"In my diocese, there are communities that can only be reached by riding 20 hours on horseback along difficult roads; there are communities where the life expectancy at birth is only 35 years."
The Synod of Bishops for America is producing a veritable cascade of first-hand testimony from all parts of America. This particular quote is from Archbishop Marin Lopez of Popayan, Columbia. His testimony caught the attention of the assembly. "Six months ago in one of these remote communities, where there is no medical service, a woman was expecting her first child. The midwife said, 'The baby can't be born! His head is too big!' Within minutes, the alarm was raised and twenty young men organized themselves into a 'bucket brigade' to carry her six hours to the nearest clinic. They arrived in time, and with a doctor's help, the lives of the mother and child were saved. The people are calling the child 'the son of the community'."
Stories like this have been raising the consciousness of the prelates of the United States, the cardinals of the Roman Curia and the lay people present in the Synodal Assembly. There has been no lack of responses.
Archbishop Marin, for example, said that "it is evident that the persistence of such poverty and exclusion in our continent, which is predominantly Christian, indicates that the weakest aspect of our Church is the living-out of charity." Thus, he proposed that the Pope publish an encyclical on this subject in 1999, the year that the Holy Father himself has designated the "Year of Charity".
Furthermore, Archbishop Marin, who is in Rome at the Pope's explicit request, proposed that every bishop and priest divest himself of half of his personal wealth before the year 2000 as a gesture demonstrating that they practice what they are preaching for the Great Jubilee. The money from these goods could be sent to the Foundation of Populorum Progressio, which is dedicated to promoting small-scale projects among rural, indigenous, and Afro- American communities in Latin America.