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Papal Library

Ecclesia in America

by Catherine Frakas 17 Mar 2021

Ecclesia in America Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation of John Paul II on the Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America January 22, 1999 Introduction Chapter I Chapter II Chapter III Chapter IV Chapter V Chapter VI Conclusion To the Bishops, Priests and Deacons, Men and Women Religious, and all the Lay Faithful Introduction 1. Rejoicing in the faith received and praising Christ for this immense gift, the Church in America has recently celebrated the fifth centenary of the first preaching of the Gospel on its soil. The commemoration made all American Catholics more deeply aware of Christ's desire to meet the inhabitants of the so-called New World so that, gathering them into his Church, he might be present in the continent's history. The evangelization of America is not only a gift from the Lord; it is also a source of new responsibilities. Thanks to the work of those who preached the Gospel through the length and breadth of the continent, countless sons and daughters have been generated by the Church and the Holy Spirit.(1) Now, no less than in the past, the words of the Apostle echo in their hearts: If I preach the Gospel, I have no reason to boast. It is my duty: woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Cor 9:16). This duty is founded on the Risen Lord's command to the Apostles before he ascended into heaven: Preach the Gospel to all creation (Mk 16:15). This command applies to the whole Church; and, in this moment of her history, the Church in America is called to take it up and respond with loving generosity to the fundamental task of evangelization. This was what my Predecessor Paul VI, the first Pope to visit America, stressed at Bogotà: It will be our task, [Lord Jesus], as your representatives and stewards of your divine mysteries (cf. 1 Cor 4:1; 1 Pt 4:10), to spread among men the treasures of your word, your grace, your example.(2) For the disciple of Christ the duty to evangelize is an obligation of love. The love of Christ impels us (2 Cor 5:14), declares the Apostle Paul, recalling all that the Son of God did for us in his redeeming sacrifice: One man has died for all . . . that those who live may live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for their sake (2 Cor 5:14-15). The celebration of anniversaries which evoke in a particular way Christ's love for us stirs in our soul not only a sense of gratitude but also a sense of the need to proclaim the wonders of God, to evangelize. Thus, the recent celebration of the five hundredth anniversary of the coming of the Gospel to America-the moment, that is, when Christ first called America to faith-and the approaching Jubilee, when the Church will celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the Incarnation of the Son of God, are special times when our hearts spontaneously ring out in gratitude to the Lord. Realizing the greatness of the gifts received, the pilgrim Church in America wishes to bring the whole of society and every man and woman to share in the riches of faith and communion in Christ. How the Synod Assembly came about 2. On October 12, 1992, the very day marking the five hundredth anniversary of the first evangelization of America, I spoke at the opening of the Fourth General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo. With the aim of broadening perspectives and giving impetus to the new evangelization, I proposed a synodal meeting, with a view to increased cooperation between the different particular Churches, so that together we might address, as part of the new evangelization and as an expression of episcopal communion, the problems relating to justice and solidarity among all the nations of America.(3) The positive response to my suggestion from the Bishops' Conferences of America enabled me to propose in my Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente a synodal meeting on the problems of the new evangelization in both parts of the same continent, so different in origin and history, and on issues of justice and of international economic relations, in view of the enormous gap between North and South.(4) This paved the way for more immediate preparations, leading to the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, which was held in the Vatican from November 16 to December 12, 1997. The theme of the Assembly 3. In keeping with the original idea, and after listening to the suggestions of the Pre-Synodal Council, which expressed the views of many Pastors of the People of God on the American continent, I announced the theme of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod in these words: Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America. Put this way, the theme makes clear the centrality of the person of the Risen Christ, present in the life of the Church and calling people to conversion, communion and solidarity. The starting-point of such a program of evangelization is in fact the encounter with the Lord. Given by Christ in the Paschal Mystery, the Holy Spirit guides us towards those pastoral goals which the Church in America must attain in the third Christian millennium. The celebration of the Assembly as an experience of encounter 4. It is certain that the Assembly was an experience of encounter with the Lord. I have especially happy memories of the two Solemn Concelebrations at which I presided in Saint Peter's Basilica at the opening and closing of the Assembly proceedings. Contact with the Risen Lord, truly, really and substantially present in the Eucharist, generated the spiritual atmosphere which enabled the Bishops taking part in the Synodal Assembly to see themselves not only as brothers in the Lord but also as members of the College of Bishops, eager to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd under the leadership of the Successor of Peter, and serving the Church as she makes her pilgrim way in every corner of the continent. None could fail to see the joy of the participants, as they found the Assembly an extraordinary moment of encounter with the Lord, with the Vicar of Christ, with so many Bishops, priests, religious and lay people from every part of the continent. To be sure, a number of earlier events contributed in a preliminary but powerful way to creating an atmosphere of fraternal encounter in the Synodal Assembly. First, there were the prior experiences of communion in the General Assemblies of the Bishops of Latin America in Rio de Janeiro (1955), Medellin (1968), Puebla (1979) and Santo Domingo (1992). These were moments when the Pastors of the Church in Latin America were able to reflect together as brothers on the most urgent pastoral questions affecting that part of the continent. There are also the periodic pan-American meetings of Bishops, in which the participants can address issues affecting the entire continent, and exchange views on the common problems and challenges facing the Church in the countries of America. Contributing to the unity of the continent 5. In Santo Domingo, when I first proposed a Special Assembly of the Synod, I remarked that on the threshold of the third Christian millennium and at a time when many walls and ideological barriers have fallen, the Church feels absolutely duty-bound to bring into still deeper spiritual union the peoples who compose this great continent and also, prompted by the religious mission which is proper to the Church, to stir among these peoples a spirit of solidarity.(5) I asked that the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops reflect on America as a single entity, by reason of all that is common to the peoples of the continent, including their shared Christian identity and their genuine attempt to strengthen the bonds of solidarity and communion between the different forms of the continent's rich cultural heritage. The decision to speak of America in the singular was an attempt to express not only the unity which in some way already exists, but also to point to that closer bond which the peoples of the continent seek and which the Church wishes to foster as part of her own mission, as she works to promote the communion of all in the Lord. In the context of the new evangelization 6. With an eye to the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, I was keen that there should be a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for each of the five continents: after the Assembly for Africa (1994), America (1997), Asia (1998) and most recently Oceania (1998), in 1999 there will be, with the Lord's help, a Special Assembly for Europe. This will make possible an Ordinary General Assembly during the Jubilee year, to identify the rich insights which have come from the continental Assemblies and synthesize the conclusions to be drawn from them. That will be possible because similar concerns and points of interest have emerged from all the Synods. In this regard, referring to this series of Synodal Assemblies, I noted how the theme underlying them all is evangelization, or rather the new evangelization, the foundations of which were laid down in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of Pope Paul VI.(6) And so, in both my initial proposal to hold this Special Assembly of the Synod, and later in announcing the Synod itself, and after the Bishops' Conferences of America had agreed to the idea, I suggested that the Assembly's deliberations should address the area of the new evangelization,(7) and the problems emerging from it.(8) This concern was all the more prominent, given that I myself had outlined an initial program for a new evangelization on American soil. As the Church throughout America prepared to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the first evangelization of the continent, when speaking to the Council of Latin American Bishops in Port-au-Prince (Haiti), I had said: The commemoration of the five hundred years of evangelization will achieve its full meaning if it becomes a commitment by you the Bishops, together with your priests and people, a commitment not to a re-evangelization but to a new evangelization-new in ardor, methods and expression.(9) Later, I invited the whole Church to respond to this call, although the program of evangelization, embracing today's world in all its diversity, must take different shape in the light of two quite different situations: on the one hand, the situation of countries strongly affected by secularization, and, on the other, the situation of countries where there are still many vital traditions of piety and popular forms of Christian religiosity.(10) There is no doubt that in varying degrees both these situations are present in different countries or, better perhaps, in different groups within the various countries of the American continent. With the presence and help of the Lord 7. With the command to evangelize which the Risen Lord left to his Church there goes the certitude, founded on his promise, that he continues to live and work among us: I am with you always, to the close of the age (Mt 28:20). The mysterious presence of Christ in his Church is the sure guarantee that the Church will succeed in accomplishing the task entrusted to her. At the same time, this presence enables us to encounter him, as the Son sent by the Father, as the Lord of Life who gives us his Spirit. A fresh encounter with Jesus Christ will make all the members of the Church in America aware that they are called to continue the Redeemer's mission in their lands. If it is genuine, the personal encounter with the Lord will also bring a renewal of the Church: as sisters and neighbors to each other, the particular Churches of the continent will strengthen the bonds of cooperation and solidarity in order that the saving work of Christ may continue in the history of America with ever greater effect. Open to the unity which comes from true communion with the Risen Lord, the particular Churches, and all who belong to them, will discover through their own spiritual experience that the encounter with the living Jesus Christ is the path to conversion, communion and solidarity. To the extent that these goals are reached, there will emerge an ever increasing dedication to the new evangelization of America. Chapter I The Encounter With the Living Jesus Christ We have found the Messiah (Jn 1:41) Encounters with the Lord in the New Testament 8. The Gospels relate many meetings between Jesus and the men and women of his day. A common feature of all these narratives is the transforming power present and manifest in these encounters with Jesus, inasmuch as they initiate an authentic process of conversion, communion and solidarity (11) Among the most significant is the meeting with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:5-42). Jesus calls her in order to quench his thirst, a thirst which was not only physical: indeed, he who asked for a drink was thirsting for the faith of that woman.(12) By saying to her Give me a drink (Jn 4:7) and speaking to her about living water, the Lord awakened in the Samaritan woman a question, almost a prayer for something far greater than she was capable of understanding at the time: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst (Jn 4:15). The Samaritan woman, even though she does not yet understand,(13) is in fact asking for the living water of which her divine visitor speaks. When Jesus reveals to her that he is indeed the Christ (cf. Jn 4:26), the Samaritan woman feels impelled to proclaim to the other townspeople that she has found the Messiah (cf. Jn 4:28-30). Similarly, the most precious fruit of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus (cf. Lk 19:1-10) is the conversion of the tax collector, who becomes aware of his past unjust actions and decides to make abundant restitution-four times as much-to those he had cheated. Furthermore, he adopts an attitude of detachment from material goods and of charity towards the needy, which leads him to give half of his possessions to the poor. Special mention should be made of the encounters with the Risen Jesus reported in the New Testament. Mary Magdalen meets the Risen One, and as a result overcomes her discouragement and grief at the death of the Master (cf. Jn 20:11-18). In his new Paschal glory, Jesus tells her to proclaim to the disciples that he has risen: Go to my brethren (Jn 20:17). For this reason, Mary Magdalen could be called the apostle of the Apostles.(14) The disciples of Emmaus, for their part, after meeting and recognizing the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem to recount to the Apostles and the other disciples all that had happened to them (cf. Lk 24:13-35). Jesus, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Lk 24:27). Later they would recognize that their hearts were burning within them as the Lord talked to them along the road and opened the Scriptures to them (cf. Lk 24:32). There is no doubt that Saint Luke, in relating this episode, especially the decisive moment in which the two disciples recognize Jesus, makes explicit allusion to the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper (cf. Lk 24:30). The Evangelist, in relating what the disciples of Emmaus told the Eleven, uses an expression which had a precise Eucharistic meaning for the early Church: He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread (Lk 24:35). One of the encounters with the Risen Lord which had a decisive influence on the history of Christianity was certainly the conversion of Saul, the future Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, on the road to Damascus. There his life was radically changed: from being a persecutor, he became an Apostle (cf. Acts 9:3-30; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). Paul himself describes this extraordinary experience as a revelation of the Son of God in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles (Gal 1:16). The Lord always respects the freedom of those he calls. There are cases where people, in encountering Jesus, close their hearts to the change of life to which the Lord is calling them. Many people in Jesus's own time saw and heard him, and yet did not open their hearts to his word. Saint John's Gospel points to sin as the reason which prevents human beings from opening themselves to the light which is Christ: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19). The Gospels teach that attachment to wealth is an obstacle to accepting Christ's call to follow him fully and without reserve. Here, the attitude of the rich young man is indicative (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23). Personal encounters and community encounters 9. Some of the encounters with Jesus mentioned in the Gospel are clearly personal, as, for example, when he summons someone to follow him (cf. Mt 9:9; Mk 2:13-14; Lk 5:27-28). In these cases, Jesus deals familiarly with his hearers: 'Rabbi (which means teacher), where are you staying?' . . . 'Come and see' (Jn 1:38-39). But at other times the encounters are communal in nature. This is especially true of the encounters with the Apostles, which are of fundamental importance for the constitution of the Church. Indeed, the Apostles, chosen by Jesus from among the wider circle of his disciples (cf. Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16), receive special training and enjoy a closer relationship with him. To the crowds Jesus speaks in parables, while explaining to the Twelve: To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given (Mt 13:11). They are called to be heralds of the Good News and to carry out a special mission of building up the Church by the grace of the sacraments. To this end, they receive the necessary power: Jesus confers upon them the authority to forgive sins, invoking the same authority which the Father has given him in heaven and on earth (cf. Mt 28:18). They would be the first to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-4), a gift then bestowed upon all who by virtue of the Sacraments of Initiation would become part of the Christian community (cf. Acts 2:38). Encountering Christ in the time of the Church 10. The Church is the place where men and women, by encountering Jesus, can come to know the love of the Father, for whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). After his Ascension into heaven, Jesus acts through the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (cf. Jn 16:17), who transforms believers by giving them new life. Thus they become capable of loving with God's own love, which has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us (Rom 5:5). God's grace also enables Christians to work for the transformation of the world, in order to bring about a new civilization, which my Predecessor Paul VI appropriately called the civilization of love.(15) Indeed, the Word of God, by taking on our human nature in all things save sin (cf. Heb 4:15), manifests the Father's plan by revealing to each human person the way to realize fully his or her vocation. Thus Jesus not only reconciles man with the Father, but also reconciles man with himself and thus reveals his true nature.(16) With these words the Synod Fathers, taking up the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, reaffirmed that Jesus is the way which leads to full personal realization, culminating in the definitive and eternal encounter with God. I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me (Jn 14:6). God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born of many brethren (Rom 8:29). Jesus Christ is thus the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life, and to those fundamental questions which still trouble so many men and women on the American continent. We encounter Jesus through Mary 11. At the birth of Jesus, the Magi came from the East to Bethlehem and saw the child with Mary his Mother (Mt 2:11). At the beginning of his public life, at the marriage of Cana, when the Son of God works the first of his signs, awakening faith in the disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), it is Mary who intervenes and directs the servants towards her Son in these words: Do whatever he tells you (Jn 2:5). In this regard I once wrote that the Mother of Christ presents herself as the spokeswoman of her Son's will, pointing out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested.(17) For this reason Mary is the sure path to our meeting with Christ. Devotion to the Mother of the Lord, when it is genuine, is always an impetus to a life guided by the spirit and values of the Gospel. How can we fail to emphasize the role which belongs to the Virgin Mary in relation to the pilgrim Church in America journeying towards its encounter with the Lord? Indeed, the Most Blessed Virgin is linked in a special way to the birth of the Church in the history ... of the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord.(18) Throughout the continent, from the time of the first evangelization, the presence of the Mother of God has been strongly felt, thanks to the efforts of the missionaries. In their preaching, the Gospel was proclaimed by presenting the Virgin Mary as its highest realization. From the beginning-invoked as Our Lady of Guadalupe-Mary, by her motherly and merciful figure, was a great sign of the closeness of the Father and of Jesus Christ, with whom she invites us to enter into communion.(19) The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization.(20) Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole Continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting-pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization.(21) Consequently, not only in Central and South America, but in North America as well, the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as Queen of all America.(22) With the passage of time, pastors and faithful alike have grown increasingly conscious of the role of the Virgin Mary in the evangelization of America. In the prayer composed for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, Holy Mary of Guadalupe is invoked as Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization. In view of this, I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on December 12.(23) It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (cf. Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life. Places of encounter with Christ 12. Trusting in the help of Mary, the Church in America desires to lead the men and women of the continent to encounter Christ. This encounter will be the starting-point of authentic conversion and of renewed communion and solidarity. Such an encounter will contribute greatly to strengthening the faith of many Catholics, helping them to mature in strong, lively and active faith. Lest the search for Christ present in his Church become something merely abstract, we need to indicate the specific times and places in which, in the Church, it is possible to encounter him. Here the reflections of the Synod Fathers offered abundant suggestions and observations. They pointed above all to Sacred Scripture read in the light of Tradition, the Fathers and the Magisterium, and more deeply understood through meditation and prayer.(24) A recommendation was made to promote knowledge of the Gospels, which proclaim in words easily understood by all the way Jesus lived among the people of his time. Reading these sacred texts and listening to Jesus as attentively as did the multitudes of the mount of the Beatitudes, or on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias as he preached from the boat, produces authentic fruits of conversion of heart.

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