To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
During Brazil Trip, Benedict Unveils Vision of the Church’s Future
BY ALEJANDRO BERMÚDEZ LATIN AMERICA CORRESPONDENT
Brazil — The headlines were confrontational and political: “Pope slams abortion
and gay unions,” “Pope promises divine justice for drug traffickers,” “Pope to
bishops: Drop ideologies, follow Christ.” But in fact, the frequently
misleading press coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s first trip as Pope to Latin
America provided little guidance about his real priorities on his visit, and
about the light this sheds on his objectives.
The Holy Father personally selected
the Marian shrine of Aparecida as the site for the fifth General Conference of
Latin American Bishops, a gathering that has taken place every 10-15 years
since 1955 with the goal of establishing common pastoral policies for Latin
A small, poor town 100 miles away
from any major city, with tiny hostels serving mostly poor pilgrims, Aparecida
initially seemed unfit to host the conference and the last major public event
of Benedict’s May 9-14 trip to Brazil. The horde of journalists complaining
about not having warm water or Internet at their hotels highlighted Aparecida’s
Nevertheless, after getting
accustomed to the lack of some basic comforts, Latin America’s bishops came to
appreciate the venue that is highly relevant to the history, religious devotion
and the Church’s future in Brazil and Latin America.
Benedict’s choice also served as a
metaphor of the key message during his trip: that living the discipleship of
Christ by knowing the faith and practicing charity is far more important to
Christian life than structures, rules or policies.
“The Holy Father has made it very
clear: Social and cultural reform, from a Catholic perspective, will only come
from men and women who live their faith,” said Colombian Bishop Héctor
Gutiérrez Pabón, commenting on the Pope’s May 13 speech to the Latin American
bishops’ general conference. “No faith: no social, political or cultural
Earlier, while speaking to the
Brazilian bishops, Benedict explained “it is the Pope’s mission to renew in the
hearts of people everywhere that light that does not grow dim, because it seeks
to illumine the depths of every soul that seeks the true good and peace that
the world cannot give.”
“In short, it is not his mission to
be a policeman of doctrine, as some expected from the former prefect of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but to encourage Catholics to be
what they are supposed to be,” one Vatican official said.
“The Holy Father believes that
Catholics must discover, by the preaching and especially the testimony of their
shepherds, that they belong to the Church and that such belonging has
consequences in all levels of their lives,” the official added.
Benedict did address social and
political issues, as media reports highlighted.
He strongly supported the right to
life and marriage in a region where laws and cultural tendencies are becoming
more and more hostile to both. He criticized economic inequalities as well as
ideological distortions of the faith.
The Pope also told drug traffickers
that “God will call you to account for your deeds” during a highly emotional
encounter May 12 with young recovering drug addicts at the Fazenda da
Esperança (Farm of Hope), in the town of Guaratinguetá.
But most of the press accounts
ignored the fact that, at the same encounter, the Holy Father stressed “it is
the conversions, the rediscovery of God and active participation in the life of
the Church that attract even greater attention and that confirm the importance
of your work. It is not enough to care for the body; we must adorn the soul
with the most precious divine gifts acquired through baptism.”
According to Father Hans Stapel, the
German priest who is the founder of the Farm of Hope, the Pope “is one of the
few that has understood what we do here: It is not about a technique, is about
the human person and the relationship of each with God within the Church.”
Speaking to a crowd gathered for his
May 13 Mass at the large esplanade outside the gigantic Marian shrine in
Aparecida, Benedict highlighted his message to Brazilians and other Latin
“The Pope wants to say to all of
you: The Church is our home! This is our home! In the Catholic Church we find
all that is good, all that gives grounds for security and consolation!” the
Holy Father said. “For this reason the Pope has come here to pray and to bear
witness with you all: It is worth being faithful, it is worth persevering in
At the same Mass, Benedict stated
that “the Church does not engage in proselytism. Instead, she grows by
‘attraction’: just as Christ ‘draws all to himself’ by the power of his love,
culminating in the sacrifice of the Cross.”
The simplicity of this message about
God’s love expressed by Christ in the Church seemed to have a magnetic effect
on Brazilian Catholics, who frequently pay little attention to their bishops.
Benedict’s May 10 meeting with
youth, which likely would have attracted massive crowds in any other Latin
American country, was barely able to fill São Paulo’s smallest soccer stadium.
But as the visit continued,
Brazilians warmed to a Pope who spoke to them in their native Portuguese about
a radical message of hope, love and consolation.
Organizers of the final Mass at
Aparecida were surprised to see 300,000 Brazilians in attendance. While the
crowd was below the million-plus numbers that could have been expected in
Mexico, Chile or Argentina, it was far more than the crowd of 70,000 that
organizers originally expected.
“This is the priceless treasure that
is so abundant in Latin America, this is her most precious inheritance: faith
in the God who is Love, who has shown us his face in Jesus Christ. You believe
in the God who is Love: This is your strength that overcomes the world, the joy
that nothing and no one can ever take from you, the peace that Christ won for
you by his Cross!” said the Pope to a cheering crowd during his homily.
“This is the faith that has made America
the ‘Continent of Hope,’” he said. “Not a political ideology, not a social
movement, not an economic system.”
On the afternoon of May 13, hours
before flying back to Rome, Benedict delivered the same message during the
opening speech of the General Conference of Latin American Bishops.
faithful are looking to this fifth conference for renewal and revitalization of
their faith in Christ, our one Teacher and Savior, who has revealed to us the
unique experience of the infinite love of God the Father for mankind,” said the
Pope during his speech, the longest to date of his pontificate.
In his words, the Holy Father
recalled that politics is not the duty of the Church and proposed catechesis,
the family, priests, religious men and women, vocations and youth ministry as
its pastoral priorities.
Said Benedict, “From the faith in
Christ, new paths and creative pastoral plans will be able to emerge, capable
of instilling a firm hope for living out the faith joyfully and responsibly,
and thus spreading it in one’s own surroundings.”
Alejandro Bermúdez filed this report from Aparecida, Brazil.