THIS YEAR MARKS THE 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIFTH GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE LATIN AMERICAN EPISCOPAL COUNCIL (CELAM), held in Aparecida, Brazil, from May 13-31, 2007. The final document promulgated by the conference, known as Document name of Aparecida, has fundamental for the Church in Latin America since then. The general rapporteur of the Document of Aparecida was the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, and many crucial aspects of his current pontificate, such as the pastoral scope, the concept of an “outgoing” Church and the lay mission. , we can go back to it. In this interview, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) leader Rafael D’Aqui reflects on some of the challenges facing the Church on the so-called “continent of faith.” and which, therefore, are also reflected in the work of ACN.
The Latin American continent is currently facing situations of social instability that have led to internal divisions and even street violence in many countries. Are you concerned about this situation? Undoubtedly, in many of these countries there is an aggressive tendency that seeks to silence the voice of the Church, especially on family and pro-life issues. Many of our project partners have told us that in their countries there is a polarization of society, with increasingly large groups characterized by their extremist positions, and this is going to be a problem in terms of social cohesion in many states. Nevertheless, let us not forget that Latin America continues to be the “continent of hope”, as Pope Paul VI affirmed in 1968 and Benedict XVI reaffirmed it in 2007, because it is home to almost half of all Catholics in the world, including many young people.
Looking to the future, one of the biggest challenges for Latin America is the immense growth of urbanization. How does ACN hope to meet this challenge? Are there plans to develop missionary pastoral work in urban settings? ACN always responds to the needs identified by the local Church. Therefore, we believe it is very important for the Church to identify these large urban centers and their growing peripheries. Over the next few years, we would like to encourage missionary outreach to the suburbs of these large urban centers and ensure the presence of the Church there, for example through the formation of catechists and pastoral workers, through internships or literature . The growth of cities is closely linked to internal migration, which is why we believe it is necessary to develop a ministry of pastoral hospitality in these areas. The big challenge is to help newcomers to integrate without losing their Catholic identity, which is very often threatened.
One of the challenges for the Church in Latin America is the shortage of vocations and the lack of priests to serve the faithful. How does ACN help support the Church in this regard? We see that it is very important to develop the vocation apostolate, especially in regions where there is a large Catholic population and too few priests. Our goal is to support vocations programs in the most needy dioceses. The presence of the priest is important in these meetings, and it is crucial to maintain this closeness with young people in particular, which is why sometimes we need to provide vehicles to allow priests to visit schools and parishes more easily. At the same time, ACN supports events for young people, summer camps and conferences and meetings on vocational discernment.
But in addition to the discernment of vocations, there is also the question of the care of the priests themselves, who, as shepherds looking after their flock, often experience very difficult situations, the result of a life lived out of love for their people, but also as a consequence of the economic crisis, the pandemic, etc.
You mentioned that we are facing aggressive secularism in many Latin American countries. There are orchestrated attacks on the unborn child’s right to life and on the family, especially in Argentina, Chile and Colombia. What can the Church do in such situations? And how does ACN support this effort?
We believe ACN should strengthen the faith of families and young people. They are, so to speak, the Achilles heel of society. We need a youth apostolate that can form leaders with a strong sense of identity, aware of their dignity and also well trained in affective and sexual relationships. We need well-informed young people, because secularism is often spread within society through misinformation and distortions of the truth, so it is necessary to educate people in bioethics and the social doctrine of the Church . There are problems not only in the area of aggressive secularization, but also serious problems of social injustice and corruption.
You also spoke about the political polarization of society which causes many divisions on the continent and in the Church as well. How can ACN respond to this and help the Church in its mediating role?
The lack of solutions, the insecurity and the feeling of vulnerability seem to push people to adopt extreme positions. In response, we increasingly seek to encourage the formation of Catholic leaders, rooted in the social teaching of the Church. One way to do this is through the publication DOCAT, which is an excellent source of information for young people in the field of social justice and which also helps them to put it into practice. At the same time, we believe that communication plays a fundamental role in responding to the advance of aggressive secularism and social polarization. Therefore, we believe it is very important to encourage evangelism through digital means and using Catholic media, so that we can reach as many people as possible.
What concrete help has ACN provided to Latin America in 2021?
Last year, we approved 969 project applications from over 800 partners in at least 320 different dioceses on the continent. The countries that received the most aid were Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba. Let us not forget that Latin America has been one of the regions hardest hit by the pandemic in 2021. And within the Church itself, COVID-19 has caused the death of many Catholic faithful, pastoral workers , bishops, priests and religious. At the same time, reduced Church collections – in the wake of the closures – have been a huge challenge to supporting evangelism and human development work in many countries. In response, ACN has had to provide even greater assistance to priests and religious in mission contexts, in the form of basic support or Mass intentions. In some countries, such as Haiti, Cuba, Bolivia and Venezuela, ACN’s response has also taken the form of emergency medical assistance to help deal with the health crisis.