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LATAM-US May-18-2007 (680 words) xxxi

U.S. reps' input in Latin American bishops' meeting shows close ties

By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service

APARECIDA, Brazil (CNS) -- The participation of U.S. church officials in a major meeting of bishops in Aparecida has spotlighted the close relationship between the church in the United States and its counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The United States was "an unspoken theme" in the first days of the gathering, as bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean described problems related to immigration and globalization, said Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M., an observer at the May 13-31 Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean.

"There is an undercurrent that many of the things that affect Latin America have their origin in the United States," Bishop Ramirez said.

Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, headed the U.S. delegation, which included Bishop Placido Rodriguez of Lubbock, Texas; Auxiliary Bishop Jaime Soto of Orange, Calif.; and Msgr. Carlos Quintana Puente, executive director of the bishops' Secretariat for the Church in Latin America.

Bishop Skylstad was one of four bishops from outside Latin America and the Caribbean who could both speak and vote at the meeting. The others were the presidents of the bishops' conferences of Canada, Spain and Portugal. All four countries have large numbers of Latin American immigrants.

Being granted a vote in the conference was "a bit of a surprise," as well as a sign of the close collaboration between the Catholic Church in the U.S. and the Catholic Church in Latin America, especially in Mexico and Central America, Bishop Skylstad said.

"I'm here to listen and to learn what the situation here is so that we can be of greater assistance and solidarity" with the church in Latin America, he said.

Besides immigration, other common concerns of the church in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres include "evangelization, the need for conversion, the need to be more people of the word, (and) the need to deal with justice issues," he said.

The loss of Catholics to Pentecostal churches was a recurring theme during Pope Benedict XVI's May 9-13 visit to Brazil and has been mentioned frequently in the first few days of the bishops' meeting.

"That happens in the United States as well," Bishop Skylstad said. "It calls us to ask ourselves (if we are) doing things as well as we should be -- whether it's our liturgical celebrations, whether it's our continued formation of people, whether it's an active faith community that really reaches out and cares about people."

While "it's easy to criticize evangelicals," he said, the Latin American bishops are focusing on what the church is "not doing that we should be doing that will attract people and hold them and be a genuine Catholic community of faith."

Bishop Ramirez told Catholic News Service that Latin Americans often rediscover their faith when they migrate to the United States.

"Sometimes they're more Catholic as immigrants than they were back home, because it's the church that connects them with their past," he said.

While the next generation's faith is also strong and closely tied to traditions rooted in their home country, such as devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, subsequent generations pose special pastoral challenges, he said.

"The third generation may have a crisis of faith, because they start rubbing elbows with people who are not Catholic, and they start being influenced by Pentecostalism and other forms of religiosity," he said. "They may distance themselves from the church, or the church may not reach out to them. So I think the third generation will be critical."

Despite a shortage of priests in Latin America, some church leaders have proposed sending missionaries to work with immigrant communities in other countries.

"We feel a shared responsibility for the evangelization of Hispanics" in the United States," said Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. "I would like to propose that each diocese collaborate with the bishops of the United States in the evangelization of their own people" who have migrated.


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