DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     July 6, 1999     vol. 10, no. 129


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          The Holy Father concluded the Synod of the Americas, begun in November 1997 and capped with his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America released at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City in January this year on the Pope's visit to the Americas. It is the Sovereign Pontiff who has expressed a strong desire to see North, Central and South Americas to be considered "one continent" and he expresses the solidarity, communion and conversion of all nations in the Western Hemisphere in this summation of all that was discussed and decided on between Rome and the Bishops of America at the month-long synod late in 1997. We bring you, over several installments, the entire document since it is pertinent not only to the Bishops and clergy, but to the lay communicants of the Americas. To read the entire document at one time or for footnotes, go to Ecclesia in America. To the right is installment nineteen of ECCLESIA IN AMERICA.

Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America

      From Pope John Paul II to the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, and all the Lay Faithful on the encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America


"By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another"
John 13: 35

    56. The Church's social doctrine also makes possible a clearer appreciation of the gravity of the “social sins which cry to heaven because they generate violence, disrupt peace and harmony between communities within single nations, between nations and between the different regions of the continent”. (205) Among these must be mentioned: “the drug trade, the recycling of illicit funds, corruption at every level, the terror of violence, the arms race, racial discrimination, inequality between social groups and the irrational destruction of nature”. (206) These sins are the sign of a deep crisis caused by the loss of a sense of God and the absence of those moral principles which should guide the life of every person. In the absence of moral points of reference, an unbridled greed for wealth and power takes over, obscuring any Gospel-based vision of social reality.

          Not infrequently, this leads some public institutions to ignore the actual social climate. More and more, in many countries of America, a system known as “neoliberalism” prevails; based on a purely economic conception of man, this system considers profit and the law of the market as its only parameters, to the detriment of the dignity of and the respect due to individuals and peoples. At times this system has become the ideological justification for certain attitudes and behavior in the social and political spheres leading to the neglect of the weaker members of society. Indeed, the poor are becoming ever more numerous, victims of specific policies and structures which are often unjust. (207)

          On the basis of the Gospel, the best response to this tragic situation is the promotion of solidarity and peace, with a view to achieving real justice. For this to happen, encouragement and support must be given to all those who are examples of honesty in the administration of public finances and of justice. So too there is a need to support the process of democratization presently taking place in America, (208) since a democratic system provides greater control over potential abuses.

          “The rule of law is the necessary condition for the establishment of an authentic democracy”. (209) For democracy to develop, there is a need for civic education and the promotion of public order and peace. In effect, “there is no authentic and stable democracy without social justice. Thus the Church needs to pay greater attention to the formation of consciences, which will prepare the leaders of society for public life at all levels, promote civic education, respect for law and for human rights, and inspire greater efforts in the ethical training of political leaders”. (210)

    The ultimate foundation of human rights

    57. It is appropriate to recall that the foundation on which all human rights rest is the dignity of the person. “God's masterpiece, man, is made in the divine image and likeness. Jesus took on our human nature, except for sin; he advanced and defended the dignity of every human person, without exception; he died that all might be free. The Gospel shows us how Christ insisted on the centrality of the human person in the natural order (cf. Lk 12:22-29) and in the social and religious orders, even against the claims of the Law (cf. Mk 2:27): defending men, women (cf. Jn 8:11) and even children (cf. Mt 19:13-15), who in his time and culture occupied an inferior place in society. The human being's dignity as a child of God is the source of human rights and of corresponding duties”. (211) For this reason, “every offense against the dignity of man is an offense against God himself, in whose image man is made”. (212) This dignity is common to all, without exception, since all have been created in the image of God (cf. Gen 1:26). Jesus' answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” (Lk 10:29) demands of each individual an attitude of respect for the dignity of others and of real concern for them, even if they are strangers or enemies (cf. Lk 10:30-37). In all parts of America the awareness that human rights must be respected has increased in recent times, yet much still remains to be done, if we consider the violations of the rights of persons and groups still taking place on the continent.

    Preferential love for the poor and the outcast

    58. “The Church in America must incarnate in her pastoral initiatives the solidarity of the universal Church towards the poor and the outcast of every kind. Her attitude needs to be one of assistance, promotion, liberation and fraternal openness. The goal of the Church is to ensure that no one is marginalized”. (213) The memory of the dark chapters of America's history, involving the practice of slavery and other situations of social discrimination, must awaken a sincere desire for conversion leading to reconciliation and communion.

          Concern for those most in need springs from a decision to love the poor in a special manner. This is a love which is not exclusive and thus cannot be interpreted as a sign of partiality or sectarianism; (214) in loving the poor the Christian imitates the attitude of the Lord, who during his earthly life devoted himself with special compassion to all those in spiritual and material need.

          The Church's work on behalf of the poor in every part of America is important; yet efforts are still needed to make this line of pastoral activity increasingly directed to an encounter with Christ who, though rich, made himself poor for our sakes, that he might enrich us by his poverty (cf. 2 Cor 8:9). There is a need to intensify and broaden what is already being done in this area, with the goal of reaching as many of the poor as possible. Sacred Scripture reminds us that God hears the cry of the poor (cf. Ps 34:7) and the Church must heed the cry of those most in need. Hearing their voice, “she must live with the poor and share their distress. By her lifestyle her priorities, her words and her actions, she must testify that she is in communion and solidarity with them”. (215)

    Foreign debt

    59. The existence of a foreign debt which is suffocating quite a few countries of the American continent represents a complex problem. While not entering into its many aspects, the Church in her pastoral concern cannot ignore this difficult situation, since it touches the life of so many people. For this reason, different Episcopal Conferences in America, conscious of the gravity of the question, have organized study meetings on the subject and have published documents aimed at pointing out workable solutions. (216) I too have frequently expressed my concern about this situation, which in some cases has become unbearable. In light of the imminent Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and recalling the social significance that Jubilees had in the Old Testament, I wrote: “In the spirit of the Book of Leviticus (25:8-12), Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world, proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations”. (217)

          Once more I express the hope, which the Synod Fathers made their own, that the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace together with other competent agencies, such as the Section for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State, “through study and dialogue with representatives of the First World and with the leaders of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, will seek ways of resolving the problem of the foreign debt and produce guidelines that would prevent similar situations from recurring on the occasion of future loans”. (218) On the broadest level possible, it would be helpful if “internationally known experts in economics and monetary questions would undertake a critical analysis of the world economic order, in its positive and negative aspects, so as to correct the present order, and that they would propose a system and mechanisms capable of ensuring an integral and concerted development of individuals and peoples”. (219)

    NEXT MONDAY: Installment twenty - Chapter Five: The fight against corruption

July 6, 1999       volume 10, no. 129


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