ROSARIO, Argentina – Following a historic meeting of the Catholic Church of Latin America and the Caribbean last November, senior leaders from the region recently traveled to Rome to discuss the fruits of the gathering with Pope Francis.
“We are all very pleased, because Francis blessed our work and efforts,” said Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, Peru, president of the Latin American bishops conference (CELAM). “We met for over an hour and we presented him with the report of the Ecclesial Assembly, the impact it has had and that we project it will have.”
Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera, of Monterrey, Mexico, president of CELAM’s Council for Economic Affairs, said that it was evident during their meeting with Francis Saturday morning that “we can live an effective and affective communion with the Holy Father, who clearly loves Latin America, a region that is in complete sync with him.”
During this encounter, and others with various Vatican officials throughout the week, including Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s top diplomat, the presidency of CELAM was able to “project our path forward with a lot of hope, because we know that Latin America has a long way to go pastorally,” said Cabrera.
Absent with cause was Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes of Managua, Nicaragua, second vice-president of CELAM. Sources told Crux that he missed the trip for two reasons: He’s still struggling to recover from COVID-19, which had him hospitalized and then locked at home during most of 2021, as well as Nicaragua’s ongoing political and social crisis.
“For the past several years, but more so since the pandemic began, his eminence has been trying to stay put as much as possible, close to his people, and safe from any possibility of being banned from his own country,” a source with knowledge of the situation said. Brenes’s auxiliary bishop, Silvio Jose Baez, has been living in exile in Miami for the past two years at Pope Francis’ request following a series of death threats.
Brenes did, however, send a message to Francis, according to Cabrejos.
At the center of conversations in Rome was the first ecclesial assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean held in Mexico City, with participants joining virtually from throughout the continent, in an effort to both foster participation and to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Last November’s encounter, said Argentine Archbishop Jorge Lozano, secretary general of CELAM and Archbishop of San Juan, was a synodal exercise that will help guide the priorities of the regional Church for the near future.
“From a perspective of faith, we had a good encounter with the Successor of Peter, who helps us walk from our love for Jesus Christ and at the service of the people of God,” he said. “He provided us with luminous orientations regarding this time in which the Church is walking the path of synodality.”
There was also discussion about the path that the Latin American and Caribbean Church is taking towards the Synod. The CELAM presidency reiterated its support and ongoing collaboration, in view of the path that has been planned, especially at the continental level.
The prelates and pope also covered the social and political situations of some of the continent’s countries, and the challenges the Church faces as a result.
In Colombia, for instance, bishops, priests and missionaries risk their lives speaking up against organized crime and political corruption. In Guatemala, the bishops have become a lone voice calling for a justice system capable of guaranteeing justice, and where there have been no Supreme Court judges for over 28 months. All across the region, poverty is on the rise.
Among the “fruits” of the Ecclesial Assembly presented to the pope, Lozano highlighted the fact that it featured a “variety of vocations from the people of God,” with participants made up of 20 percent bishops, 20 percent priests and deacons, 20 percent religious men and women and 40 percent lay men and women.
The use of technology, Lozano said, was also striking, since organized managed to connect around 1,000 assembly members from different countries and to have moments of prayer, dialogue, study in addition to presentations.
Another key, he said, was the connection with the universal Church: “We had the presence of representatives of churches of all continents except Africa, due to travel complications.”
Among the meetings in Rome, there was one with the Secretariat of the Synod for Bishops, during which, according to Lozano, they also talked about the experience of the Ecclesial Assembly, because it was a synodal experience that serves as a kick-off at continental level for a Oct. 2023 global synod in Rome.
Lozano knows Pope Francis well, since he was one of his auxiliary bishops for six years when the then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The two had a private conversation before the one Lozano took part in as secretary of CELAM, during which they discussed “our beloved Argentina.” During his conversation with Crux, he preferred not to go into details, only addressing the fact that they had talked about late Cardinal Eduardo Pironio, who as of Saturday is considered a “servant of God” by the Church, one of the steps on the path to sainthood.
Pironio, considered a co-founder of World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II, was an Argentine cardinal, considered papabile during the conclave that elected Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was a member of CELAM’s leadership for eight years, before being summoned to Rome in 1975 by a man he called his friend, Pope Paul VI, to head the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
Lastly, Lozano said, another issue on the agenda, both during these days of meetings in Rome but beyond them, is the role of women in the Church and in society. For the past year, there has been a group of women from different backgrounds- religious and lay women- who have been reflecting on this issue, including the different ministerial roles, opened to women by Francis, including those of catechist and lector.
“Steps are being taken,” Lozano said.
Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma