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Voices Online Edition
Spring 1999
Volume XIV, No 1

Pope John Paul II
Ecclesia in America

During his visit to Mexico City in January, Pope John Paul II made public his post-synodal apostolic letter, Ecclesia in America. The Synod for America, held in 1997, was a meeting of all bishops from the continents of North and South America. The letter consists of five chapters focused on the particular challenges and responsibilities of the Church in the Western Hemisphere.

The Holy Father stressed the need to recognize the true source of the Catholic faith in Scripture and the Sacraments of the Church, especially in the Eucharist; and the obligation of all Catholics in the Americas to follow the example of Jesus in solidarity with the poor, the oppressed, the unborn and the elderly. He spoke of the need for prayer and confession of sin for our own salvation and as preparation to assume our responsibility to evangelize our culture to convert a "culture of death" into a "civilization of love". Urging a renewed and deepened spirituality and authentic "inculturation" of traditional piety, the Pope warned against synchretism and relativism.

Following are excerpts from Chapter IV concerning the role of families in the "new evangelization"; and from Chapter V, on the importance of education in the mission of the Church, concluding with a prayer for families. (Footnotes have been omitted.)

The Holy Father concluded his apostolic visit to America with a brief visit to St. Louis January 26-27, where he met with young Catholics, conducted an ecumenical prayer service at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, and celebrated the largest-ever indoor Mass, attended by 104,000 Catholics. Ed.

Chapter IV
The Path to Communion

Challenges facing Christian families
46. God the Creator, by forming the first man and woman and commanding them to 'be fruitful and multiply' (Gen. 1:28), definitively established the family. In this sanctuary life is born and is welcomed as God's gift. The word of God, faithfully read in the family, gradually builds it up as a Domestic Church and makes it fruitful in human and Christian virtues; it is there that the source of vocations is to be found. Marian devotion, nourished by prayer, will keep families united and prayerful with Mary, like the disciples of Jesus before Pentecost (cf. Acts 1:14). Many insidious forces are endangering the solidity of the institution of the family in most countries of America, and these represent so many challenges for Christians. Among them we should mention the increase in divorce, the spread of abortion, infanticide and the contraceptive mentality. Faced with this situation, we need to reaffirm "that the foundation of human life is the conjugal relationship between husband and wife, a relationship which, between Christians, is sacramental".

Hence there is urgent need of a broad catechetical effort regarding the Christian ideal of conjugal communion and family life, including a spirituality of fatherhood and motherhood. Greater pastoral attention must be given to the role of men as husbands and fathers, as well as to the responsibility which they share with their wives for their marriage, the family and the raising of their children. Also required is a serious preparation of young people for marriage, one which clearly presents Catholic teaching on this sacrament at the theological, anthropological and spiritual levels. On a continent like America, characterized by significant population growth, there needs to be a constant increase of pastoral initiatives directed to families.

In order to be a true "domestic church" the Christian family needs to be a setting in which parents hand down the faith, since they are "for their children, by word and example, the first heralds of the faith". Families should not fail to set time aside for prayer, in which spouses are united with each other and with their children. There is a need to encourage shared spiritual moments such as participating in the Eucharist on Sundays and Holy Days, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, daily prayer in the family and practical signs of charity. This will strengthen fidelity in marriage and unity in families. In such a family setting it will not be difficult for children to discover a vocation of service in the community and the Church, and to learn, especially by seeing the example of their parents, that family life is a way to realize the universal call to holiness.

Young people, the hope of the future
47. Young people are a great force in society and for evangelization. They "represent quite a large part of the population in many nations of America. On their encounter with the living Christ depends the hope and expectation of a future of greater communion and solidarity for the Church and society in America". The particular Churches throughout the continent are clearly making real efforts to catechize young people before Confirmation and to offer them other kinds of support in developing their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Gospel. The formation process for young people must be constant and active, capable of helping them to find their place in the Church and in the world. Consequently, youth ministry must be one of the primary concerns of Pastors and communities. ...

Leading children to encounter Christ
48. Children are God's gift and a sign of his presence. "There is a need to accompany children in their encounter with Christ, from Baptism to First Communion, since they are part of the living community of faith, hope and love". The Church is grateful for the efforts of parents, teachers, pastoral, social and health care workers, and all those who seek to serve the family and children with the same attitude as Jesus Christ who said: "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:4).

The Synod Fathers rightly deplored and condemned the painful condition of many children throughout America who are denied their dignity, their innocence and even their life. "This condition includes violence, poverty, homelessness, lack of adequate health care and education, the harm inflicted by drugs and alcohol, and other states of neglect and abuse". In this regard, special mention was made during the Synod of the problem of the sexual abuse of children and child prostitution, and the Fathers made an urgent appeal "to all those holding authority in society, that, as a priority, they do all in their power to alleviate the suffering of children in America".

Chapter VI
The Mission of the Church in America Today: The New Evangelization

The importance of catechesis
69. The new evangelization in which the whole continent is engaged means that faith cannot be taken for granted, but must be explicitly proposed in all its breadth and richness. This is the principal objective of catechesis, which, by its very nature, is an essential aspect of the new evangelization. ...

It is to be hoped that both [the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the General Directory for Catechesis] will be employed "in the preparation and the evaluation of all parochial and diocesan programs of catechesis, bearing in mind that the religious situation of young people and adults calls for a catechesis which is more kerygmatic and more organic in its presentation of the contents of the faith"....

Evangelizing centers of education
71. Education can play an outstanding role in promoting the inculturation of the Gospel. Nonetheless, Catholic centers of education, and those which, although non-denominational, are clearly inspired by Catholic principles, will be able to engage in authentic evangelization only if at all levels "including that of the university" they clearly preserve their Catholic orientation. The content of the education they impart should make constant reference to Jesus Christ and His message as the Church presents it in her dogmatic and moral teaching. Only in this way will they train truly Christian leaders in the different spheres of human activity, and in society, especially in politics, economics, science, art and philosophical reflection. Hence, "it is essential that the Catholic university be truly both things at once: a university and Catholic. Its Catholic character is an essential element of the university as an institution, and therefore does not depend simply on the decision of the individuals who govern the university at any particular time". Pastoral work in Catholic universities will therefore be given special attention: it must encourage a commitment to the apostolate on the part of the students themselves, so that they can become the evangelizers of the university world. In addition, "cooperation between Catholic universities throughout America needs to be encouraged, for their mutual enrichment"; this will help put into effect, at the university level too, the principle of solidarity and interchange between the peoples of the whole continent.

Something similar must also be said about Catholic schools, particularly with regard to secondary education: "A special effort should be made to strengthen the Catholic identity of schools, whose specific character is based on an educational vision having its origin in the person of Christ and its roots in the teachings of the Gospel. Catholic schools must seek not only to impart a quality education from the technical and professional standpoint, but also and above all provide for the integral formation of the human person. Given the importance of the work done by Catholic educators, I join the Synod Fathers in gratefully encouraging all those devoted to teaching in Catholic schools "priests, consecrated men and women and committed lay people" "to persevere in their most important mission". The influence of these educational centers should extend to all sectors of society, without distinction or exclusion. It is essential that every possible effort be made to ensure that Catholic schools, despite financial difficulties, continue to provide "a Catholic education to the poor and the marginalized in society". It will never be possible to free the needy from their poverty unless they are first freed from the impoverishment arising from the lack of adequate education. In the overall work of the new evangelization, the educational sector occupies a place of honor. For this reason, the activity of all Catholic teachers, including those working in non-denominational schools, should be encouraged. I also make an urgent appeal to men and women religious not to abandon this field which is so important for the new evangelization.

As a fruit and an expression of the communion existing between all the particular Churches of America, certainly strengthened by the spiritual experience of the Synodal Assembly, an effort must be made to promote gatherings of Catholic educators at the national and continental levels, in an attempt to coordinate and expand the educational apostolate in every context.

To carry out these tasks, the Church in America requires a degree of freedom in the field of education; this is not to be seen as a privilege but as a right, in virtue of the evangelizing mission entrusted to the Church by the Lord. Furthermore, parents have a fundamental and primary right to make decisions about the education of their children; consequently, Catholic parents must be able to choose an education in harmony with their religious convictions. The function of the State in this area is subsidiary; the State has the duty "to ensure that education is available to all and to respect and defend freedom of instruction. A State monopoly in this area must be condemned as a form of totalitarianism which violates the fundamental rights which it ought to defend, especially the right of parents to provide religious education for their children. The family is the place where the education of the person primarily takes place".

Prayer to Jesus Christ for the families of America
76. I therefore invite all the Catholics of America to take an active part in the evangelizing initiatives which the Holy Spirit is stirring in every part of this immense continent, so full of resources and hopes for the future. In a special way, I invite Catholic families to be "domestic Churches", in which the Christian faith is lived and passed on to the young as a treasure, and where all pray together. If they live up to the ideal which God places before them, Catholic homes will be true centers of evangelization.

In concluding this Apostolic Exhortation, in which I have taken up the proposals of the Synod Fathers, I gladly welcome their suggestion to compose a prayer for the families of America. I invite individuals, communities and ecclesial groups, wherever two or more gather in the Lord's name, to strengthen through prayer the spiritual bond between all American Catholics. Let everyone join in the prayer of the Successor of Peter, invoking Christ who is "the way of conversion, communion and solidarity in America":

We thank you, Lord Jesus, because the Gospel of the Father's love, with which you came to save the world, has been proclaimed far and wide in America as a gift of the Holy Spirit that fills us with gladness.

We thank you for the gift of your Life, which you have given us by loving us to the end: your Life makes us children of God, brothers and sisters to each other. Increase, O Lord, our faith and our love for you, present in all the tabernacles of the continent.

Grant us to be faithful witnesses to your Resurrection for the younger generation of Americans, so that, in knowing you, they may follow you and find in you their peace and joy. Only then will they know that they are brothers and sisters of all God's children scattered throughout the world.

You who, in becoming man, chose to belong to a human family, teach families the virtues which filled with light the family home of Nazareth. May families always be united, as you and the Father are one, and may they be living witnesses to love, justice and solidarity; make them schools of respect, forgiveness and mutual help, so that the world may believe; help them to be the source of vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life, and all the other forms of firm Christian commitment. Protect your Church and the Successor of Peter, to whom you, Good Shepherd, have entrusted the task of feeding your flock. Grant that the Church in America may flourish and grow richer in the fruits of holiness.

Teach us to love your Mother, Mary, as you loved her. Give us strength to proclaim your word with courage in the work of the new evangelization, so that the world may know new hope.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother of America, pray for us!

Given at Mexico City, January 22, in the year 1999, the twenty-first of my Pontificate.

Joannes Paulus II

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