MEXICO CITY — A meeting of Church leaders from North, South and Central America considered the region’s common blessings and challenges, highlighting the importance of evangelization rooted in the love of Christ.
In a culture that grows increasingly hostile to the faith, we see a shift from “a strong cultural Catholicism to an ‘intentional Catholicism,’” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston.
“The transition … urgently requires a new type of evangelization and a new apologetics that will respond to the questions that people have,” he explained. “To continue to do things as we have in the past simply no longer works.”
Cardinal José Robles Ortega of Guadalajara, Mexico, added that faith cannot be reduced to a set of cultural traditions or moral teachings, but must remain centered on an encounter with a living person, Jesus Christ.
The cardinals addressed hundreds of bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders from across the Americas, gathered in Mexico City Nov. 16-19 for the conference “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Star of the New Evangelization on the American Continent.”
Sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, the Knights of Columbus, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Higher Institute of Guadalupan Studies, the pilgrimage and meeting built on a similar gathering in Rome last year, exploring the Church’s mission throughout the Americas.
The event was held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City, where the 500-year-old image of the Virgin Mary is displayed on the tilma of St. Juan Diego.
Speakers at the gathering described the dire effects of poverty in some regions of the Americas, as well as the devastating consequences of drug trafficking.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia called Church leaders to an honest and self-critical evaluation of their own responsibility to spread the Gospel. He explained that the biggest obstacles to the New Evangelization are interior: “our pride, our cowardice, our lack of trust in the promises of God.”
Pointing to the emptiness and thirst for meaning present in the modern world, the archbishop underscored that “programs and techniques don’t convert the human heart. Only the witness of other people can do that.”
Evangelization, he said, “needs to involve more than passing along good doctrine. It needs to lead our people — including the well-catechized — to embrace Jesus Christ and his teaching in a new, more personal way.”
The influence of the first pope from the Americas was discussed at length. Although Pope Francis did not attend the gathering, speaker after speaker referenced his call to build a “culture of encounter.”
The Holy Father addressed participants in a video message, encouraging them to “reach the existential peripheries that need to feel the closeness of God.”
He cautioned against a self-referential attitude, warning that, when the Church becomes self-satisfied and focused inward, it grows weak. Rather, “the goal of all pastoral activity is always oriented to the missionary impulse to reach everyone, without excluding anyone.”
Patience and Creativity
Evangelization requires patience and creativity in order to share the joy of Christ with others, the Pope said, noting that the “essential” message of God’s love must be conveyed before new obligations can be presented.
“Remember that you have received baptism, that you have been transformed into disciples of the Lord,” he added. “But each disciple is, in turn, a missionary.”
The theme of being “missionary disciples” was picked up by Archbishop Orani João Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro, who stressed that evangelization must flow from a personal encounter with Christ.
Church leaders must have pastoral hearts and be close to the people, aware of their needs and struggles, he said.
He also emphasized the need to reach out to the youth, in order to help them “rediscover the value and the joy of the faith.” This requires an effort to meet young people, understand their perspectives and help foster an encounter with Christ.
The laity must also play an important role in the New Evangelization in the Americas, said Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.
“The family as ‘domestic Church’ is both the subject and the object of the New Evangelization,” he said, calling for “a new and authentic evangelization of marriage and family ... more systematic than anything yet experienced in our hemisphere.”
After listening to the preliminary speakers, conference participants divided up into 14 working groups, composed of clergy, religious and lay leaders, to discuss various topics of relevance to the Church in the Americas. Each group compiled observations and proposals, which were presented in a report to the full body of the conference, with a brief period for discussion.
Topics covered by the work groups included poverty, migration, interreligious dialogue, the need for well-formed Catholics in political life, the role of popular piety in the Church and the important role of consecrated life.
One group examined marriage and family, recommending the creation of an international day of the elderly to foster intergenerational solidarity, as well as better marriage preparation and efforts to fight pornography.
Another group focused on Catholic education, stressing that a personal encounter with Christ must be at the core of Catholic schools and universities, enlightening all other academic pursuits.
A group on communications pointed to a need for both Catholic media to encourage an encounter with Christ and support networks for Catholics in secular media, who can serve as missionary disciples, sharing the Gospel in their field.
Mary as an Example of Evangelization
Throughout the four-day conference, a particular emphasis was placed on Mary as an example of evangelization.
Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City observed that “Our Lady of Guadalupe touches the hearts of all human beings, irrespective of cultures, languages and traditions.”
“She knows how to place Jesus Christ at the center of every heart, so that it may beat with the very life of God himself. It is because of this that she is the star of the first and new evangelization,” he said at Mass on Nov 16.
Msgr. Eduardo Chávez, director of the Higher Institute of Guadalupan Studies, noted that Mary, the Queen of Heaven, subjected herself to the authority of the bishop. When he refused to believe Juan Diego’s story and asked for a sign, Mary patiently granted one so that he might give his approval.
“Nothing shall be done without the authority of the bishop,” Msgr. Chavez stressed.
At the same time, he reflected, Mary could have appeared directly to the bishop, but, instead, chose a humble layman as her messenger. This choice teaches us about the need for clergy and laity working together, each in their own roles for the sake of spreading the Gospel.
After Mass on Nov. 18, a bouquet of golden roses, sent from Pope Francis, was presented to Our Lady of Guadalupe as a gesture of love and gratitude. Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, called on the Blessed Virgin to guide the New Evangelization of the Americas.
“We beg you to visit us again to illumine the path of evangelization in our age, which is so forgetful of God; for you are the living memory of his graces, the pole-star in the heaven of his wonders,” he prayed.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who was recently elected as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Register that the Guadalupe gathering provided a “wonderful occasion” to come together as a united American Church.
“I’m thrilled with this opportunity,” he said, adding that he hopes participants from the United States will hear the ideas being presented about the New Evangelization and “take that message back with enthusiasm to our dioceses and to all over the United States.”
Register correspondent Michelle Bauman is assistant editor of Catholic News Agency.