Text: Pope Benedict addresses Latin American Bishops Conference

 In the final engagement of his visit to Brazil on Sunday afternoon, Pope Benedict presided at the opening of the Fifth General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Holy Father began his talk by thanking God for "the great gift of the Christian faith to the peoples of this continent." "Faith in God," he said, "has animated the life and culture of these nations for more than five centuries. ... Yet what did the acceptance of the Christian faith mean for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean? For them, it meant knowing and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions. Christ is the Saviour for whom they were silently longing." "In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of His Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture. Authentic cultures are not closed in upon themselves, nor are they set in stone at a particular point in history, ... they are seeking an encounter with other cultures, hoping to reach universality through encounter and dialogue with other ways of life and with elements that can lead to a new synthesis, in which the diversity of expressions is always respected as well as the diversity of their particular cultural embodiment." "The wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them. Hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples." Turning to the subject of globalisation Benedict XVI said that although it had brought some benefits, there was also the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value." "In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in other regions, there has been notable progress towards democracy, although there are grounds for concern in the face of authoritarian forms of government and regimes wedded to certain ideologies that we thought had been superseded, and which do not correspond to the Christian vision of man and society as taught by the Social Doctrine of the Church. On the other side of the coin, the liberal economy of some Latin American countries must take account of equity, because of the ever increasing sectors of society that find themselves oppressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources." The Pope said there was a weakening of Christian life in society overall and of participation in the life of the Catholic Church, due to secularism, hedonism, indifference and proselytism by numerous sects, animist religions and new pseudo-religious phenomena. ... The faithful are looking to this fifth conference for ... new paths and creative pastoral plans, ... capable of instilling a firm hope for living out the faith joyfully and responsibly, and thus spreading it in one's own surroundings." "The first basic point to affirm," the Holy Father said, "is that only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God." The Pope called for the training of more catechists, recommending the Compendium of the Catechism. He said: "we must not limit ourselves solely to homilies, lectures, Bible courses or theology courses, but we must have recourse also to the media: press, radio and television, websites, forums and many other methods for communicating the message of Christ to a large number of people." There was also the need for "social catechesis and a sufficient formation in the social teaching of the Church, for which a very useful tool is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Christian life is not expressed solely in personal virtues, but also in social and political virtues." "In order to form disciples and sustain missionaries in their great task, the Church offers them in addition to the bread of the Word, the bread of the Eucharist. ... Hence the need to give priority in pastoral programs to appreciation of the importance of Sunday Mass" which "must be the centre of Christian life." He said: "Christians should be aware that they are not following a character from past history, but the living Christ, present in the 'today' and the 'now' of their lives. ... The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist calls forth a commitment to evangelization and an impulse towards solidarity; it awakens in the Christian a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear witness to it in the world so as to build a more just and humane society. ... Only from the Eucharist will the civilization of love spring forth which will transform Latin America and the Caribbean, making them not only the continent of hope, but also the continent of love!" The Pope hit out at Marxism and Capitalism which he said had offered false hopes. He explained that both ideologies promised to lead to the creation of just structures, and declared that these, once established, would function by themselves. Both claimed there would be no need for individual morality, because they would promote a communal morality. "This ideological promise has been proved false," the Pope said. "The facts have clearly demonstrated it. The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness. "Just structures," the Holy Father explained, "neither arise nor function without a moral consensus in society on fundamental values, and on the need to live these values with the necessary sacrifices, even if this goes against personal interest. Where God is absent - God with the human face of Jesus Christ - these values fail to show themselves with their full force, nor does a consensus arise concerning them. "I do not mean that non-believers cannot live a lofty and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a society in which God is absent will not find the necessary consensus on moral values or the strength to live according to the model of these values, even when they are in conflict with private interests. "On the other hand, just structures must be sought and elaborated in the light of fundamental values, with the full engagement of political, economic and social reasoning. ... This political task is not the immediate competence of the Church," because "respect for a healthy secularity - including the pluralism of political opinions - is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. "If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. ... Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere." The Holy Father called for more Latin American Catholics to become involved in politics, the media, culture and economics. The Holy Father then encouraged priests "to accomplish their exalted calling," to which end they must possess "a solid spiritual formation" and a life "imbued with faith, hope and charity." At the same time they "must be attentive to their cultural and intellectual preparation." "Latin American and Caribbean society needs your witness," he told religious men and women and consecrated persons. "In a world that so often gives priority to seeking well-being, wealth and pleasure as the goal of life, ... you are witnesses that there is another meaningful way to live." "I remind the lay faithful," he said, "that they too are the Church, the assembly called together by Christ so as to bring His witness to the whole world," and that "they must consider themselves jointly responsible for building society according to the criteria of the Gospel, with enthusiasm and boldness, in communion with their pastors." Noting that "in Latin America the majority of the population is made up of young people, the Pope said: "Young people are not afraid of sacrifice, but of a meaningless life. ... They must also commit themselves to a constant renewal of the world in the light of God. More still, they must oppose the facile illusions of instant happiness and the deceptive paradise offered by drugs, pleasure, and alcohol; and they must oppose every form of violence." "The deliberations of this fifth general conference lead us to make the plea of the disciples on the road to Emmaus our own: 'Stay with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent'," said the Pope as he reached the conclusion of his address. "Stay with us, because ... discouragement is eating its way into our hearts: make them burn with the certainty of Easter. ... Stay with us, Lord, when mists of doubt, weariness or difficulty rise up around our Catholic faith." "You are Life itself: remain in our homes, so that they may continue to be nests where human life is generously born, where life is welcomed, loved and respected from conception to natural death. "Remain, Lord, with those in our societies who are most vulnerable; remain with the poor and the lowly, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their culture and the wisdom of their identity. Remain, Lord, with our children and with our young people, who are the hope and the treasure of our continent. ... O Good Shepherd, remain with our elderly and with our sick. Strengthen them all in faith, so that they may be Your disciples and missionaries!" Source: VIS

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