(Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY (c) 1979) POPE JOHN PAUL II OPENING ADDRESS AT THE PUEBLA CONFE
from: John Eagleson & Philip Scharper, Ed, PUEBLA AND BEYOND,
(Orbis Books, Maryknoll NY (c) 1979)
POPE JOHN PAUL II
OPENING ADDRESS AT THE PUEBLA CONFERENCE
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
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
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 travelled in those ten years! How far the
Church has travelled 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.
I. TEACHERS OF THE TRUTH
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
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"
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
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; ie 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
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: ie, 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"
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
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,
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
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
I have no doubt that this truth about human beings, as taught by
the Church, will emerge strengthened from this pastoral meeting.
II. SIGNS AND BUILDERS OF UNITY
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's 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
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. DEFENDERS AND PROMOTERS OF HUMAN DIGNITY
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
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
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 mt varied sociocultural 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
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
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
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:
ie, that to achieve a life worthy of a human being, one cannot
limit oneself to *having more*; one must strive to *be more*
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
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
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
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
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?
IV. SOME PRIORITY TASKS
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
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
-- the clearsightedness 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).
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank