ECCLESIA IN AMERICA


CHAPTER IV
THE PATH TO COMMUNION
"As you, Father, are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us" (Jn 17:21)

The Church, sacrament of communion

33. "Faced with a divided world which is in search of unity, we must proclaim with joy and firm faith that God is communion, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, unity in distinction, and that he calls all people to share in that same Trinitarian communion. We must proclaim that this communion is the magnificent plan of God the Father; that Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Lord, is the heart of this communion, and that the Holy Spirit works ceaselessly to create communion and to restore it when it is broken. We must proclaim that the Church is the sign and instrument of the communion willed by God, begun in time and destined for completion in the fullness of the Kingdom".97 The Church is the sign of communion because her members, like branches, share the life of Christ, the true vine (cf. Jn 15:5). Through communion with Christ, Head of the Mystical Body, we enter into living communion with all believers.

This communion, present in the Church and essential to her nature,98 must be made visible in concrete signs, "such as communal prayer for one another, the desire for closer relations between Episcopal Conferences and between Bishops, fraternal ties between dioceses and parishes, and communication among pastoral workers with a view to specific missionary works".99 Communion requires that the deposit of faith be preserved in its purity and integrity, together with the unity of the College of Bishops under the authority of the Successor of Peter. In this context, the Synod Fathers stressed that "the strengthening of the Petrine ministry is fundamental for the preservation of the Church's unity", and that "the full exercise of the primacy of Peter is fundamental for the Church's identity and vitality in America". 100 By the Lord's mandate, Peter and his Successors have the task of confirming their brethren in faith (cf. Lk 22:32) and of feeding the entire flock of Christ (cf. Jn 2! 1:15-17). The Successor of the Prince of the Apostles is called to be the rock upon which the Church is built, and to exercise the ministry belonging to the one to whom the keys of the Kingdom were given (cf. Mt 16:18-19). The Vicar of Christ is in fact "the enduring principle of unity and the visible foundation" of the Church. 101

Christian initiation and communion

34. Communion of life in the Church comes through the sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. Baptism is "the doorway to the spiritual life; it makes us members of Christ and draws us into the body of the Church". 102 In Confirmation, the baptized "are joined more completely to the Church, they are enriched with special strength by the Holy Spirit and thus are more solemnly obliged to spread and defend the faith in word and deed as true witnesses of Christ". 103 The journey of Christian initiation comes to completion and reaches its summit in the Eucharist, which fully incorporates the baptized into the Body of Christ. 104

"These sacraments are an excellent opportunity for an effective evangelization and catechesis, when preparation for them is entrusted to people of faith and competence". 105 While dioceses in America have made undeniable progress in preparing people for the sacraments of Christian initiation, the Synod Fathers nonetheless expressed regret that "many receive them without adequate formation". 106 In the case of the Baptism of children, efforts to catechize the parents and godparents should not be spared.

The Eucharist as center of communion with God and with each other

35. The Eucharist is more than simply the culmination of Christian initiation. While Baptism and Confirmation serve as a beginning and introduction to the life of the Church and cannot be repeated, 107 the Eucharist is the living and lasting center around which the entire community of the Church gathers. 108 The various aspects of the Eucharist reveal its inexhaustible wealth: it is at one and the same time a Sacrament of Sacrifice, Communion and Presence. 109

The Eucharist is the outstanding moment of encounter with the living Christ. For this reason, by their preaching and catechesis, the Pastors of the People of God in America must strive "to give the Sunday Eucharistic celebration new strength, as the source and summit of the Church's life, the safeguard of communion in the Body of Christ, and an invitation to solidarity, expressing the Lord's command: "Love one another as I have loved you' (Jn 13:34)". 110 As the Synod Fathers suggest, an effort of this kind must include a number of fundamental aspects. First of all, there is a need to renew in the faithful the sense that the Eucharist is an immense gift: this will lead them to do all they can to participate actively and worthily, at least on Sundays and Holy Days. At the same time, "efforts by priests to make attendance possible, even for the most distant communities" must be encouraged. 111 The faithful need to be reminded that "their full, conscious and active participation, although essentially distinct from the office of the ordained priest, is an exercise of the common priesthood received in Baptism". 112

The need of the faithful to attend the Eucharist and the difficulties that arise from the shortage of priests make clear how urgent it is to promote priestly vocations. 113 The whole Church in America needs to be reminded also of "the link between the Eucharist and charity", 114 a link which was expressed in the early Church by the joining of the agape and the Eucharistic Supper. 115 As a result of the grace received in the Sacrament, sharing in the Eucharist must lead to a more fervent exercise of charity.

The Bishops as builders of communion

36. Precisely because it signifies life, communion in the Church must constantly increase. Therefore, the Bishops, remembering that "each of them is the visible principle and foundation of the unity of his particular Church", 116 cannot but feel duty-bound to promote communion in their dioceses, so that the drive for a new evangelization in America may be more effective. Working in favor of this communion are the structures which the Second Vatican Council called for as a means of supporting the diocesan Bishop's work, and which post-conciliar legislation has spelled out in greater detail. 117 "It is up to the Bishop, with the help of the priests, deacons, religious and lay people to implement a coordinated pastoral plan, which is systematic and participatory, involving all the members of the Church and awakening in them a missionary consciousness".118

Each Ordinary will make sure to promote among priests and lay faithful the sense that the diocese is the visible expression of the Church's communion, which is formed at the table of the Word and of the Eucharist, around the Bishop in union with the College of Bishops and under its head, the Roman Pontiff. As a particular Church, the diocese is charged with initiating and deepening the encounter of all the members of God's People with Jesus Christ, 119 respecting and fostering that plurality and diversification which are not obstacles to unity but which give it the character of communion. 120 The spirit of participation and shared responsibility in the working of diocesan structures will certainly be strengthened if the nature of the particular Church is better known and appreciated. 121

Deeper communion between the particular Churches

37. The Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops was the first ever to have gathered Bishops from the entire continent, and it was seen by all as a special grace of the Lord to the pilgrim Church in America. It strengthened the communion which must exist among the ecclesial communities of the continent, making clear to all the need for this communion to grow. Experiences of episcopal communion, more frequent since the Second Vatican Council as a result of the growth of Bishops' Conferences, should be seen as encounters with the living Christ, present in the brothers gathered in his name (cf. Mt 18:20).

The experience of the Synod showed just as clearly the value of a communion transcending individual Conferences of Bishops. Even though structures for dialogue between Conferences already exist, the Synod Fathers underlined the benefit of inter-American gatherings, such as those sponsored by the Episcopal Conferences of various American countries, as an expression of practical solidarity and a chance to study common challenges to evangelization in America. 122 It would be helpful to specify more exactly the nature of these meetings, so that they may become a better expression of communion among all Bishops. Beyond these more inclusive meetings, it could be useful, whenever circumstances require it, to establish special commissions to explore more deeply issues which concern America as a whole. Areas in which it seems especially necessary "to strengthen cooperation are the sharing of information on pastoral matters, missionary collaboration, education, immigration and ecumenism". 123

The Bishops, whose duty it is to promote communion among the particular Churches, should encourage the faithful to live this communion more and more, and to assume the "responsibility of developing bonds of communion with the local Churches in other areas of America through education, the exchange of information, fraternal ties between parishes and dioceses, and projects involving cooperation and joint intervention in questions of greater importance, especially those affecting the poor". 124

Fraternal communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches

38. The recent phenomenon of the establishment and development in America of Eastern Catholic particular Churches, with their own hierarchy, was a matter of special attention on the part of some Synod Fathers. A genuine desire to embrace, in ways both cordial and practical, these brethren in the faith and in hierarchical communion under the Successor of Peter led the Synod to propose concrete ways for the particular Churches of the Latin rite to offer fraternal assistance to the Eastern Catholic Churches throughout the continent. Thus, for example, the possibility was raised that Latin rite priests, especially those with Eastern roots, might offer liturgical assistance to Eastern communities which do not have enough priests of their own. Likewise, with regard to sacred buildings, the Eastern faithful could use Latin rite Churches wherever this seems appropriate.

In this spirit of communion, it is worth considering a few proposals of the Synod Fathers: namely, that " where necessary " mixed commissions charged with studying common pastoral problems be created in national Episcopal Conferences and in international agencies for cooperation among Bishops; that catechesis and theological formation for lay people and seminarians of the Latin Church include knowledge of the living tradition of the Christian East; that the Bishops of the Eastern Catholic Churches participate in the Latin Episcopal Conferences of the different countries. 125 This fraternal cooperation, while offering valuable help to the Eastern Churches of recent foundation in America, will certainly also enrich the particular Churches of the Latin rite with the spiritual heritage of the Eastern Christian tradition.

The priesthood as a sign of unity

39. "As a member of a particular Church, each priest must be a sign of communion with the Bishop, since he is his immediate collaborator, in union with his brothers in the priesthood. With pastoral charity, he exercises his ministry, chiefly in the community entrusted to him, and he leads his community to encounter Christ the Good Shepherd. His vocation requires him to be a sign of unity. Therefore, he must avoid any involvement in party politics, since this would divide the community". 126 The Synod Fathers call for "a pastoral plan for diocesan clergy, to strengthen their spirituality and their sense of mission and identity, centered on following Christ, the eternal High Priest, always striving to obey the Father's will. Christ is the model of generous dedication, of austerity of life and of service even unto death. The priest should be conscious of the fact that, by virtue of the Sacrament of Orders, he is the bearer of grace, which he communicates to his brothers and sisters in the sacraments. He himself is sanctified in the exercise of his ministry".127

The field in which priests work is vast. Therefore they should concentrate on what is essential to their ministry: "letting themselves be configured to Christ the Head and Shepherd, the source of all pastoral charity, offering themselves each day with Christ in the Eucharist, in order to help the faithful both personally and communally to experience the living Jesus Christ". 128 As witnesses and disciples of the merciful Christ, they are called to be instruments of forgiveness and reconciliation, putting themselves generously at the service of the faithful in the spirit of the Gospel.

As pastors of the People of God in America, priests must also be alert to the challenges of the world today and sensitive to the problems and hopes of their people, sharing their experiences and growing, above all, in solidarity towards the poor. They should be careful to discern the charisms and strengths of the faithful who might be leaders in the community, listening to them and through dialogue encouraging their participation and co-responsibility. This will lead to a better distribution of tasks, enabling priests "to dedicate themselves to what is most closely tied to the encounter with and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, and thus to represent better within the community the presence of Jesus who draws his people together". 129

The task of discerning charisms also includes knowing how best to use those priests who show an aptitude for special ministries. Moreover, every priest is expected to offer his fraternal help to other priests and to turn trustingly to them in time of need.

Given the outstanding number of priests in America who, by God's grace, strive to meet the challenges of a truly remarkable workload, I join the Synod Fathers in acknowledging and praising their "untiring commitment as pastors, preachers of the Gospel and agents of ecclesial communion, in thanking them and in encouraging them to continue to offer their lives in service of the Gospel". 130

Promoting vocations

40. The indispensable role of the priest within the community must lead all the members of the Church in America to recognize the importance of promoting vocations. The American continent has many young people, who represent an immense spiritual resource. Therefore, it is necessary to foster vocations to the priesthood and religious life where they first develop, and Christian families must be invited to support their children if they feel called to follow this path. 131 Vocations "are a gift of God" and "they are born in communities of faith, above all in the family, the parish, Catholic schools and other Church organizations. Bishops and priests are particularly responsible for encouraging vocations by personally presenting the call, and above all by their witness of a life of fidelity, joy, enthusiasm and holiness. The entire People of God is responsible for promoting vocations, and does so chiefly by persistent and humble prayer for vocations". 132

As places which accept and train those called to the priesthood, seminaries must prepare the future ministers of the Church to live "a solid spirituality of communion with Christ the Shepherd and of openness to the workings of the Spirit, that will make them specially able to discern the needs of God's People and their various charisms, and to work together". 133 Therefore, in seminaries "there should be special insistence upon specifically spiritual formation, so that through constant conversion, the spirit of prayer, the practice of the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, the candidates may learn to be close to the Lord and learn to commit themselves generously to pastoral work". 134 Those responsible for formation should carefully supervise and guide the seminarians towards emotional maturity so that they may be fit to embrace priestly celibacy and be prepared to live in communion with their brother priests. They should also foster in seminarians the capacity for critical observation so that they can discern true and false values, since this is an essential requirement for establishing a constructive dialogue with the world of today.

Special attention needs to be given to vocations among indigenous peoples: they need a formation which takes account of their culture. While receiving a proper theological and pastoral formation for their future ministry, these candidates for the priesthood should not be uprooted from their own culture. 135

The Synod Fathers wished to thank and bless all those who devote their lives to the formation of future priests in seminaries. They also invited the Bishops to assign the most suitable priests to this work, after preparing them with specific training for this delicate mission. 136 Renewing parishes

41. The parish is a privileged place where the faithful concretely experience the Church. 137 Today in America as elsewhere in the world the parish is facing certain difficulties in fulfilling its mission. The parish needs to be constantly renewed on the basis of the principle that "the parish must continue to be above all a Eucharistic community". 138 This principle implies that "parishes are called to be welcoming and fraternal, places of Christian initiation, of education in and celebration of the faith, open to the full range of charisms, services and ministries, organized in a communal and responsible way, capable of utilizing existing movements of the apostolate, attentive to the cultural diversity of the people, open to pastoral projects which go beyond the individual parish, and alert to the world in which they live". 139

Because of the particular problems they present, special attention needs to be given to parishes in large urban areas, where the difficulties are such that normal parish structures are inadequate and the opportunities for the apostolate are significantly reduced. The institution of the parish, however, retains its importance and needs to be preserved. For this, there is a need "to keep looking for ways in which the parish and its pastoral structures can be more effective in urban areas". 140 One way of renewing parishes, especially urgent for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities and movements. 141 It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allows for true human relationships. This will make it possible to live communion more intensely, ensuring that it is fostered not only "ad intra", but also with the parish communities to which such groups belong, and with the entire diocesan and univer! sal Church. In such a human context, it will be easier to gather to hear the word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of this word, and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ. 142 The institution of the parish, thus renewed, "can be the source of great hope. It can gather people in community, assist family life, overcome the sense of anonymity, welcome people and help them to be involved in their neighborhood and in society". 143 In this way, every parish, and especially city parishes, can promote nowadays a more person-centered evangelization and better cooperate with other social, educational and community work. 144

Moreover, "this kind of renewed parish needs as its leader a pastor who has a deep experience of the living Christ, a missionary spirit, a father's heart, who is capable of fostering spiritual life, preaching the Gospel and promoting cooperation. A renewed parish needs the collaboration of lay people and therefore a director of pastoral activity and a pastor who is able to work with others. Parishes in America should be distinguished by their missionary spirit, which leads them to reach out to those who are faraway". 145

Permanent deacons

42. For serious pastoral and theological reasons, the Second Vatican Council decided to restore the diaconate as a permanent element of the hierarchy of the Latin Church, leaving to the Episcopal Conferences, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, the task of assessing whether and where to establish permanent deacons. 146 The experience has varied significantly, not only in the different parts of America but even between dioceses of the same area. "Some dioceses have trained and ordained a good number of deacons, and they are fully satisfied with their integration and their ministry". 147 Here we see with joy how deacons "sustained by the grace of the Sacrament, in the ministry (diakonia) of the Liturgy, of the word and of charity are at the service of the People of God, in communion with the Bishop and his priests". 148 Other dioceses have not followed this path, while elsewhere there have been difficulties in integrating permanent deacons into the hierarchical structure.

With due respect for the freedom of the particular Churches to restore the permanent diaconate, with the approval of the Supreme Pontiff, it is clear that for such a move to be successful there has to be a careful selection process, solid formation and continuous attention to the suitability of the candidates, as well as constant concern for them once they are ordained, and " in the case of married deacons " concern as well for their families, wives and children. 149

Consecrated life

43. The history of evangelization in America bears eloquent testimony to the missionary work accomplished by countless consecrated Religious who from the beginning proclaimed the Gospel, defended the rights of the indigenous peoples and, with heroic love for Christ, dedicated themselves to service of the People of God on the continent. 150 The contribution of Religious to the proclamation of the Gospel in America is still enormously important; it is a varied contribution shaped by the charisms of each group: "Institutes of contemplative life which witness to God as absolute; apostolic and missionary Institutes which make Christ present in all the many different areas of human life; Secular Institutes which help to resolve the tension between real openness to the values of the modern world and the profound offering of one's heart to God. New Institutes and new forms of consecrated life are also coming into being, and these require evangelical discernment". 151

Since "the future of the new evangelization . . . is unthinkable without the renewed contribution of women, especially women Religious", 152 it is urgent to promote their participation in the various areas of Church life, including decision-making processes, especially on issues which concern them directly. 153

"Today too the witness of a life consecrated completely to God is an eloquent proclamation of the fact that God suffices to give fulfillment to the life of each person". 154 This consecration to the Lord must become generous service in the spreading of God's Kingdom. For this reason, on the threshold of the Third Millennium, it is necessary to ensure "that consecrated life be more highly esteemed and promoted by Bishops, priests, and Christian communities, and that, conscious of the joy and responsibility of their vocation, consecrated religious be fully integrated into the particular Church to which they belong, fostering communion and mutual cooperation". 155

Lay faithful and the renewal of the Church

44. "The teaching of the Second Vatican Council on the unity of the Church as the People of God gathered into the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit stresses that Baptism confers upon all who receive it a dignity which includes the imitation and following of Christ, communion with one another and the missionary mandate". 156 The lay faithful should thus be conscious of their baptismal dignity. For their part, Pastors should have a profound respect "for the witness and evangelizing work of lay people who, incorporated into the People of God through a spirituality of communion, lead their brothers and sisters to encounter the living Jesus Christ. The renewal of the Church in America will not be possible without the active presence of the laity. Therefore, they are largely responsible for the future of the Church". 157

There are two areas in which lay people live their vocation. The first, and the one best suited to their lay state, is the secular world, which they are called to shape according to God's will. 158 "Their specific activity brings the Gospel to the structures of the world; "working in holiness wherever they are, they consecrate the world itself to God'". 159 Thanks to the lay faithful, "the presence and mission of the Church in the world is realized in a special way in the variety of charisms and ministries which belong to the laity. Secularity is the true and distinctive mark of the lay person and of lay spirituality, which means that the laity strive to evangelize the various sectors of family, social, professional, cultural and political life. On a continent marked by competition and aggressiveness, unbridled consumerism and corruption, lay people are called to embody deeply evangelical values such as mercy, forgiveness, honesty, transparency of heart and patience in difficult situations. What is expected from the laity is a great creative effort in activities and works demonstrating a life in harmony with the Gospel". 160

America needs lay Christians able to assume roles of leadership in society. It is urgent to train men and women who, in keeping with their vocation, can influence public life, and direct it to the common good. In political life, understood in its truest and noblest sense as the administration of the common good, they can find the path of their own sanctification. For this, they must be formed in the truths and values of the Church's social teaching, and in the basic notions of a theology of the laity. A deeper knowledge of Christian ethical principles and moral values will enable them to be exponents of these in their own particular setting, proclaiming them even where appeals are made to the so-called "neutrality of the State". 161

There is a second area in which many lay faithful are called to work, and this can be called "intra-ecclesial". A good number of lay people in America legitimately aspire to contribute their talents and charisms "to the building of the ecclesial community as delegates of the word, catechists, visitors to the sick and the imprisoned, group leaders, etc." 162 The Synod Fathers expressed the hope that the Church would recognize some of these works as lay ministries, with a basis in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, without compromising the specific ministries proper to the Sacrament of Orders. This is a large and complex issue and some time ago I established a Commission to study it; 163 in this regard the offices of the Holy See have from time to time provided guidelines. 164 There is a need to promote positive cooperation by properly trained lay men and women in different activities within the Church, while avoiding any confusion with the ordained ministries and the activities proper to the Sacrament of Orders, so that the common priesthood of the faithful remains clearly distinguished from that of the ordained.

In this respect, the Synod Fathers recommended that the works entrusted to lay people be clearly "distinct from those which constitute steps on the way to the ordained ministry" 165 and which are carried out by candidates for the priesthood before ordination. It was also noted that these lay works "should be undertaken only by men and women who have received the necessary training in accordance with clearly defined criteria: a stable presence, a real readiness to serve a determined group of persons, and the duty of accountability to their Pastor". 166 In any event, while the intra-ecclesial apostolate of lay people needs to be promoted, care must be taken to ensure that it goes hand in hand with the activity proper to the laity, in which their place cannot be taken by priests: the area of temporal realities.

The dignity of women

45. Particular attention needs to be given to the vocation of women. On other occasions I have expressed my esteem for the specific contribution of women to the progress of humanity and recognized the legitimacy of their aspiration to take part fully in ecclesial, cultural, social and economic life. 167 Without this contribution, we would miss the enrichment which only the "feminine genius" 168 can bring to the life of the Church and to society. To fail to recognize this would be an historic injustice, especially in America, if we consider the contribution which women have made to the material and cultural development of the continent, just as they have in handing down and preserving the faith. Indeed, "their role was decisive, above all in consecrated life, in education and in health care". 169

Unfortunately, in many parts of America women still meet forms of discrimination. It can be said that the face of the poor in America is also the face of many women. That is why the Synod Fathers spoke of a "feminine side of poverty". 170 The Church feels the duty to defend the human dignity which belongs to every person, and "denounces discrimination, sexual abuse and male domination as actions contrary to God's plan". 171 In particular, the Church deplores the appalling practice, sometimes part of a larger plan, of the sterilization of women, especially the poorest and most marginalized, often carried out surreptitiously, without the women themselves realizing it. This is all the more serious when it is done in order to obtain economic aid at the international level.

The Church throughout America feels committed to show greater concern for women and to defend them "so that society in America can better support family life based on marriage, better protect motherhood and show greater respect for the dignity of all women". 172 There is a need to help women in America to take an active and responsible role in the Church's life and mission, 173 and also to acknowledge the need for the wisdom and cooperation of women in leadership roles within American society.

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)". 174 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". 175

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" 176 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". 177 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. 178

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". 179 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.

In fact, while many young people in America are searching for true meaning in life and are thirsting for God, quite often they lack the conditions needed to take advantage of their abilities and realize their aspirations. Unfortunately, unemployment and the lack of prospects for the future lead them at times to withdrawal and to violence. The resulting sense of frustration not infrequently leads them to abandon the search for God. Faced with this complex situation, "the Church is committed to maintaining her pastoral and missionary commitment to young people, so that they will encounter today the living Jesus Christ". 180

In her pastoral activity the Church reaches a great number of adolescents and young people through programs for Christian families, catechesis, Catholic educational institutions and community life in parishes. But there are many others, especially among those affected by various kinds of poverty, who remain outside the range of the Church's activity. Young Christians, trained to have a mature missionary consciousness, must become apostles to their contemporaries. There is need for pastoral outreach to young people wherever they are found: in schools, universities, the workplace, the countryside, with appropriate adaptation to their particular inclinations. At the parish and diocesan level it would be helpful also to develop a pastoral outreach that takes account of the changing world of young people. Such an effort should seek to engage them in dialogue, take advantage of favorable occasions for meetings on a larger scale, encourage local initiatives and make the most of programs already in place at the interdiocesan and international levels.

And what of those young people who do not grow out of their adolescent attitudes and find it difficult to take on serious and lasting responsibilities" In response to this lack of maturity, young people need to be invited to have courage and they need to be trained to appreciate the value of life-long commitments such as the priesthood, consecrated life and Christian married life. 181

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". 182 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". 183 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". 184

Elements of communion with other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities

49. Between the Catholic Church and the other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities there exists a drive towards communion rooted in the Baptism which each administers. 185 It is a drive nourished by prayer, dialogue and joint action. The Synod Fathers wished to express their special desire "to cooperate in the dialogue already under way with the Orthodox Church, with which we share many elements of faith, sacramental life and piety". 186 The specific proposals of the Synodal assembly concerning non-Catholic Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities as a whole were numerous. It was suggested in the first place "that Catholic Christians, Pastors and faithful foster cooperation between Christians of the different confessions, in the name of the Gospel, in response to the cry of the poor, by the promotion of justice, by common prayer for unity and by sharing in the word of God and the experience of faith in the living Christ". 187 Also to be promoted, when possible and appropriate, are meetings of experts from the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities aimed at facilitating ecumenical dialogue. Ecumenism should be a subject of reflection and shared experience between the different Catholic Episcopal Conferences in America.

Although the Second Vatican Council refers to all those who are baptized and believe in Christ as "brothers and sisters in the Lord", 188 it is necessary to distinguish clearly between Christian communities, with which ecumenical relations can be established, and sects, cults and other pseudo-religious movements.

The Church's relations with Jewish communities

50. American society also includes Jewish communities, with which the Church has fostered increasing cooperation in recent years. 189 The history of salvation makes clear our special relationship with the Jewish people. Jesus belongs to the Jewish people and he inaugurated his Church within the Jewish nation. A great part of the Holy Scriptures, which we Christians read as the word of God, constitute a spiritual patrimony which we share with Jews. 190 Consequently any negative attitude in their regard must be avoided, since "in order to be a blessing for the world, Jews and Christians need first to be a blessing for each other". 191

Non-Christian religions

51. As for non-Christian religions, the Catholic Church rejects nothing in them which is true and holy. 192 Hence, with regard to other religions Catholics intend to emphasize elements of truth wherever they are to be found, while at the same time firmly bearing witness to the newness of the revelation of Christ, preserved in its fullness by the Church. 193 Consistent with this attitude, they reject as alien to the spirit of Christ any discrimination or persecution directed against persons on the basis of race, color, condition of life or religion. Difference of religion must never be a cause of violence or war. Instead persons of different beliefs must feel themselves drawn, precisely because of these beliefs, to work together for peace and justice.

"Muslims, like Christians and Jews, call Abraham their father. Consequently throughout America these three communities should live in harmony and work together for the common good. The Church in America must also work for greater mutual respect and good relations with the native American religions". 194 A similar attitude should be fostered with regard to the followers of Hinduism, Buddhism and other religions who have come to America as a result of recent waves of immigration from the East.

 

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