After the speeches of over forty bishops in three days, the Synod atmosphere was percolating with tension until the Holy Father added some humor to the gathering today. By mimicking Charlie Chaplin's antics with his cane, he recalled his previous use of this comic routine before millions of delighted Filipinos in Manila some years ago. This provoked a spontaneous and unanimous burst of laughter among the Synod members, and helped them face the many difficulties which have been brought to the fore during their discussions.
The first sessions have made it very clear that the goal of this first Synod of the Church in both North and South America consists in facing together problems which are becoming ever more common between the two, due to the impact of the phenomena of external debt, social injustice, religious indifference, disintegration of the family, the propagation of the "culture of death," superficiality in the means of communications, immigration, etc.
The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, presented the assembly with a curious poll which he made among the missionaries whom his archdiocese has sent to work in Latin America, in order to understand what are the most urgent needs and problems of the other part of the continent, the "far-away neighbor". All the priests interviewed offered practically the same list when asked precisely which evils Latin-American Catholics complained about.
In the first place, the missionaries mentioned the aggressive campaign of proselytism by the sects, financed on occasions by groups in the United States. In second place, they referred to the crisis of family life and matrimony. Third place went to denouncing the cultivation, sale, and consumption of drugs. All stressed the urgent need the people have of an adequate religious formation. Finally they all recognized that material poverty has continued to be an authentic tragedy for their faithful.
After receiving these results from his poll, the cardinal was surprised, since these dramatic needs are also found in his own archdiocese, in the United States, although on occasions they are manifested in different ways. According to Cardinal Bevilacqua, the conclusions to be drawn from this study are very clear: it is necessary to launch a new cooperative effort among the churches of the whole Continent; a cooperative effort, which until now has not existed.
This new work is more urgent than ever because of various phenomena, above all, because of the increased immigration of Hispanics into the United States. According to the United States Census Bureau, there are now 28 million resident Latin-Americans in the country, or 10 population of the population. By the year 2050, there will be 88 million, or 23 percent of the population. By 2030, Hispanics will account for 60 percent of the population increase in the United States. Meanwhile the growth of the non-Hispanic white population is expected to continue to level off, if not decrease.
Another factor that favors cooperation between the North and South is the enormous power of cultural homogenization which the means of social communications have among the Hispanic immigrants of North America. Experience shows that this influence instills materialistic values that undermine the practice of their Catholic faith. These facts will transform the face of Catholicism in America by the middle of the next century.
Mutual cooperation is a point of discussion for the whole Church in America, according to Cardinal Bevilacqua. Considering that the Synod is a unique opportunity to promote unity among the Church in the two hemispheres, he proposed the creation of commissions of bishops of the two hemispheres which would confront concrete challenges, for example, the proselytizing activities of non-Catholic groups, or the crisis of the family.
To respond to these challenges, Archbishop Pedro Rubrano Saenz of Bogata proposed that the churches of Latin America regularly send priests to the United States and Canada for a specific period of time to provide pastoral leadership for the Hispanics of those countries. He also recognized that it is necessary to share resources. According to the Colombian primate, the most serious problem in America is not so much a lack of priestly vocations as their poor distribution.
In this context, Archbishop Oscar Andres Rodriguez, president of CELAM, proposed the creation of an organization similar to "Adveniat", a charitable association for the Catholic communities of Latin America founded 36 years ago by the Church in Germany. This new organization, created with the contribution of the most powerful country in the world would augment the pastoral strength of the Churches in the South.
For its part, in Latin America, "where no one is so poor that he can't give," Archbishop Rodriguez thought it necessary to create another institution with similar characteristics with contributions from the 22 episcopal conferences that make up CELAM.
Bishop Luis Morales Reyes, president of the Mexican episcopal conference, proposed the writing and promulgation of an encyclical on "economic and globalization ethics," because he says that "the word of the Pope would be decisive to steer the process in the right direction for the welfare of all people."
But the Church will not be able to respond to these challenges if she is not united. In his contribution, Cardinal Eugenio Araujo Sales of Rio de Janeiro, a presiding delegate of the Synod, recalled that every particular Church of the Continent should take care to be an expression of the universal Church. According to the cardinal, the Pope-- perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity-- has the right and the duty to defend pastors against tendencies toward division, as well as to protect the faithful against the shocking negligence of pastors. This is a right of the faithful and a duty of the Pope. In concrete terms, the cardinal of Rio was referring to the enormous impact that the cases of division in the Church have, thanks to the media.
A significant detail in this regard: Cardinal James Hickey of Washington proposed that the seminarians of the United States learn Spanish and Latin as a sign of their communion with the whole Church.