First Congress of ecclesial movements and new communities in Latin America
One hundred and twenty-two leaders of forty-five movements and new communities from twenty-three Latin American countries gathered together in Bogotá in Colombia to reflect on the figure of the Christian. This was the first Congress of ecclesial movements and new communities in Latin America, and it took place from 9 to 12 March 2006. They were joined by thirty-two bishops, the president of the Latin American Episcopal Council and, representing the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Archbishop Stanisław Ryłko, Bishop Josef Clemens, Guzmán Carriquiry and Roberto Ragusa.
The Congress was organised by the Latin American Episcopal Council in collaboration with our dicastery. Its purpose was to centre reflection on the disciple of Christ because we cannot speak of the new evangelisation without first looking at the kind of person who is called to carry it out. When discussing the challenges that Christians face today, the Congress participants identified three priorities that they agreed to undertake in the name of the ecclesial movements and new communities they were representing.
These priorities were stated in the letter that the participants addressed to the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI at the end of the Congress. In the letter they express their gratitude for the concern with which the Pope had followed the Congress, and for the message that was sent to the participants through Cardinal Sodano. It had given them “a word of guidance” that testified to the “paternal closeness” to the Latin American Church and people shown by the Pope, “an embrace filled with love and hope”.
The first and major priority presented in the letter is Christian education. “The ability of the adult generations to educate their own children is in crisis”, the document tells us. “People live as if truth did not exist, as if the desire for happiness that is deep-rooted in the human heart were to be left without an answer. The influence of this culture also affects the baptised to the extent that it generates Christian personalities that are weak and confused”. Before this challenge, then, movements and new communities offer their own faith development training where they express the originality of their charism, each of which bases the educational process of the person on a specific pedagogy centred on a personal encounter with the living Christ.
The second great need is that of offering to the world a “strong proclamation”. Christian training must always contain a missionary aspect. Mission helps us to fully discover our own baptismal vocation, it keeps us from the temptation to selfishly close in on ourselves, it guards us from the danger of seeing our movements as a kind of refuge where, in a climate of warm friendship, we are protected from the problems of the world. During the Congress, the missionary engagement of ecclesial movements and new communities was illustrated and the undeniable ability they have to reawaken apostolic enthusiasm and missionary courage among the laity. In their letter to the Pope the participants stated that “in this way, we respond to one of the greatest needs of the Church in our times, that is, adult catechesis, understood as authentic Christian initiation that reveals to them the value and beauty of the sacrament of Baptism”.
The movements and new communities appreciate the deep-rooted sense of mystery manifested in popular piety among the peoples of Latin America, and they offer styles of evangelisation that can effectively guide devotion towards the faith development of disciples and missionaries of Christ. It was also seen how naturally and courageously lay movements enter the difficult frontiers of the modern areopagi of culture, of social communications media, of the economy and politics to encourage the building of more dignified ways of life for each and every person. In addition, there was emphasis on the importance of the insertion of the movements and new communities in the local Churches in order to become eloquent signs of the universality of the Church and its mission.
Last but not least is the engagement undertaken by the movements and new communities to give special attention to the suffering, poor and marginalised. In their letter to the Pope they said, “Faced with so many new and old forms of poverty that we live with in Latin America (and that constitute a sharp and worrying contradiction to the Catholic tradition of our peoples), we wish to strive, as taught in the encyclical Deus caritas est, to creatively design and sustain works and projects that will demonstrate the love of God for each person who suffers, and will open ways for the transforming power of charity with regard to the major challenges of greater justice, solidarity, peace and unity in the life of our peoples”.
One of the objectives of the Congress was to offer a contribution to the preparation of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate that is scheduled to take place in Aparecida (Brazil) in May 2007 with the theme “Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ so that the peoples may have life in Him. I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). For this reason, the letter to the Holy Father concludes with, “everywhere we shall strive from now on to encourage exchanges of experience, reflections and proposals that could help towards a path of preparation for this important event”.
The talks and panel discussion contributions will be gathered in the book of proceedings to be published by the Latin American Episcopal Council.