peru said that the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI "greets all the Bishops of Peru and on the occasion of the launching of the Continental Mission in this noble country, encouraged by the 5th general conference of the Latin American Bishops' Conferences in Aparecida — Brazil, prays that this providential circumstance may help renew the ecclesial communities of this nation and intensify their missionary ardour ". Pope Benedict XVI expressed the wish that Peruvian Catholics "may be authentic disciples of Jesus Christ, welcoming his word and humbly sharing it with others, worthily celebrating his sacraments, giving convincing witness of his love in the world for the construction of a society of justice, brotherhood and solidarity".

In formation on the Continental Mission in Peru can be found at the following addresses:

The president of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, is to launch the mission, carry it forward and make it permanent. Assessments will be made after five years and then after 10 years. "The Spirit of Aparecida — he explained — does not speak of post Aparecida, instead it speaks of returning to the missionary essence of the Church.


The Uruguayan Bishops will launch the Continental Mission on 9 November, the feast of Our Lady of Trentatré, the country's Patron Saint. In a letter to Catholic communities all over the country Bishops Carlos Collazzi, Bishop Rodolfo Wirz and Bishop Luis del Castillo, respectively president, vice-president and secretary if the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Uruguay ask them to prepare well for the annual National Pilgrimage and special Mass concelebrated by all the Bishops, during which "the Continental Mission will be significantly launched here in our Uruguay". The Bishops recall that the national pilgrimage is a most important "event of faith for our communities gathered in the Home of Mary, Mother of our homeland ". "Mary's maternal presence is indispensable for guiding a people of sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, disciples and missionaries of her Son", the Bishops write. They add that during the Mass there will be special prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary to help the people " heed the call of the Spirit, to allow Him to illuminate the path as disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ so our people may have life in Him".


In Venezuela the date of the official launching of the Great Continental Mission has yet to be established. This decision and the general line of the Mission was one of the items on the Bishops agenda during a 28th special Plenary held at the Bishops' Conference offices in this month of October.


Stay with us Lord,
walk with us, even if
we often fail to recognise you.
You are the light of our hearts,
with your Paschal mystery you give us ardour.
You comfort us with a piece of bread,
that we may tell our brothers and sisters
that you are truly risen.
You ask us to be witnesses of your victory.
Stay with us Lord,
You are the Truth,
you show us the Father,
illuminate our minds with your Word;
help us to experience the beauty
of believing in you.
You are the Life,
stay in our homes,
that we may walk together
and human life will be born in them;
Jesus, stay with our children
And with our young people,
help them build a new world with you.
Stay Lord with those whom society denies
Justice and freedom;
stay with the poor and the humble
with the elderly and the sick.
Strengthen our faith as your disciples
always attentive to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Send us as your happy missionaries
That all our peoples may adore
\in you the Father through the Holy Spirit.
To Mary, your Mother and our Mother,
Our Lady of Guadalupe, Woman clothed with the sun,
we entrust the pilgrim People of God
at the beginning of the third Christian Millennium.

© Fides News Service

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