Visit to Mexico 79: Opening Address at the Puebla Conference

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Delivered in Seminario Palafoxiano, Puebla de los Angeles, Mexico, on 28 January 1979

Beloved brothers of the episcopate:

This hour that I have the happiness to experience with you is certainly a historic one for the Church in Latin America. World opinion is aware of this; so are the faithful members of your local Churches; and you yourselves, in particular, are aware of it because you will be the protagonists and responsible leaders of this hour.

It is also an hour of grace marked by the passing by the Lord, by a very special presence and activity of God’s spirit. For this reason we have confidently invoked this Spirit as we begin our labors. For this reason also I now want to make the following plea, speaking to you as a brother to his very beloved brothers: all the days of this conference and in every one of its proceedings, let yourselves be led by the Spirit; open up to the Spirit's inspiration and impulse; let it be that Spirit and none other that guides and strengthens you.

Under the guidance of this Spirit, for the third time in the last twenty-five years you are coming together as bishops. You have come here from every country of Latin America, as representatives of the whole Latin American episcopate, to study more deeply as a group the meaning of your mission in the face of the new exigencies of your peoples.

The conference now opening was convoked by our revered Paul VI— confirmed by my unforgettable predecessor, John Paul I— and reconfirmed by me as one of the first acts of my pontificate. It is linked with the already distant conference held in Rio de Janeiro, whose most noteworthy result was the foundation of CELAM. And it is even more closely linked with your second conference in Medellin, marking its tenth anniversary.

How far humanity has traveled in those ten years! How far the Church has traveled in those ten years in the company and service of humanity! This third conference cannot disregard that fact. So it will have to take Medellin's conclusions as its point of departure, with all the positive elements contained therein, but without disregarding the incorrect interpretations that have sometimes resulted and that call for calm discernment, opportune criticism, and clear-cut stances.

In your debates you will find guidance in the working draft, which was drawn up with great care so that it might serve as a constant point of reference.

But you will also have in your hands Paul VI’s Apostolic Exhortation entitled EVANDELII NUNTIANDI. How pleased and delighted that great pontiff was to give his approval to the theme of your conference: "Evangelization in Latin America's Present and Future."

Those close to him during the months when this meeting was being prepared can tell you this. They can also tell you how grateful he was when he learned that the scenario for the whole conference would be that text, into which he poured his whole pastoral soul as his life drew to a close. And now that he "has closed his eyes on this world's scene" (Testament of Paul VI), his document becomes a spiritual testament. Your conference will have to scrutinize it lovingly and diligently, making it one of your obligatory touchstones and trying to discover how you can put it into practice. The whole Church owes you a debt of gratitude for what you are doing, for the example you are giving. Perhaps other local Churches will take up that example.

The pope chooses to be with you at the start of your labors, grateful for the gift of being allowed to be with you at yesterday’s solemn Mass under the maternal gaze of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and also at this morning's Mass; because "every worthwhile gift, every genuine benefit comes from above, descending from the Father of the heavenly luminaries (James 1:17). I would very much like to stay with you in prayer, reflection and work. Be assured that I shall stay with you in spirit while "my anxiety for all the churches" (2 Cor. 11:28) calls me elsewhere. But before I continue my pastoral visit through Mexico and then return to Rome, I want to at least to leave you with a few words as a pledge of my spiritual presence. They are uttered with all the concern of a pastor and all the affection of a father. They echo my main preoccupations concerning the theme you are dealing with and the life of the Church in these beloved countries.


It is a great consolation for the universal Pastor to see that you come together here, not as a symposium of experts or a parliament of politicians or a congress of scientists or technologists (however important such meetings may be), but rather as a fraternal gathering of church pastors. As pastors, you keenly realize that your chief duty is to be teachers of the truth: not of a human, rational truth but of the truth that comes from God. That truth includes the principle of authentic human liberation: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). It is the one and only truth that offers a solid basis for an adequate "praxis."

I—1. Carefully watching over purity of doctrine, basic in building up the Christian community, is therefore the primary and irreplaceable duty of the pastor, of the teacher of faith — in conjunction with the proclamation of the Gospel. How often this was emphasized by St. Paul, who was convinced of the seriousness of carrying out of this obligation (1 Tim. 1:3-7; 1:18-20; 1:11-16; 2 Tim. 1:4-14)! Besides oneness in charity, oneness in truth ever remains an urgent demand upon us. In his Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII NUNTIANDI— our very beloved Paul VI put it this way: "The Gospel that has been entrusted to us is the word of truth. This truth sets us free, and it alone provides peace of heart. It is what people are looking for when we announce the Good news. The truth about God, the truth about human beings and their mysterious destiny, the truth about the world ... The preacher of the Gospel will be someone who, even at the cost of renunciation and sacrifice, is always seeking the truth to be transmitted to others. Such a person never betrays or misinterprets the truth out of a desire to please people, to astonish or shock people, to display originality, or to strike a pose .... We are pastors of the People of God; our pastoral service bids us to preserve, defend, and communicate the truth, whatever sacrifices may be entailed" (EN:78).

The Truth about Jesus Christ

I—2. From you, pastors, the faithful of your countries expect and demand first and foremost a careful and zealous transmission of the truth about Jesus Christ. This truth is at the core of evangelization and constitutes its essential content: "There is no authentic evangelization so long as one does not announce the name, the teaching, the life, the promises, the Kingdom, the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God" (EN:22).

The vigor of the faith of millions of people will depend on a lively knowledge of this truth. On such knowledge will also depend the strength of their adhesion to the Church and their active presence as Christians in the world. Form it will flow options, values, attitudes, and behavior patterns that can give direction and definition to our Christian living, that can create new human beings and then a new humanity through the conversion of the individual and social conscience (EN:18).

It is from a solid Christology that light must be shed on so many of the doctrinal and pastoral themes and questions that you propose to examine in the coming days.

I—3. So we must profess Christ before history and the world, displaying the same deeply felt and deeply lived conviction that Peter did in his profession: "You are the Messiah, ... the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16).

This is the Good News, unique in a real sense. The Church lives by it and for it, even as the Church draws from it all that it has to offer to all human beings, regardless of nation, culture, race, epoch, ate, or condition. Hence "on the basis of that profession [Peter’s], the history of sacred salvation and of the People of God should take on a new dimension" (John Paul II— Inaugural homily of his pontificate, 22 October 1978).

This is the one and only Gospel. And as the apostle wrote so pointedly, "Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel not in accord with the one we delivered to you, let a curse be upon him" (Gal. 1:8).

I—4. Now today we find in many places a phenomenon that is not new. We find "re-readings" of the Gospel that are the product of theoretical speculations rather than of authentic meditation on the word of God and a genuine evangelical commitment. They cause confusion insofar as they depart from the central criteria of the Church's faith, and people have the temerity to pass them on as catechesis to Christian communities.

In some cases people are silent about Christ's divinity, or else they indulge in types of interpretation that are at variance with the Church's faith. Christ is alleged to be only a "prophet," a proclaimer of God's Kingdom and love, but not the true Son of God. Hence he allegedly is not the center and object of the gospel message itself.

In other cases people purport to depict Jesus as a political activist, as a fighter against Roman domination and the authorities, and even as someone involved in the class struggle. This conception of Christ as a political figure, a revolutionary, as the subversive of Nazareth, does not tally with the Church's catechesis. Confusing the insidious pretext of Jesus' accusers with the attitude of Jesus himself — which was very different — people claim that the cause of his death was the result of a political conflict; they say nothing about the Lord's willing self-surrender or even his awareness of his redemptive mission. The Gospels show clearly that for Jesus anything that would alter his mission as the Servant of Yahweh was a temptation (Matt. 4:8; Luke 4:5). He does not accept the position of those who mixed the things of God with merely political attitudes (Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17; John 18:36). He unequivocally rejects recourse to violence. he opens his message of conversion to all, and he does not exclude even the publicans. The perspective of his mission goes much deeper. It has to do with complete and integral salvation through a love that brings transformation, peace, pardon, and reconciliation. And there can be no doubt that all this imposes exacting demands on the attitude of any Christians who truly wish to serve the least of their brothers and sisters, the poor, the needy, the marginalized; i.e. all those whose lives reflect the suffering countenance of the Lord (Second Vatican Council, LUMEN GENTIUM:8).

I—5. Against such "re-readings," therefore, and against the perhaps brilliant but fragile and inconsistent hypotheses flowing from them, "evangelization in Latin America's present and future" cannot cease to affirm the Church's faith: Jesus Christ, the Word and Son of God, becomes human to draw close to human beings and to offer them, through the power of his mystery, the great gift of God that is salvation (EN 19, 27).

This is the faith that has informed your history, that has shaped what is best in the values of your peoples, and that must continue to animate the dynamics of their future in the most energetic terms. This is the faith that reveals the vocation to concord and unity that must banish the danger of warfare from this continent of hope, a continent in which the Church has been such a potent force for integration. This, in short, is the faith that has found such lively and varied expression among the faithful of Latin America in their religiosity or popular piety.

Rooted in this faith in Christ and in the bosom of the Church, we are capable of serving human beings and our peoples, of penetrating their culture with the Gospel, of transforming hearts, and of humanizing systems and structures.

Any form of silence, disregard, mutilation, or inadequate emphasis on the whole of the mystery of Jesus Christ that diverges from the Church's faith cannot be the valid content of evangelization. "Today, under the pretext of a piety that is false, under the deceptive appearance of a preaching of the gospel message, some people are trying to deny the Lord Jesus, "wrote a great bishop in the midst of the hard crises of the fourth century. And he added: "I speak the truth, so that the cause of the confusion that we are suffering may be known to all. I cannot keep silent" (St. Hilary of Poiters, AD AUXENTUM, 1-4). Nor can you, the bishops of today, keep silent when this confusion occurs.

This is what Pope Paul VI recommended in his opening address at the Medellin Conference: "Speak, speak, preach, write, take a position, as is said, united in plan and intention, for the defense and elucidation of the truths of the faith, on the relevance of the Gospel, on the questions that interest the life of the faithful and the defense of Christian conduct ...."

To fulfill my duty to evangelize all of humanity, I myself will never tire of repeating: "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of State, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development" (John Paul II— Inaugural homily of his pontificate, 22 October, 1978).

The Truth about the Church's Mission

I—6. As teachers of the truth, you are expected to proclaim unceasingly, but with a special vigor at this moment, the truth about the mission of the Church, an object of t Creed we profess and a basic, indispensable area of our fidelity. The Lord instituted the Church "as a fellowship of life, charity, and truth" (LG:9); as the body, pleroma, and sacrament of Christ, in whom dwells the fullness of divinity (LG:7).

The Church is born of our response in faith to Christ. In fact it is by sincere acceptance of the Good News that we believers gather together "in Jesus' name to seek the Kingdom together, build it up, and live it" (EN:13). The Church is the gathering together of "all those who in faith look upon Jesus as the author of salvation and the source of unity and peace" (LG:9).

But on the other hand we are born of the Church. It communicates to us the riches of life and grace entrusted to it. The Church begets us by baptism, nourishes us with the sacraments and the Word of God, prepares us for our mission, and leads us to God's plan — the reason for our existence as Christians. We are the Church's children. With just pride we call the Church our Mother, repeating a title that has come down to us through the centuries from the earliest days (Henri de Lubac, Meditation sur l'Eglise, p. 211ff).

So we must invoke the Church, respect it, and serve it because "one cannot have God for one's Father if one does not have the Church for one's Mother" (St. Cyprian, DE CATHOLICAE ECCLESIAE UNITATE, 6, 8). After all, "how can one possibly love Christ without loving the Church, since the most beautiful testimony to Christ is following the statement of St. Paul: 'He loved the Church and gave himself up for it'?" (EN:16). Or, as St. Augustine puts it: "One possesses the Holy Spirit to the extent that one loves the Church of Christ" (IN IOANNIS EVANGELIUM, Tractus, 32, 8).

Love for the Church must be composed of fidelity and trust. In the first address of my pontificate, I stressed my desire to be faithful to Vatican II— and my resolve to focus my greatest concern on the area of ecclesiology. I invited all to take up once again the Dogmatic Constitution LUMEN GENTIUM and "ponder with renewed earnestness the nature and mission of the Church, its way of existing and operating, not only to achieve that communion of life in Christ among all those who believe in him, but also to help broaden and tighten the oneness of the whole human family" (John Paul II— Message to the Church and the World, 17 October 1978).

Now, at this critical moment in the evangelization of Latin America, I repeat my invitation: "Adherence to this conciliar document, which reflects the light of tradition and contains the dogmatic formulas enunciated a century ago by Vatican I— will provide all of us, both pastors and faithful, a sure pathway and a constant incentive — to say it once again — to tread the byways of life and history" (ibid.).

I—7. Without a well-grounded ecclesiology, we have no guarantee of a serious and vigorous evangelizing activity.

This is so, first of all, because evangelizing is the essential mission, the specific vocation, the innermost identity of the Church, which has been evangelized in turn (EN:14-15; LG:5). Sent out by the Lord, the Church in turn sends out evangelizers to preach "not themselves or their personal ideas, but a Gospel that neither they nor the Church own as their own absolute property, to dispose of as they may see fit ..." (EN:15). This is so, in the second place, because "for no one is evangelizing an isolated, individual act; rather, it is a profoundly ecclesial action, ... an action of the Church" (EN:60). Far from being subject to the discretionary authority of individualistic criteria and perspectives, it stands "in communion with the Church and its pastors" (EN:60). hence a correct vision of the Church is indispensable for a correct view of evangelization.

How could there be any authentic evangelization in the absence of prompt sincere respect for the sacred magisterium, a respect based on the clear realization that in submitting to it, the People of God are not accepting the word of human beings but the authentic word of God? (1 Thess. 2:13; LG:1). "The 'objective' importance of this magisterium must be kept in mind and defended against the insidious attacks that now appear here and there against some of the solid truths of our Catholic faith" (John Paul II— Message to the Church and the World, 17 October 1978).

I am well aware of your attachment and availability to the See of Peter and of the love you have always shown it. In the Lord's name I express my heartfelt thanks for the deeply ecclesial outlook implied in that, and I wish you yourselves the consolation of counting on the loyal adherence of your faithful.

I—8. In the abundant documentation that went into the preparation of this conference, and particularly in the contributions of many Churches, one sometimes notices a certain uneasiness in interpreting the nature and mission of the Church. Allusion is made, for example, to the separation that some set up between the Church and the Kingdom of God. Emptied of its full content, the Kingdom of God is understood in a rather secularist sense: i.e., we do not arrive at the Kingdom through faith and membership in the Church but rather merely by structural change and sociopolitical involvement. Where there is a certain kind of commitment and praxis for justice, there the Kingdom is already present. This view forgets that "the Church ... receives the mission to proclaim and to establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God. She becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that kingdom" (LG:5).

In one of his beautiful catechetical instructions, Pope John Paul I alludes to the virtue of hope. Then he says: "By contrast, it is a mistake to state that political, economic, and social liberation coincide with salvation in Jesus Christ; that the regnum Dei is identified with the regnum hominis" (John Paul I— Catechetical Lesson on the Theological Virtue of Hope, 20 September 1978).

In some instances an attitude of mistrust is fostered toward the "institutional" or "official" Church, which is described as alienating. Over against it is set another, people's Church, one which "is born of the people" and is fleshed out in the poor. These positions could contain varying and not always easily measurable degrees of familiar ideological forms of conditioning. The Council has called our attention to the exact nature and mission of the Church. It has reminded us of the contribution made to its deeper oneness and its ongoing construction by those whose task is to minister to the community and who must count on the collaboration of all the People of God. But let us face the fact: "If the Gospel proclaimed by us seems to be rent by doctrinal disputes, ideological polarizations, or mutual condemnations among Christians, if it is at the mercy of their differing views about Christ and the Church, and even of their differing conceptions of human society and its institutions, ... how can those to whom we address our preaching fail to be disturbed, disoriented, and even scandalized?" (EN:77)

The Truth about Human Beings

I—9. The truth we owe to human beings is, first and foremost, a truth about themselves. As witnesses to Jesus Christ, we are heralds, spokesmen, and servants of this truth. We cannot reduce it to the principles of some philosophical system, or to mere political activity. We cannot forget it or betray it.

Perhaps one of the most glaring weaknesses of present-day civilization lies in an inadequate view of the human being. Undoubtedly our age is the age that has written and spoken the most about the human being; it is the age of various humanisms, the age of anthropocentrism. But paradoxically it is also the age of people's deepest anxieties about their identity and destiny; it is the age when human beings have been debased to previously unsuspected levels, when human values have been trodden underfoot as never before.

How do we explain this paradox? We can say that it is the inexorable paradox of atheistic humanism. It is the drama of people severed from an essential dimension of their being — the Absolute —and thus confronted with the worst possible diminution of their being. GAUDIUM ET SPES goes to the heart of the problem when it says: "Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light" (GS:22).

Thanks to the Gospel, the Church possesses the truth about the human being. It is found in an anthropology that the Church never ceases to explore more deeply and to share. The primordial assertion of this anthropology is that the human being is the image of God and cannot be reduced to a mere fragment of nature or to an anonymous element in the human city (GS:12,14). This is the sense intended by St. Irenaeus when he wrote: "The glory of the human being is God; but the receptacle of all God’s activity, wisdom, and power is the human being" (St. Irenaeus, ADVERSUS HAERESES, III— 20, 2-3).

I made especially pointed reference to this irreplaceable foundation of the Christian conception of the human being in my Christmas Message: "Christmas is the feast of the human being.... Viewed in quantitative terms, the human being is an object of calculation.... But at the same time the human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name" (John Paul II— Christmas Message, 25 December 1978).

Faced with many other forms of humanism, which frequently are locked into a strictly economic, biological, or psychological view of the human being, the Church has the right and the duty to proclaim the truth about the human being that it received from its teacher, Jesus Christ. God grant that no external coercion will prevent the Church from doing so. But above all, God grant that the Church itself will not fail to do so out of fear or doubt, or because it has left itself to be contaminated by other brands of humanism, or for the lack of confidence in its original message.

So when a pastor of the Church clearly and unambiguously announces the truth about the human being, which was revealed by him who knew "what was in man's heart" (John 2:25), he should be encouraged by the certainty that he is rendering the best service to human beings.

This complete truth about human beings is the basis of the Church's social teaching, even as it is the basis of authentic liberation. In the light of this truth we see that human beings are not the pawns of economic or political processes, that instead these processes are geared towards human beings and subject to them.

I have no doubt that this truth about human beings, as taught by the Church, will emerge strengthened from this pastoral meeting.


Your pastoral service to the truth is complemented by a like service to unity.

Unity among the bishops

II—1. First of all, it will be a unity among you yourselves, the bishops. As one bishop, St. Cyprian, put it in an era when communion among bishops of his country was greatly threatened: "We must guard and maintain this unity ... we bishops, in particular, who preside over the Church, so that we may bear witness to the fact that the episcopate is one and indivisible. Let no one mislead the faithful or alter the truth. The episcopate is one ..." (St. Cyprian, DE CATHOLICAE ECCLESIAE UNITATE, 6,8).

This episcopal unity does not come from human calculation or maneuvering, but from on high: from service to one single Lord, from the inspiration of one single Spirit, from love for one and the same unique Church. It is the unity resulting from the mission that Christ has entrusted to us. here on the Latin American continent that mission has been going on for almost half a millennium. Today you are boldly carrying it on in an age of profound transformations, as we approach the close of the second millennium of redemption and ecclesial activity. it is unity centered around the Gospel of the body and blood of the Lamb, of Peter living in his successors; all of these are different but important signs of Jesus’ presence in our midst.

What an obligation you have, dear brothers, to live this pastoral unity at this conference! The conference itself is a sign and fruit of the unity that already exists; but is also a foretaste and anticipation of what should be an even more intimate and solid unity! So begin your labors in an atmosphere of fraternal unity. Even now let this unity be a component of evangelization.

Unity with Priests, Religious, and the Faithful

II—2. Unity among the bishops finds its extension in unity with priests, religious, and the faithful laity. Priests are the immediate collaborators of the bishops in their pastoral mission. This mission would be compromised if close unity did not exist between priests and their bishops.

Men and women religious are also particularly important subjects of that unity. I know well how important their contribution to evangelization has been, and continues to be, in Latin America. They arrived here in the dawning light of discovery, and they were here when almost all your countries were taking their first steps. They have labored here continually by the side of the diocesan clergy. In some countries more than half of your priests are religious; in others the vast majority are. This alone indicates how important it is here, even more than in other parts of the world, for religious to not only accept but loyally strive for an indissoluble unity of outlook and action with their bishops. To the bishops the Lord entrusted the mission of feeding the flock. To the religious belongs the task of blazing the trail for evangelization. Bishops cannot and should not fail to have the collaboration of religious, whose charism makes them all the more available as active and responsible, but also docile and trusting. In this connection a heavy obligation weighs on everyone in the ecclesial community to avoid parallel magisteria, which are ecclesially unacceptable and pastorally sterile. Lay people are also subjects of this unity, whether involved as individuals or joined in organs of the apostolate for the spread of God’s kingdom. It is they who must consecrate the world to Christ in the midst of their day-to- day tasks and in their varied family and professional functions, maintaining close union with, and obedience to, their legitimate pastors.

This precious gift of ecclesial unity must be safeguarded among all those who are part of the wayfaring People of God, in line with what LUMEN GENTIUM said.


III—1. Those familiar with the history of the Church know that in every age there have been admirable bishops deeply involved in the valiant defense of the human dignity of those entrusted to them by the Lord. Their activity was always mandated by their episcopal mission, because they regarded human dignity as a gospel value that cannot be despised without greatly offending the Creator.

On the level of the individual, this dignity is crushed underfoot when due regard is not maintained for such values as freedom, the right to profess one's religion, physical and psychic integrity, the right to life's necessities, and the right to life itself. On the social and political level it is crushed when human beings cannot exercise their right to participate, when they are subjected to unjust and illegitimate forms of coercion, when they are subjected to physical and psychic torture, and so forth.

I am not unaware of the many problems in this area that are being faced in Latin America today. As bishops, you cannot fail to concern yourselves with them. I know that you propose to reflect seriously on the relationships and implications existing between evangelization and human promotion or liberation, focusing on the specific nature of the Church's presence in this broad and important area.

Here is where we come to the concrete, practical application of the themes we have touched upon in talking about the truth about Christ, about the Church, and about human beings.

III— 2. If the Church gets involved in defending or promoting human dignity, it does so in accordance with its mission. For even though that mission is religious in character, and not social or political, it cannot help but consider human persons in terms of their whole being. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Lord outlined the model way of attending to all human needs (Luke 10:30ff); and he said that in the last analysis he will identify himself with the disinherited —the imprisoned, the hungry, and the abandoned — to whom we have offered a helping hand (Matt. 25:31ff). In these and other passages of the Gospel (Mark 6:35-44), the Church has learned that an indispensable part of its evangelizing mission is made up of works on behalf of justice and human promotion (see the Final Document of the Synod of Bishops, October 1971). it has learned that evangelization and human promotion are linked together by very strong ties of an anthropological, theological, and charitable nature (EN:31). Thus "evangelization would not be complete if it did not take into account the mutual interaction that takes hold in the course of time between the Gospel and the concrete personal and social life of the human being" (EN:29).

Let us also keep in mind that the Church's activity in such areas as human promotion, development, justice, and human rights is always intended to be in the service of the human being, the human being as seen by the Church in the Christian framework of the anthropology it adopts. The Church therefore does not need to have recourse to ideological systems in order to love, defend, and collaborate in the liberation of the human being. At the center of the message of which the Church is the trustee and herald, it finds inspiration for acting in favor of brotherhood, justice, and peace; and against all forms of domination, slavery, discrimination, violence, attacks on religious liberty, and aggression against human beings and whatever attacks life (GS:26,27,29).

III—3. It is therefore not out of opportunism or a thirst for novelty that the Church, the "expert in humanity" (Paul VI— Address to the United Nations, 5 October 1965) defends human rights. >It is prompted by an authentically evangelical commitment which, like that of Christ, is primarily a commitment to those most in need.

In fidelity to this commitment, the Church wishes to maintain its freedom with regard to the opposing systems, in order to opt solely for the human being. Whatever the miseries or sufferings that afflict human beings, it is not through violence, power-plays, or political systems but through the truth about human beings that they will find their way to a better future.

III—4. From this arises the Church's constant preoccupation with the delicate question of property ownership. One proof of this is to be found in the writings of the Church Fathers during the first thousand years of Christianity's existence (St. Ambrose, DE NABUTHAE, c. 12, n. 53). It is demonstrated by the vigorous and oft reiterated teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas. In our day the Church has appealed to the same principles in such far-reaching documents as the social encyclicals of the recent popes. Pope Paul VI spoke out on this matter with particular force and profundity in his encyclical POPULORUM PROGRESSIO (PP:23-24; MATER ET MAGISTRA:104-15).

This voice to the Church, echoing the voice of the human conscience, did not cease to make itself heard down through the centuries, amid the varied socio-cultural systems and circumstances. It deserves and needs to be heard in our age as well, when the growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.

It is then that the Church's teaching, which says that there is a social mortgage on all private property, takes on an urgent character. Insofar as this teaching is concerned, the Church has a mission to fulfill. It must preach, educate persons and groups, shape public opinion, and give direction to national officials. In so doing, it will be working for the good of society. Eventually this Christian, evangelical principle will lead to a more just and equitable distribution of goods, not only within each nation but also in the wide world as a whole. And this will prevent the stronger countries from using their power to the detriment of the weaker ones.

Those in charge of the public life of the States and nations will have to realize that internal and international peace will be assured only when a social and economic system based on justice takes effect.

Christ did not remain indifferent in the face of this vast and demanding imperative of social morality. Neither could the Church. In the spirit of the Church, which is the spirit of Christ, and supported by its ample, solid teaching, let us get back to work in this field. Here I must once again emphasize that the Church's concern is for the whole human being.

Thus an indispensable condition for a just economic system is that it foster the growth and spread of public education and culture. The juster an economy is, the deeper will be its cultural awareness. This is very much in line with the view of Vatican II: i.e., that to achieve a life worthy of a human being, one cannot limit oneself to having more; one must strive to be more (GS:35).

When Paul VI declared that development is the new name for peace (PP:76-79), he was thinking of all the ties of interdependence existing, not only within nations, but also between them on a worldwide scale. He took into consideration humanism, and that therefore lead on the international level to the ever increasing wealth of the rich at the expense of the ever increasing poverty of the poor.

There is no economic norm that can change those mechanisms in and by itself. In international life, too, one must appeal to the principles of ethics, the exigencies of justice, and the primary commandment of love. Primacy must be given to that which is moral, to that which is spiritual, to that which flows from the full truth about the human being.

I wanted to voice these reflections to you, since I regard them as very important; but they should not distract you from the central theme of this conference. We will reach human beings, we will reach justice through evangelization.

III—5. In the light of what has been said above, the Church is profoundly grieved to see "the sometimes massive increase in violations of human rights in many parts of the world .... Who can deny that today there are individual persons and civil authorities who are violating fundamental rights of the human person with impunity? I refer to such rights as the right to be born; the right to life; the right to responsible procreation; the right to work; the right to peace, freedom, and social justice; and the right to participate in making decisions that affect peoples and nations. And what are we to say when we run up against various forms of collective violence, such as racial discrimination against individuals and groups and the physical and psychological torturing of prisoners and political dissidents? The list grows when we add examples of abduction and of kidnapping for the sake of material gain, which represent such a traumatic attack on family life and the social fabric" (John Paul II— Message to the United Nations, 2 December 1978). We cry out once more: Respect the human being, who is the image of God! Evangelize so that this may become a reality, so that the Lord may transform hearts and humanize political and economic systems, with the responsible commitment of human beings as the starting point!

III—6. Pastoral commitments in this field must be nurtured with a correct Christian conception of liberation. "The Church ... has the duty of proclaiming the liberation of millions of human beings, ... the duty of helping to bring about this liberation" (EN:30). But it also has the corresponding duty of proclaiming liberation in its deeper, fuller sense, the sense proclaimed and realized by Jesus (EN:31ff). That fuller liberation is "liberation from everything that oppresses human beings, but especially liberation from sin and the evil one, in the joy of knowing God and being known by him" (EN:9). It is liberation that enables us to recognize reconciliation and forgiveness. It is liberation rooted in the fact of being the children of God, whom we are now able to call Abba, Father! (Rom. 8:15). It is liberation that enables us to recognize all human beings as our brothers or sisters, as people whose hearts can be transformed by God's mercifulness. it is liberation that pushes us, with all the force of love, toward communion; and we find the fullness and culmination of that communion in the Lord. It is liberation as the successful conquest of the forms of bondage and idols fashioned by human beings, as the growth and flowering of the new human being.

It is a liberation that, in the framework of the Church's specific mission, "cannot be reduced simply to the restricted domain of economics, politics, society, or culture, ... can never be sacrificed to the requirements of some particular strategy, some short-term praxis or gain" (EN:33).

If we are to safeguard the originality of Christian liberation and the energies that it is capable of releasing, we must at all costs avoid reductionism and ambiguity. As Paul VI pointed out: "The Church would lose its innermost meaning. Its message of liberation would have nothing original, and it would lend itself to ready manipulation and expropriation by ideological systems and political parties" (EN:32). There are many signs that help us to distinguish when the liberation in question is Christian and when, on the other hand, it is based on ideologies that make it inconsistent with an evangelical view of humanity, of things, and of events (EN:35). These signs derive from the content that the evangelizers proclaim or from the concrete attitudes that they adopt. At the level of content one must consider how faithful are they to the Word of God, to the Church's living tradition, and to its magisterium. As for attitudes, one must consider what sense of communion they feel, with the bishops first of all, and then with the other sectors of God's People. Here one must also consider what contribution they make to the real building up of the community; how they channel their love into caring for the poor, the sick, the dispossessed, the neglected, and the oppressed; and how, discovering in these people the image of the poor and suffering Jesus, they strive to alleviate their needs and to serve Christ in them (LG:8). Let us make no mistake about it: as if by some evangelical instinct, the humble and simple faithful spontaneously sense when the Gospel is being served in the Church and when it is eviscerated and asphyxiated by other interests.

As you see, the whole set of observations on the theme of liberation that were made by EVANGELII NUNTIANDI retain their full validity.

III—7. All that we have recalled above constitutes a rich and complex heritage, which EVANGELII NUNTIANDI calls the social doctrine, or social teaching, of the Church (EN:38). This teaching comes into being, in the light of God's Word and the authentic magisterium, from the presence of Christians in the midst of the world's changing situations and their contact with the resultant challenges. So this social doctrine entails not only principles for reflection but also norms for judgement and guidelines for action (OA:4).

To place responsible confidence in this social doctrine, even though some people try to sow doubts and lack of confidence in it; to study it seriously; to try to apply it; to teach it and to be loyal to it: in children of the Church, all this guarantees the authenticity of their involvement in delicate and demanding social tasks, and of their efforts on behalf of the liberation or advancement of their fellow human beings.

Permit me, then, to commend to your special pastoral attention the urgency of making your faithful aware of the Church's social doctrine.

Particular care must be devoted to forming a social conscience at all levels and in all sectors. When injustices increase and the gap between rich and poor widens distressingly, then the social doctrine of the Church — in a form that is creative and open to the broad areas of the Church's presence — should be a valuable tool for formation and action. This holds true for the laity in particular: "Secular duties and activities belong properly, although not exclusively, to laymen" (GS:43). It is necessary to avoid supplanting the laity, and to study seriously just when certain ways of substituting for them retain their raison d'etre. Is it not the laity who are called, by virtue of their vocation in the Church, to make their contribution in the political and economic areas, and to be effectively present in the safeguarding and advancing of human rights?


You are going to consider many pastoral topics of great importance. Time prevents me from mentioning them. I have referred to some, or will do so, in my meetings with priests, religious, seminarians, and lay people.

For various reasons, the topics I mention here are of great importance. you will not fail to consider them, among the many others your pastoral perspicacity will indicate to you.

a. The family: Make every effort to ensure that there is pastoral care for the family. Attend to this area of such priority importance, certain that evangelization in the future depends largely on the "domestic Church." The family is the school of love, of knowledge of God, of respect for life and human dignity. This pastoral field is all the more important because the family is the object of so many threats. Think of the campaigns advocating divorce, the use of contraceptives, and abortion, which destroy society.

b. Priestly and religious vocations: Despite an encouraging revival of vocations, the lack of vocations is a grave and chronic problem in most of your countries. There is an immense disproportion between the growing number of inhabitants and the number of workers engaged in evangelization. This is of immeasurable importance to the Christian community. Every community must acquire its vocations, just as a proof of its vitality and maturity. An intensive pastoral effort must be reactivated. Starting off from the Christian vocation in general and an enthusiastic pastoral effort among young people, such an effort will give the Church the servants it needs. Lay vocations, indispensable as they are, cannot be satisfactory compensation. What is more, one of the proofs of the laity's commitment is the abundance of vocations to the consecrated life.

c. Young people: How much hope the Church places in them! How much energy needed by the Church circulates through young people in Latin America! How close we pastors must be to young people, so that Christ and the Church and brotherly love may penetrate deeply into their hearts!


Closing this message, I cannot fail to call down once again the protection of the Mother of God upon your persons and your work during these days. The fact that this meeting of ours is taking place in the spiritual presence of Our Lady of Guadalupe — who is venerated in Mexico and in all other countries as the mother of the Church in Latin America — is a cause of joy and a source of hope for me. May she, the "star of evangelization," be your guide in the reflections you make and the decisions you arrive at. From her divine Son may she obtain for you:

— The boldness of prophets and the evangelical prudence of pastors;
— the clear sightedness of teachers and the confident certainty of guides and directors;
— courage as witnesses, and the calmness, patience, and gentleness of fathers.

May the Lord bless your labors. You are accompanied by select representatives: priests, deacons, men and women religious, lay people, experts, and observers. Their collaboration will be very useful to you. The eyes of the whole Church are on you, in confidence and hope. You intend to measure up to their expectations, in full fidelity to Christ, the Church, and humanity.

The future is in God's hands. But somehow God is also placing the future of a new evangelization impetus in your hands: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19).

Taken from: John Eagleson & Philip Scharper, Ed, PUEBLA AND BEYOND, (Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY (c) 1979)

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