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 sixteen 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
Installment Sixteen of ECCLESIA IN AMERICA: CHAPTER FOUR: THE PATH TO COMMUNION
CHALLENGES FACING CHRISTIAN FAMILIES
46. “God the Creator, by forming the first man and woman and commanding them to 'be fruitful and multiply'
(Gen 1:28), definitively established the family. In this sanctuary life is born and is welcomed as God's gift.
The word of God, faithfully read in the family, gradually builds it up as a domestic church and makes it
fruitful in human and Christian virtues; it is there that the source of vocations is to be found. Marian
devotion, nourished by prayer, will keep families united and prayerful with Mary, like the disciples of Jesus
before Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14)”. (174) Many insidious forces are endangering the solidity of the institution
of the family in most countries of America, and these represent so many challenges for Christians. Among
them we should mention the increase in divorce, the spread of abortion, infanticide and the contraceptive
mentality. Faced with this situation, we need to reaffirm “that the foundation of human life is the conjugal
relationship between husband and wife, a relationship which, between Christians, is sacramental”. (175)
Hence there is urgent need of a broad catechetical effort regarding the Christian ideal of conjugal
communion and family life, including a spirituality of fatherhood and motherhood. Greater pastoral attention
must be given to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as to the responsibility which they share
with their wives for their marriage, the family and the raising of their children. Also required is a serious
preparation of young people for marriage, one which clearly presents Catholic teaching on this sacrament
at the theological, anthropological and spiritual levels. On a continent like America, characterized by
significant population growth, there needs to be a constant increase of pastoral initiatives directed to
In order to be a true “domestic church” (176) the Christian family needs to be a setting in which parents
hand down the faith, since they are “for their children, by word and example, the first heralds of the faith”.
(177) Families should not fail to set time aside for prayer, in which spouses are united with each other and
with their children. There is a need to encourage shared spiritual moments such as participating in the
Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer in the family
and practical signs of charity. This will strengthen fidelity in marriage and unity in families. In such a family
setting it will not be difficult for children to discover a vocation of service in the community and the Church,
and to learn, especially by seeing the example of their parents, that family life is a way to realize the
universal call to holiness. (178)
Young people, the hope of the future
47. Young people are a great force in society and for evangelization. They “represent quite a large part of
the population in many nations of America. On their encounter with the living Christ depends the hope and
expectation of a future of greater communion and solidarity for the Church and society in America”. (179)
The particular Churches throughout the continent are clearly making real efforts to catechize young people
before Confirmation and to offer them other kinds of support in developing their relationship with Christ and
their knowledge of the Gospel. The formation process for young people must be constant and active,
capable of helping them to find their place in the Church and in the world. Consequently, youth ministry must
be one of the primary concerns of Pastors and communities.
In fact, while many young people in America are searching for true meaning in life and are thirsting for God,
quite often they lack the conditions needed to take advantage of their abilities and realize their aspirations.
Unfortunately, unemployment and the lack of prospects for the future lead them at times to withdrawal and
to violence. The resulting sense of frustration not infrequently leads them to abandon the search for God.
Faced with this complex situation, “the Church is committed to maintaining her pastoral and missionary
commitment to young people, so that they will encounter today the living Jesus Christ”. (180)
In her pastoral activity the Church reaches a great number of adolescents and young people through
programs for Christian families, catechesis, Catholic educational institutions and community life in parishes.
But there are many others, especially among those affected by various kinds of poverty, who remain
outside the range of the Church's activity. Young Christians, trained to have a mature missionary
consciousness, must become apostles to their contemporaries. There is need for pastoral outreach to
young people wherever they are found: in schools, universities, the workplace, the countryside, with
appropriate adaptation to their particular inclinations. At the parish and diocesan level it would be helpful
also to develop a pastoral outreach that takes account of the changing world of young people. Such an
effort should seek to engage them in dialogue, take advantage of favorable occasions for meetings on a
larger scale, encourage local initiatives and make the most of programs already in place at the interdiocesan
and international levels.
And what of those young people who do not grow out of their adolescent attitudes and find it difficult to
take on serious and lasting responsibilities? In response to this lack of maturity, young people need to be
invited to have courage and they need to be trained to appreciate the value of life-long commitments such
as the priesthood, consecrated life and Christian married life. (181)
NEXT MONDAY: Installment seventeen - Chapter Four: Leading children to encounter Christ