DAILY CATHOLIC    MONDAY     May 17, 1999     vol. 10, no. 95


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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 twelve 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


The bishops as builders of communion

    36. Precisely because it signifies life, communion in the Church must constantly increase. Therefore, the Bishops, remembering that “each of them is the visible principle and foundation of the unity of his particular Church”, (116) cannot but feel duty-bound to promote communion in their dioceses, so that the drive for a new evangelization in America may be more effective. Working in favor of this communion are the structures which the Second Vatican Council called for as a means of supporting the diocesan Bishop's work, and which post-conciliar legislation has spelled out in greater detail. (117) “It is up to the Bishop, with the help of the priests, deacons, religious and lay people to implement a coordinated pastoral plan, which is systematic and participatory, involving all the members of the Church and awakening in them a missionary consciousness”. (118)

          Each Ordinary will make sure to promote among priests and lay faithful the sense that the diocese is the visible expression of the Church's communion, which is formed at the table of the Word and of the Eucharist, around the Bishop in union with the College of Bishops and under its head, the Roman Pontiff. As a particular Church, the diocese is charged with initiating and deepening the encounter of all the members of God's People with Jesus Christ, (119) respecting and fostering that plurality and diversivification which are not obstacles to unity but which give it the character of communion. (120) The spirit of participation and shared responsibility in the working of diocesan structures will certainly be strengthened if the nature of the particular Church is better known and appreciated. (121)

    Deeper communion between the particular Churches

    37. The Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops was the first ever to have gathered Bishops from the entire continent, and it was seen by all as a special grace of the Lord to the pilgrim Church in America. It strengthened the communion which must exist among the ecclesial communities of the continent, making clear to all the need for this communion to grow. Experiences of episcopal communion, more frequent since the Second Vatican Council as a result of the growth of Bishops' Conferences, should be seen as encounters with the living Christ, present in the brothers gathered in his name (cf. Mt 18:20).

          The experience of the Synod showed just as clearly the value of a communion transcending individual Conferences of Bishops. Even though structures for dialogue between Conferences already exist, the Synod Fathers underlined the benefit of inter-American gatherings, such as those sponsored by the Episcopal Conferences of various American countries, as an expression of practical solidarity and a chance to study common challenges to evangelization in America. (122) It would be helpful to specify more exactly the nature of these meetings, so that they may become a better expression of communion among all Bishops. Beyond these more inclusive meetings, it could be useful, whenever circumstances require it, to establish special commissions to explore more deeply issues which concern America as a whole. Areas in which it seems especially necessary “to strengthen cooperation are the sharing of information on pastoral matters, missionary collaboration, education, immigration and ecumenism”. (123)

          The Bishops, whose duty it is to promote communion among the particular Churches, should encourage the faithful to live this communion more and more, and to assume the “responsibility of developing bonds of communion with the local Churches in other areas of America through education, the exchange of information, fraternal ties between parishes and dioceses, and projects involving cooperation and joint intervention in questions of greater importance, especially those affecting the poor”. (124)

    Fraternal communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches

    38. The recent phenomenon of the establishment and development in America of Eastern Catholic particular Churches, with their own hierarchy, was a matter of special attention on the part of some Synod Fathers. A genuine desire to embrace, in ways both cordial and practical, these brethren in the faith and in hierarchical communion under the Successor of Peter led the Synod to propose concrete ways for the particular Churches of the Latin rite to offer fraternal assistance to the Eastern Catholic Churches throughout the continent. Thus, for example, the possibility was raised that Latin rite priests, especially those with Eastern roots, might offer liturgical assistance to Eastern communities which do not have enough priests of their own. Likewise, with regard to sacred buildings, the Eastern faithful could use Latin rite Churches wherever this seems appropriate.

          In this spirit of communion, it is worth considering a few proposals of the Synod Fathers: namely, that — where necessary — mixed commissions charged with studying common pastoral problems be created in national Episcopal Conferences and in international agencies for cooperation among Bishops; that catechesis and theological formation for lay people and seminarians of the Latin Church include knowledge of the living tradition of the Christian East; that the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches participate in the Latin Episcopal Conferences of the different countries. (125) This fraternal cooperation, while offering valuable help to the Eastern Churches of recent foundation in America, will certainly also enrich the particular Churches of the Latin rite with the spiritual heritage of the Eastern Christian tradition.

    NEXT MONDAY: Installment thirteen - Chapter Four: The priesthood as a sign of unity

May 10, 1999       volume 10, no. 91


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