The opening words of this Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation - Ecclesia in America - are a clear indication of its relation to the series of papal documents which conclude the various continental and regional synodal assemblies called by the Holy Father in preparation for the Third Millennium. The document is, therefore, an instrument of the papal Magisterium which sets forth in an organic manner the fruits of the work of the synod and provides a pastoral program of the new evangelization for the Church in pilgrimage on the continent of America.

The document is composed of an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion. The introduction briefly presents not only the topic of the Special Assembly but also recounts the genesis of the synodal process which led to its convocation by the Holy Father. At the same time, the Special Assembly is situated in continuity with the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of Evangelization in America and in the context of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. Furthermore, it places in relief the wealth of lived experiences of those present at the synodal assembly which, in itself, is an expression of the unity of the Pastors of the People of God with the Successor of Peter in the Episcopal College. This synodal communion is presented as a sign of the unity of the whole continent to which the Church, trusting in the help of Jesus Christ who is alive and working in her, seeks to be of service in opening the paths of a new evangelization.

The various chapters which follow are arranged in a general manner according to the structure of the topic of the synodal assembly: "Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America". Thus, Chapter One refers to the encounter with the Risen Lord, as set forth in the various accounts of the New Testament, and to the Church as the place where people are able to experience the presence of Jesus Christ and have an encounter with him. A privileged place is given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in this plan of encounter which the Church in America seeks to follow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, Mary has had a major role in this encounter through her apparition to the Indian Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531. It is for this reason that the Holy Father, having graciously considered the proposals of the synod fathers, has established that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer in America, be celebrated throughout the continent on 12 December.

Continuing the treatment of encounter, the following chapter (chapter two) develops the subject from a pastoral perspective in the context of the present situation in America. In the first place, the aspect of the Christian identity of the whole continent is considered as an expression of the gift of faith which has been received and the predominant element in the religious make-up of the continent. Attention then turns to setting forth the manifestations of this Christian identity: the lives of many saints and blesseds who have enriched the Church through their testimony of faith, hope and charity as well as the characteristic deep-rooted popular piety in various nations which manifests the inculturation of the Catholic faith. Other topics are then treated, always from a pastoral perspective, for reconsideration later in the document in order to formulate some concrete proposals: the Eastern Catholic Church’ presence in America, the activities of the Church in the field of education and social action, the growing respect for human rights, the phenomenon of globalization, the reality of urbanization, the burden of external debt, corruption, the trade and consumption of drugs and ecological concern.

Chapter Three proceeds to treat the topic of conversion, indicating the urgency of the call and the necessity of giving an integral response, that is, one which includes both personal and social or communal dimensions. Conversion is then presented as a permanent path which the Church in America, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is called to follow through a new way of living which is centered in a spirituality of prayer committed to the demands of the Gospel in all its aspects. Once again, the document highlights the necessity of penance and reconciliation "the sacramental expression of interior metanoia" through pursuing the goal of sanctity to which each person is called. To this end, the Way is none other than the person of the Lord Jesus.

Chapter Four develops the subject of communion, based on the concept of the Church as sacrament, that is, as sign and instrument of unity in Christ of all men, among themselves and with God. The principal means to achieve this communion of life in the Church are the Sacraments of Christian initiation: Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, whose fruitful reception, as one recalls, depends on proper catechetics. A special role in the task of building ecclesial communion is assigned to the bishops who are called to be promoters of unity in their particular Churches and in society in general. The necessity of working for communion extends also to the collaboration between the particular Churches on the entire continent, a concrete manifestation of which has been the realization of the synodal assembly. The same chapter continues the treatment by focusing on urgent pastoral tasks which the Church in America ought to face so as to allow the whole People of God to grow in communion in Christ: fraternal communion with the Eastern Catholic Churches, the effort to strengthen the unity of the presbyterate in each particular Church, the development of a pastoral program for vocations and the formation of seminarians through living in communion with their brothers, the renewal of instruction in the parish as the privileged place for having a concrete experience of the Church, the diligent formation and guidance of those called to the permanent diaconate, a renewed appreciation of the consecrated life in the future of the new evangelization, the participation of the laity in the life of the Church, the proper recognition of the contribution of women both in society and the Church, the importance of the Christian family as the domestic Church, the pastoral care of young people and children, who are the hope of the future, cooperation and dialogue with other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities as well as with Jewish communities and Non-Christian religions.

Chapter Five is dedicated to the subject of solidarity which is presented as the fruit of communion in Christ. A powerful appeal is directed to the agents of evangelization in America to announce with renewed fervor the Social Doctrine of the Church in the midst of grave problems of the social order. In this task, there is a real pastoral priority given to addressing the complex phenomenon of globalization and its consequences in the diverse fields of social life on the American continent. It is, in the light of the Gospel and the Church’s social doctrine, that the real dimension of those so-called ?social sins which cry to heaven? can be clearly seen. For this reason, the Church in America is called not fail to raise her voice in announcing that the basis of human rights is the dignity of the person, who is the prime work of creation. A special appeal is also directed to the entire Church in America to continue to work for the poor and those on the periphery of society so that this pastoral action might become a real path for encountering Christ. Also included in this chapter is the problem of the external debt which afflicts many peoples on the continent of America. In this regard, the Holy Father unites himself to the desire already expressed by the synod fathers to work on a study and dialogue with representatives of the First World and with those responsible for international economic relations, to find ways which will lead to a solution of this complex reality. Finally, the chapter treats other social aspects in which the presence of the Church has also been relevant by creating a true culture of solidarity: the fight against corruption, the drug problem, the arms race, the culture of death as an expression of a society dominated by the powerful, the real situation of indigenous peoples and Americans of African descent as well as the question of immigration.

Chapter Six treats the Church’s mission in America today, a task which is defined in terms of the new evangelization. Recalling again Christ’s mandate to announce the Gospel to the whole world, the Holy Father sends forth the Church in America to proclaim Jesus Christ, the ?good news? and prime evangelizer. He is the human face of God and the divine face of man. The true energizing force of evangelization comes from the encounter with Christ in the Church. As a result, attention is paid to the importance of catechesis, whose principle purpose is the full presentation of the faith in all its wealth and its practical implications in social life. The new evangelization reaches also the vast field of culture. In this regard, an appeal is made to inculturate the preaching of the Gospel so that it might be announced in the language and the culture of those who receive the message, without forgetting the objective and universal validity of the paschal mystery of Christ. The promotion of inculturation of the Good News ought to be made concrete in the evangelization of educational centers and the means of social communications. The problem of the sects in America does not pass without notice. In fact, this question poses a grave obstacle to the evangelization effort. In this regard, an invitation is made to the whole Church on the continent to put into practice coordinated pastoral initiatives which, excluding the methods of proselytism used by these same sects, is directed to the renewal of pastoral activity through a joyful and transforming kerygma. Finally, the Holy Father makes a special appeal to the Church in America to keep herself open to the mission ad gentes so that her pastoral programs not be limited to revitalizing the faith of regular believers but strive as well to proclaim Christ where he is not known. Indeed, reiterating a proposal of the synod fathers, the Supreme Pontiff appeals for a dynamic and creative increase in cooperation between the Sister Churches, not only those on the continent but beyond.

The document concludes with words of gratitude and hope so that the Church in America might be ready to cross the threshold of the Third Millennium with serene trust in the Lord of History and convinced of the primary service that she must provide in testimony to her fidelity to God and to the men and women of the continent. Confident in the power of intercession, the Holy Father proposes a prayer for the families, the communities and ecclesial groups "where two or more are gathered in the name of the Lord" so that all may unite themselves with the supplication of the Successor of Peter, invoking Jesus Christ, the Way to conversion, communion and solidarity in America.



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