From our special correspondent
For the participants gathered in Mexico City between Sunday November 21 and 28, it is a source of pride: for the first time an ecclesial assembly is organized – bringing together lay people, priests, religious and bishops – and not yet another meeting of episcopates. For them, the Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean has thus given the the for a Church “Participation”, like the synodality promoted by Pope Francis.
Yet, a few months ago, such an assembly had nothing obvious. Initially, the Latin American Bishops’ Council (Celam) aimed instead to organize a new general conference of bishops in the region, as it usually does every 15 years or so. Fourteen years after the last one, held in Aparecida (Brazil) in 2007, the request seemed legitimate.
But, as Cardinal Odilo Scherer, Archbishop of São Paulo, recounts, when the Celam presidency moved to Rome at the end of 2019 to ask Pope Francis for his approval – he was in his time the secretary of Aparecida -, that- ci refused. “The Pope said that we had to work differently, especially because the Aparecida document still had a lot to offer”, remembers this close friend of François. Celam therefore revised its copy and submitted this proposal for an “ecclesial assembly”, a project accepted this time by Francis. Between present in Mexico City and remote participants, the bishops were only 20% of the thousand participants in this meeting. An identical rate to that of priests and of men and women religious, while the remaining 40% were lay people, i.e. a “Meeting of the people of God”, according to the Pope.
For most of the work, the participants met in groups, divided according to these percentages. “We are listened to, we feel that everyone insists a lot on making room for the voice of young people”, certifies María José López Bolaños, from the youth ministry of Mexico. “I see a lot of welcome, brotherhood, respect and esteem in our discussions”, confirms Sister María Suyapa Cacho Álvarez, yet capable of sharp criticisms against ecclesial attitudes towards black communities in Latin America, of which she herself is a part (read opposite).
Among the participants – many of whom are certainly involved in the various institutions of the Church – it is difficult to find an unsatisfied voice. Just one participant admits that “Some group moderators may have a tendency to monopolize the floor, positioning themselves as ”knowing ””. But, she adds immediately with a smile, “This is not unique to the Church”.
Invited as an observer, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, Archbishop of Luxembourg and President of Comece (Commission of Episcopates of the European Community), said he was ” amazed “ in front of this “Passage from a clerical Church to a Church of participation”. “In Europe, we are very late”, he confides, believing that the bishops of the Old Continent will have to carry out a « double effort » : ” to exchange “ between them and “Open to all”. Otherwise, warns the cardinal, “The Church will disappear”.
Is such an assembly imaginable in Europe? “On my return, I will bring back what I saw”, answers Cardinal Hollerich. He believes that episcopates should learn to “To trust”, in particular to the laity – messalising (1) or not. For him, the continental phase, next year, of the Synod on Synodality will be a ” coaching “, even if it risks being “Imperfect” due to Europe’s lack of experience in this area.
If it gathers widely on its method, the ecclesial assembly must henceforth prove its results, in response to the list of “Pastoral challenges” adopted in conclusion (read the references opposite). Now it’s up to everyone to identify the “Put into practice” of the conclusions of Aparecida, of which the “Fire was in danger of going out”, according to the formula of a Mexican nun in charge within Celam.