VATICAN CITY — The solution to the issues plaguing the American continent is to renew faith in Christ, Pope Benedict XVI said as he helped open a conference on the Church in the Americas.
“A renewed missionary spirit and zealous generosity in your commitment will be an irreplaceable contribution to what the universal Church expects and needs from the Church in America,” Pope Benedict said.
He made his remarks to participants in the Dec. 9-12 international Ecclesia in America Congress, who were gathered in St. Peter’s Basilica after the conference’s opening Mass.
The congress’ aim is to improve relationships between the Church in North, Central and South America and to discuss the New Evangelization. It has 200-plus participants, including cardinals from Toronto, Boston, Guadalajara, Santo Domingo and Tegucigalpa, as well as bishops and archbishops from across the region. Other attendees include vowed religious, members of the Roman Curia and residents of the pontifical colleges from the region that are in Rome.
The gathering was organized by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus in collaboration with the Institute for Guadalupan Studies.
Pope Benedict remarked that promoting a culture that respects human dignity is a matter of “fundamental urgency” in the American continent, due to the “widespread mentality that tends to attack the dignity of the person and damage the institution of marriage and family.”
“Painful situations of emigration” — especially when associated with organized crime, drug trafficking and arms dealing — are of chief concern to the Americas, as are “inequalities and areas of poverty caused by questionable economic, political and social measures,” the Pope added.
Although the solution to these problems requires “careful study,” the Pope said, “the Catholic Church is convinced that the light for an adequate solution can only come from the encounter with the living Christ, which gives rise to attitudes and ways of acting based on love and truth.”
“This is the decisive force which will transform the American continent,” he stated. “The love of Christ impels us to devote ourselves without reserve to proclaiming his name throughout America, bringing it freely and enthusiastically to the hearts of all its inhabitants.”
For this reason, Pope Benedict explained, Catholics in the Americas should “take up this commitment” by encouraging men and women religious and laity to “purify and strengthen their interior lives ever more fully through a sincere relationship with the Lord and a worthy and frequent reception of the sacraments.”
“In effect, Jesus Christ’s love and the power of his grace must take root ever more intensely in the hearts of the people, families and Christian communities of your nations to allow them to progress with dynamism along the paths of harmony and fair progress,” the Pope said.
Proper catechesis and doctrinal formation “marked by complete fidelity to the word of God and the Church’s magisterium” were also named by the Pope as essential to forming a response to “the deepest questions and aspirations of the human heart.”
He entrusted the renewal of the Americas to the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe, calling her a “model of openness to God’s grace and perfect concern for others.”
At the Mass that opened the conference, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, delivered a homily encouraging creative unity to advance the New Evangelization.
“(T)here will not be a radiant and missionary Church in America without a solidarity that is more concrete and creative between the north and the south of the continent,” the cardinal said in his homily at a Dec. 9 Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal Ouellet invoked famous American statues like Christ the Redeemer on Rio de Janeiro’s Corcovado Mountain. That statue’s outstretched arms, he said, “beckon us to remain faithful to the courage of the missionaries, to the perseverance of the saints and to the blood of martyrs who have made America a sacred land.”
The summit marks the 15th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s 1999 apostolic exhortation of the same name, which he delivered in Mexico City in response to a special Synod of Bishops on the Catholic Church in the Americas.
Cardinal Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec, said that synod marked “a milestone in reconciliation and effective collaboration” between the Catholic dioceses of North and South America.
He urged the Catholic Church in America to hear that synod’s call “to conversion, communion and solidarity.” He said the 1999 synod has been “revitalized” by the 2012 Synod on the New Evangelization.
Cardinal Ouellet asked congress participants to look to Jesus Christ as they seek to address the issues confronting the Church in the Americas.
“God decided to save his people and to lead them along smoothed paths toward the glory of his Kingdom,” the cardinal said in his homily. “This is why Christ pitched his tent in America, especially among the poor, and he has established his home of glory among those who share his love.”
“There has never been a living Church without a permanent conversion of its members to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; there cannot be a living Church without a deep and frequent communion to the body of Christ, the gushing and crystalline source of its unity,” he continued.
The cardinal said the challenges facing Catholics in the Americas should be approached “with the audacity of children of God who rely on his grace.”
The presence of the congress participants, he said, is “a plea to the Holy Spirit for the necessary conversion of our Churches to communion and solidarity among all.”