LATIN AMERICA IS TRULY BLESSED WITH FAITH
Pope John Paul II
General Audience 14 February 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. I returned two days ago from an important and intense Apostolic Visit to Central America and Venezuela where I went at the invitation of the Episcopates and civil authorities of the countries I visited.

I first of all give thanks to the Lord, who allowed me to visit these lands once again as an apostle of the Gospel and a pilgrim of hope. I also express my heartfelt gratitude to all those who made my journey possible: the Pastors, the civil authorities and all those who in various ways co-operated in its successful outcome. I say a heartfelt thank-you to all those who contributed their presence and their prayers!

It could be said that from the spiritual point of view this pilgrimage journey had two focal points: Christ Crucified and the Virgin Mary. The first was represented by the revered images of the Holy Christ of Esquipulas in Guatemala, and the "Blood of Christ" in the cathedral of Managua; the second, especially by the Shrine of Our Lady of Coromoto in Venezuela. These destinations imprinted a deeply religious character on the whole itinerary.

I appeal for the millions crucified by human injustice

2. There is no doubt however that the visit also had a powerful social significance. In Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador there was great expectation of a new, more genuine and open meeting with the Pope, after the one in 1983 especially in Nicaragua so marked by an atmosphere of acute ideological tension. This last visit took place in a very different way, with full freedom of contact and great cordiality. The change of climate occurred to a considerable extent against the background of the events of 1989. Central America ceased to be a "shooting range" of influence and conflict between the two "superpowers" and is living its own history with greater autonomy. In this new situation, the individual countries are called to face urgent problems such as the relationship between capital and labour, and the equitable management of goods. The ecclesial community is fully involved in the task of rebuilding, which requires a joint effort of greater social justice.

3. On my arrival in Guatemala, I immediately experienced again the unmistakable atmosphere of human warmth typical of Latin America, an atmosphere which I found at every stage of my journey: festive crowds, including a large number of young people, made every journey a family meeting, indeed, a family feast.

The day after my arrival I went to the town of Esquipulas, where people venerate the marvellous Crucifix called the "Black Christ" because of the dark colour it has turned with time and candle smoke. Celebrating the Eucharist in that place, so marked by the mystery of Christ's Passion, was a moment of great spiritual intensity. Praying at the foot of the Crucifix, I was able to make my own the invocation of millions of the poor in Latin America, crucified because of human injustice. I could share the special devotion of those peoples for Christ's Passion and their unshakable hope.

After my return to the capital, I presided at a solemn Celebration of the Word, during which I crowned the image of Our Lady of the Assumption, patroness of the city. Supported by her motherly intercession in difficult times many people, especially catechists, did not hesitate to give their lives in order to spread the Gospel among their brothers and sisters. I pointed out their example to today's catechists, inviting them to give an equally generous and incisive witness.

4. The next part of my pilgrimage was in Nicaragua. As everyone knows, on the occasion of my first visit 13 years ago the political situation made a genuine meeting with the people impossible and left a sense of incompleteness. For this reason, as I emphasized on arriving in Managua, my return was intensely desired. The Nicaraguan people's tremendous enthusiasm demonstrated this, showing at the same time heir will to base social renewal on the religious and moral values which they have in abundance. The first of these is he value of the family.

This is why in Malecon Park, Managua, I celebrated Mass for the Family, during which I invited married couples to renew the grace of the sacrament of marriage and always to base their conjugal and family life on fidelity to God's Word. At the same celebration, in an atmosphere of joy and faith, I also closed the National Eucharistic-Marian Congress.

The atmosphere continued into the afternoon when I visited the new cathedral of Managua, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, the country's patroness. In that modern church I spoke to the priests, religious and committed laity, urging them to work generously for the Church, the Bride of Christ without spot or wrinkle. I then paused in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the lovely Chapel "of the Blood of Christ", so called because of the Crucifix which is venerated there. I thought once again of the "Black Christ" of Esquipulas, and I embraced in prayer the Latin American peoples, entrusting them all to the Saviour's open arms.

5. I was welcomed with great enthusiasm by the country which bears his name, El Salvador, a land torn apart in the recent past by violent conflicts between opposing ideological factions. The Church has played a decisive role in the resumption of dialogue and the return of peace, paying a very high price in blood, especially that of her Pastors among whom Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, killed in 1980, is widely revered.

True peace is inseparable from justice. I therefore wanted to celebrate a Mass for Justice and Peace in San Salvador, making the psalmist's words my own as a wish for the Salvadorean people: "In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound" (cf. Ps 72 [71]:7). Then when the Gospel of the Beatitudes was read in front of the cathedral where the mortal remains of Archbishops Chavez, Romero and Rivera Damas are buried, the moving memory of three beloved Pastors and their witness revived in everyone the will to work together to build a more human world.

6. The second part of the journey brought me, as you know, to Venezuela, a country I had already visited in 1985 and which is unfortunately marked at the moment by a severe economic and social crisis. On my way from the airport to the capital, Caracas, I wanted to pause at a large penitentiary to bless the prisoners and leave them a message of hope, based on God's faithful love for every human person.

I then went to the National Shrine of Coromoto, the Venezuelans' ancient centre of Marian devotion. On the site of the apparition in 1652 a modern and impressive shrine has been built in recent years, which I had the joy of officially inaugurating. During the Eucharistic celebration in this evocative place, we meditated on the presence of Mary Most Holy among the People of God, a presence which is a constant invitation to faith, to love for our brothers and sisters, to evangelization, to social commitment; in a word: an invitation to holiness.

I celebrated Mass for the Evangelization of Peoples in Caracas, on the last day of my pilgrimage, recalling the fifth centenary of the arrival of the Christian faith in Venezuela, where it has produced marvellous fruits of evangelical life, including the exemplary witness of Mother Maria of St Joseph, whom I had the joy of enrolling among the blessed last year.

Two other meetings were very meaningful in the perspective of the new evangelization: the meeting with the so-called "builders of society" and that with young people. The first gave me the opportunity to address a large distinguished gathering of people involved in economic, political and cultural life from all over Venezuela, and to urge them to base social renewal on the culture of life and solidarity. My last meeting was with young people. To them, the promise of the future, I left my final message once again in the form of a beatitude: "Blessed are you who open the doors of your heart to Christ the Saviour!". Despite the serious difficulties in those lands one senses the irrepressible enthusiasm of faith as well as an awareness that the Church's future depends, to a considerable extent on the new generations. May the word of God, planted during this pilgrimage, blossom and yield abundant fruit.

Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to pray to the Lord with me for this intention, invoking the constant intercession of the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the peoples of Latin America and Star of the new evangelization.

To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said: I offer a warm welcome to my Brother Bishops from Tanzania present in Rome on the occasion of their ad limina visit. I also greet the students and faculty of Sophia University in Tokyo and of Immaculate Heart College in Kagoshima, Japan. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Ireland, Australia and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Christ our Saviour.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
21 February 1996, p. 11.

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