The Message of Aparecida

In May 2007, Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean region voted overwhelmingly (127-2) to approve a final document calling the region's Catholics to renew their commitment to discipleship and mission and setting directions for the church in the region for the next 10 to 15 years.  The document, more than 100 pages long, was then sent to Pope Benedict XVI, who approved the text now known as the "Aparecida Document," the master plan for the New Evangelization in Latin America.  The experience of Aparecida offers a powerful message of hope and some best practices to pastoral ministers and church leaders.
The Aparecida document has a strong evangelical thrust.  It says that everyone in the Church is baptized to be a missionary.  No one comes out of the baptismal font without a job!  Furthermore, there is no place that is not mission territory.  Everything in the Church must be mission-driven.

The Aparecida document also speaks clearly and positively about the person and role of Jesus Christ.  One can see and hear the person of Pope Benedict XVI on nearly every page of the document.  The raison d'etre of evangelization is to foster friendship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God who reveals both the face of the merciful Father and the truth about our humanity.

The Aparecida document is not a defensive document.  If Catholics are leaving the Church and finding a spiritual home in Pentecostal communities, it is not the fault of those individual Catholics but of the Church.  The Catholic Church must honestly ask herself what is missing in her presentation of the Gospel and the authentic, full living of the Gospel.  Unless we are blatantly honest without our past errors, current malaise, lack of creativity and inability to connect with the modern world, and without a willingness to fill those gaps, we will continue to witness massive departures of the faithful from the Catholic Church.  The old adage "build it and they will come" must be taken to heart.  Because if we don't build new structures and welcoming places, the people will simply go elsewhere, and those "elsewheres" are often not the most lifegiving places for our people.

The antidotes to our pastoral failures are what the bishops gathered in Aparecida call the necessity of "permanent catechesis": an ongoing encounter with the Lord Jesus, deepened spiritually through Word and Sacrament, the Bible and the Eucharist.
At Aparecida and in the document that now bears the name of that hallowed shrine, bishops promised to defend the poor and excluded, including children, people who are ill or have disabilities, at-risk youths, the elderly, prisoners and migrants. They also pledged to promote formation for Christian politicians and legislators "so they contribute to the building of a just and fraternal society."

Bishops promised that the church will work to ensure "health, food, education, housing and work for all" and to combat the ills of society such as abortion, war, kidnapping, armed violence, terrorism, sexual exploitation, drug trafficking and corruption.

Bishops also affirmed several key elements of liberation theology, even though those two words never appear in the official documents. After nearly thirty years of confusion and controversy, in Aparecida liberation theology's authentic, lasting legacy begins to emerge.

But perhaps the most visible fruit of the Aparecida document was made known to the world on the night of March 13, 2013, when one of the participants in the Aparecida Conference, who was himself one of the architects of the masterful, pastoral teaching, appeared on the loggia of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and was presented to the world with a new name: "Francis."  If you wish to understand what Aparecida was all about, listen to Francis and watch his profound simple gestures.  But more than simply listening and watching, imitate them.  For in the person of Pope Francis, millions who flock to Brazil will have an opportunity to see and hear the message of Aparecida in the flesh.

from Zenit

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