The official theme of the 2007 gathering was "Disciples and
missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our people may have life in him."
How much the Aparecida document still matters to Francis is clear from
the fact that he's presented a copy to every Latin American head of
state he's met since becoming pope.
Its heart can be expressed in terms of four big ideas:
- Missionary drive: The church has to take its message to the streets, breaking the traditionally clericalist and passive ethos of Latin American Catholicism. This missionary imperative is not just about rolling back losses to evangelicals and Pentecostals, though that's undeniably part of the background, but it's also about service to humanity and to the environment. From this point of departure, the document calls for a grand "continental mission."
- The "new faces of the poor": Giving priority to migrants and refugees, victims of trafficking, the disappeared, HIV/AIDS sufferers, drug addicts, abused women and children, the disabled, the unemployed, street people, landless peasants, indigenous groups, miners and the "technologically illiterate." It's not a stretch to draw a straight line from this aspect of the Aparecida document and multiple aspects of Francis' papacy, such as his insistence en route to Brazil on Monday that World Youth Days should be about the elderly too, because they too are often victims of what he called a "throw-away culture."
- Liberation theology: Although these words never appear in the document, the ghosts of old battles in Latin American Catholicism over the controversial movement born in the 1960s clearly haunt it. In essence, what Aparecida ratified is a now fairly settled consensus: If "liberation theology" means Marxism and a "church from below" in opposition to the hierarchy, then no; if it means being on the side of the poor, then yes. The phrase the bishops settled on was to confirm the "preferential and evangelical option for the poor," which is a slightly more formal version of Francis's now famous longing for a "poor church for the poor."
- Popular religion: The document frequently invokes the importance of popular devotions in Latin American Catholicism, which is hard to overestimate -- the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, for instance, or Our Lady of Aparecida in Brazil. The document says the "soul of the Latin American peoples" is expressed in these traditions, including "love for the suffering Christ, the God of compassion, pardon and reconciliation," as well as "a God who is close to the poor and those who suffer." This bedrock of popular faith, it says, is a "precious treasure."
If that seems familiar from Francis' first four and a half months, it's because he put it all down on paper six years ago. At the time, many observers wondered what the results of the document might be; as things turned out, it paved the way for a pope.