The Special Council for America of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Catholic Bishops met at Rome October 27-28. The meeting reflected upon new evangelisation, schemes, inter-religious dialogue, and the situation of the Catholic Church and society in various parts of the American continents and the Caribbean.
The bishops reflected on the Apostolic Exhortation known as "Ecclesia in America , which was issued by the deceased Pope John Paul II in 1992 in Mexico City.
"'Ecclesia in America' reformulates for the Americas the criteria used to evaluate non-Christian religions, as expressed by Vatican Council II Declaration 'Nostra Aetate'", the note reads. According to those criteria "the Catholic Church, while affirming the specific originality of Christianity, does not reject anything that is true and holy in non-Christian religions". Besides religions that are based in aboriginal American traditions, as well as those brought from Africa centuries ago, Islam is also now a factor in countries of South America long imbued with the Catholic faith.
"In the field of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, there is sometimes a certain level of interference by States which, while proclaiming themselves as secular, to all intents and purposes tend to consider the Catholic Church as just one among many other religious denominations. In this way they ignore her true nature and the incontestable historical role she played in the first evangelisation of the continent, and in the formation of the identity of individual nations".
It continued, " This strategy followed by the civil authorities means that ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue comes to be replaced by the generic concept of 'inter-religious relations'. Thus, not only are all religions considered as spiritual phenomena of equal status, but there is a tendency to see religion as a tool at the service of political life. Nonetheless, the Church in America is determined to continue her ecumenical and inter-religious activities, following the pastoral guidelines laid down by Vatican Council II and subsequent Magisterium". The Magisterium is the body of holy scriptures, tradition, and teachings of the Catholic Church.
The note also highlights the good relations that exist with other Christian confessions, and with non-Christians, especially Jews and Muslims. On the subject of the indigenous religions which existed before the arrival of Christianity, the note explains how "the Catholic Church seeks to discover elements which are compatible with the Gospel, to purify them and integrate them appropriately into the life of local ecclesial communities". The sects, however, represent "the true challenge for the Church in the process of new evangelization", because, "through energetic proselytisation they spread rapidly in the big cities and wherever the Church's presence is weak".
Poverty, violence and the spread of values that fail to respect human life remain a concern. They are seen as being "the negative outcome of the process of secularisation which is extending from north to south". The effects of the earthquake in Haiti still persist, made worse by illness and difficult social conditions. It is to be hoped that concrete solidarity will be forthcoming from governments, international institutions and Church organisations.
Another phenomenon of vast proportions which affects the entire continent is migration. "In this field", the note explains, "the Church is involved in promoting social programmes and religious assistance to migrants, with the aim of favouring cultural integration and social peace. Although it is true that illegal migrants face serious difficulties, there are positive aspects to the phenomenon of migration, which can favour greater integration among different peoples and the unity of the continent".
The note expresses satisfaction at the increased number of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life among men, but highlights that in some areas female religious life is diminishing. However, "there is great readiness to welcome the faith on the part of the new generations".
The note concludes by referring to the positive results of the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, which took place in the Brazilian city of Aparecida in 2007, "raising awareness that the entire Church on the continent must be in a state of mission". It also mentions the positive reception accorded to the "Lineamenta" of the Thirteenth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which is due to be held in the Vatican in October 2012 on the theme: "The new evangelisation for the transmission of the Christian faith".