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LATAM-END May-31-2007 (860 words) xxxi

Bishops urge Latin Americans to commit to living like Christ

By Barbara J. Fraser
Catholic News Service

APARECIDA, Brazil (CNS) -- Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean voted overwhelmingly 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.

"We are saying that being disciples of Jesus Christ means living as he lived," Bishop Alvaro Ramazzini Imeri of San Marcos, Guatemala, told Catholic News Service. "It obliges us to be more authentic and more radical in our option as church and, in my case, as bishop."

The bishops voted 127-2, with one abstention, to accept the fourth and final version of the document. Because of problems with the electronic voting system, they did not know the exact wording of some sections of the document until the morning of May 31, when they gathered for the closing session of their 19-day meeting.

The problems had forced the bishops to resort to paper ballots the previous afternoon, when they were voting on amendments to the last draft. Because of the time needed to count the paper ballots, the tally was not complete when they adjourned, so they were not sure if some wording in the document had been changed.

The final document, which is more than 100 pages long, was not made public. It will be sent to Pope Benedict XVI, who is expected to release it officially in June.

At the closing session of the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, the prelates issued a wide-ranging final message. They said "the continent of hope" must also become "the continent of love, life and peace." They reaffirmed the church's commitment to justice and peace and pledged to care for creation and value the contributions of youth, women, indigenous people and Afro-Americans.

While personal conversion must be "the starting point for the transformation of society," the bishops said, Catholics must join in communities that are a "sign of contradiction and newness in a world that promotes consumerism and disfigures the values that dignify the human person."

Reaffirming the "preferential and evangelical option for the poor," the message echoes many of the themes that have emerged since Pope Benedict opened the bishops' meeting May 13.

The 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."

The church leaders 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.

In the final document, the bishops expanded on those themes and described the responsibility of the region's Catholics as disciples and missionaries, as well as describing the church's pastoral priorities.

According to a summary released May 30, the document is divided into three parts that follow the see-judge-act methodology that has been a cornerstone of pastoral reflection in the region since the 1968 general conference in Medellin, Colombia.

The first part, titled "The Life of Our Peoples," begins with a section giving thanks to God for the gift of being disciples and missionaries. It is followed by a description of the social, cultural, economic, political, ethnic and ecological situation in the region, which poses "great challenges such as globalization, structural injustice, the crisis in the transmission of faith and others."

In the second section, the bishops explore what it means to be disciples and missionaries today, including "the joy of being called to proclaim the Gospel"; the vocation of discipleship; communion among Catholics with different vocations, as well as dialogue with other denominations and religions; and faith life, including popular religious practices, Catholic communities and movements, and formation, especially Christian initiation, lifelong catechesis and religious formation.

The last section outlines pastoral priorities for the church in the region. It notes the "new faces of the poor," including the unemployed, migrants, and those who are abandoned or ill, and highlights the urgent need to care for the environment, which has been a constant theme throughout the meeting.

It also refers to the "continental mission" planned as a follow-up to the bishops' meeting. Over the past two weeks, the prelates have expressed different views about the form that such a mission should take. The summary of the final document simply says it will be carried out by dioceses and bishops' conferences.

At the closing session of the meeting, Father Victor Fernandez, an observer who was a member of the delegation from Argentina, told the participants that the final document "has a positive, encouraging, hopeful tone."

He noted that controversies that arose in the last general conference, held in 1992 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, made some Catholics skeptical about the meeting in Aparecida.

But in the bishops' final document, he said, "I think many people will find much more than they expected."


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