Commission for information of the
16 November-12 December 1997
"Encounter with the
Living Jesus Christ,
The Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops is only a working instrument for journalistic use and the translations from the original are not official.
30 - 11.12.1997
During the Twenty-Third General Assembly on Tuesday, 9 December 1997, the Synodal Fathers approved the Message of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops.
To coincide with the final press conference on Synod activities taking place in the John Paul II Hall of the Holy See Press Office today, 11 December 1997 at 12:45 p.m., here is the full text in English (one of the four official languages in which it was written):
1. At the threshold of the third millennium of Christianity, the members of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America call out to all our brothers and sisters in America, and to all the world, the words which St. Paul proclaimed at the beginning of the first millennium: "Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil 2:11).
This we believe and preach with all our hearts. It is at the center of our faith and the cornerstone of our lives. We believe that salvation comes to every man and woman only through the living Jesus Christ.
It is through an encounter with Jesus, the Redeemer of the World, that we are led to conversion from our sins, into communion with His grace, and thus into a relationship of solidarity with our neighbors.
2. We proclaim a God who is alive and present and filled with love for us, whose presence in our world is manifested most perfectly in the Eucharist through which He feeds us with the bread of life so that we may walk with Him in the world of today, listen to Him speak His Truth to us through the Scriptures and the Church, and be challenged by His example and His grace to live not for ourselves but for others (cf. Sacrosanctum concilium, 7).
We proclaim to you, dear brothers and sisters, that only in Jesus Christ, who lives among us, can we find the strength to live as children of God in His one human family, that only in our encounter with the living Jesus can we enter the Kingdom of God.
3. Called from all the nations of America to gather with the Successor of Peter for this Special Synod, we are grateful to our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, for this opportunity of prayer, study and reflection. For indeed we have prayed together and listened to the stories of the wonders and the needs of the Church in this New World. It seems to us a special grace that the Holy Father has called this Synod under the title of the Special Assembly for America with the theme, "Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America".
4. We believe that we are one community; and, although America comprises many nations, cultures, and languages, there is so much that links us together and so many ways in which each of us affects the lives of our neighbors. This historic gathering of the Church in America at the Holy Fatherís invitation has impelled us to seek the answers to the problems and concerns of our lands, not in the service of one part of America or even the needs of another, but in calling forth the resources of both and becoming more conscious of the needs of each. This has been done over the weeks of the Synod, as we listened to the concerns and the hopes of our neighbors from all these lands.
5. As we send you this message of hope in Jesus Christ, our beloved brothers and sisters, we are filled with the joy that has come from praying together, talking together, and joining together in a common greeting. We cannot present everything covered in our discussion, but we draw on its richness to bring you this message.
THE JOYS OF THE CHURCH IN AMERICA
6. First we greet you, our brothers and sisters in faith, those millions of Catholic men and women throughout America whose faithful practice of the Christian life, whose devotion to the Lord, to His Blessed Mother, and to His Church are for us both an inspiration and a challenge to greater service.
7. We greet you, the families of America, the foundation of our society, proud and gratified by your Christian commitment to the defense of life from the moment of conception until natural death. We hold in esteem all the families who are faithful to their Christian calling and who raise their children in the spirit of the Gospel.
8. We greet you, the laity of the Church, whose generous use of your diverse gifts builds up the Body of Christ in the world. We are very conscious of those of you, especially the elderly and the sick, who devote yourselves in a special way to prayer. You are truly a hidden force for immense good in our society and we greet you with deep gratitude.
9. We send special greetings to you, the women of our continent, conscious of the extraordinary role you have already played in our history and in the handing on of the faith. We are confident that your many gifts will continue to build up in America the Kingdom of God with love and truth and joy.
10. With special love and care we greet you, the children. We pray that your days of childhood may be spent with those who love you and who shield you from the dangers of our society, so that you can grow in wisdom, grace and strength before God and your neighbors (cf. Lc 2,52).
11. We greet you, the youth of our local Churches. We need you. We are proud of your idealism and your desire to make the world a better place. You are a vital part of the Church of today. Your own special love of the Holy Father is a grace in which we all rejoice. We pray that your love of Jesus will be the greatest treasure of your life, and we count on your generosity in the service of justice and peace.
12. We greet you, our brother bishops, who with such dedication watch over the People of God; the priests who are our devoted brothers and fellow workers, and who share with us the pastoral ministry for the care of souls; the permanent deacons whose coming to pastoral service in our lands has been so great a gift; the consecrated men and women whose grace-filled lives make such a difference in the work of the Church not only by what you do but by what you are in your witness to the Kingdom of God.
13. We greet you, our seminarians, with affection and encouragement, assuring you of our fervent prayers in your journey to the Altar of Christ, and we greet with equal gratitude you, the growing number of men and women who, with such sacrifice and devotion, serve the Church in education, catechesis, charity, social ministry, the promotion of justice and peace, and other apostolates.
14. How blessed is the Church in this New World with thousands of parishes, where the Lord is worshiped and His word proclaimed and the loving service of neighbor is exercised by so many. How blessed is the Church, also, by so many small Christian communities of faith which are multiplying throughout our lands in service to their parishes and dioceses.
15. We honor the memory of the martyrs of this continent, known and unknown, who have shed their blood for Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Their example encourages us to strive that the Kingdom of God may be fully realized among us.
THE CONCERNS OF THE CHURCH IN AMERICA
16. During these days we have heard and taken to heart the sufferings of the Church in America. We have heard the concerns of you, the families both in the North and in the South. We are conscious of the burdens borne by poor families everywhere who find opportunities to improve their lives denied them, and conscious, too, of the stresses which modern life brings even to families of means, stresses which hamper the best attempts to live the Christian life. We recognize that the great ideal of the home as a "domestic Church" where children are raised by both father and mother is often unrealized. We grieve over the brokenness of so many families in all classes, and we offer to you our prayers. To you single parents who, with trust in God, bravely assume the responsibility of raising children in the Christian life without the companionship and support of a spouse, we extend the encouragement of the family of faith.
17. We reach out to you the young men and women who search for God in todayís world, to you the young among the poor who are deprived of opportunity to earn a living and begin a family, to you the youth whose idealism has been so diminished by an excessive consumerism, and to all you young people who long for a sense of Godís loving presence in your lives. We know of the many hardships faced by you, young men and women, who leave your homes in rural areas for the uncertainties and impersonal life of the city and who emigrate from your native lands to begin a new life in a strange land where you are often misunderstood and mistreated. To all of you, we offer the renewed promise of Godís love in the community of the Church and fellowship with us as we labor together to build up the Kingdom of God. We invite you to walk with Jesus Christ, the way to the new millennium of His birth.
18. We turn with heavy hearts to the bitter hardships borne by you, the children of the streets. What you, the children of God, suffer, should happen to no one. Sometimes you may not even realize that you are abandoned, abused, exploited and entangled in a life of crime. Some of you are even living under the threat of murder by those who should shield you from harm. We call on people of good will to help rescue you from these dangers, so you may enjoy a secure and normal life and discover the presence of Godís love. We remember the words of Jesus, "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mk 9:37).
19. To you, immigrants who find yourselves unwelcome in the lands where you have moved, we send words of encouragement. The Church has walked alongside generations of migrants in the march for a better life, and she will not cease to stand by you with every kind of service. To seasonal workers who toil stooped under the sun to provide for their families, we unite ourselves in solidarity with you in your quest for just working conditions. As countries close their doors and nations set obstacles in the path of your just aspirations as migrants, we recall the injunction of Leviticus: "The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself " (Lev 19:33-34).
20. To you minorities who are victims of prejudice, we sympathize with the frustration you suffer on account of discrimination, the pain imposed on you by the hostility of others, and the abuse often inflicted on you by social institutions. You are created in Godís image and share equally in the dignity of the human person. Here and now, you have a right to be accorded the dignity you have in the eyes of God.
21. We call to mind you, the aboriginal and indigenous peoples of America, who have suffered so much these past five centuries at the hands of the greedy and violent, and who even today enjoy so little of the abundance our lands have produced. As we proclaim to you the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we pledge ourselves to honor your culture and to support you in preserving your heritage.
22. We want to speak to you, our brothers and sisters of African heritage, whose ancestors came to America in bondage as slaves. The wounds of those terrible centuries of slavery still sting the soul. We pledge ourselves to continue to work with you so that you may enjoy your full dignity as children of God, and so that you may always feel welcome in our churches and communities of faith. We ask everyone to work and sacrifice to build a society modeled on the banquet of the Lord where all races will partake of the goodness of creation as one family under God (cf. Isa 25:6).
23. We reach out as well to you who live alone and all who feel lonely, particularly the elderly, the home-bound, the sick, and the forsaken. The Church is your home, and we in the Church are your brothers and sisters. May the consolation of the Holy Spirit be with you in the midst of your pain and suffering as you unite yourself with the sufferings of the Lord.
24. We call to all those who are searching for God, to you men and women who seek integrity of life, and you who long to comprehend its meaning. We know from our own experience the deep stirrings of the heart which longs for God. "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God, when shall I come and behold the face of God?" (Ps 42:2). Meet Jesus who shares His Spirit with us, who transforms us in holiness and gives meaning to history. Learn of Him and become His disciple (cf. Mt 11:28).
25. Indeed, of all the concerns of Godís people that have resounded in the hall of this Special Synod for America, the cry of the poor has been heard with a special attention. Not a single episcopal conference in America has failed to speak clearly and with deep emotion about the quest for justice for our brothers and sisters whose lives and human dignity are challenged by poverty and want. These concerns have their origins not only in the personal sinfulness of individuals but also in "the structures of sin" to which personal sin can give rise and which in turn reinforce personal sin and widen its impact.
26. In the North, we look with dismay and alarm as the gap widens year by year between those who have an abundance and those who have only the barest of resources. Where material benefits are so widespread, many among us face the temptation of the Rich Man in the Gospel to become indifferent to the needs of those at our own doorstep (cf. Lk 16:19-31). We must be mindful of the First Letter of John: "If anyone has this worldís goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart to him, how does Godís love abide in him. Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and truth" (1 Jn 3:17-18).
27. In the South, there are regions which suffer conditions of such utter human misery that they cannot be reconciled with the dignity which God has bestowed equally on each of His children. In every part of America, there is need to protect innocent unborn children from the scourge of abortion. Even where wretchedness has not reached so great a depth, there are still to be found the sufferings of children who go to bed hungry, of mothers and fathers without work or sustenance, of indigenous peoples whose homelands and livelihoods are threatened, of thousands without jobs or shelter because of changing and volatile market conditions. To these woes must be added those caused by abuses in the globalization of the worldís culture and economy, those caused by the drug traffic, the diversion of scarce resources into the arms trade, and political and business corruption which deprives people of the share of material goods intended for or earned by them and to which they have a right.
28. The burden of external and internal debt, which for many countries has been something from which there seems to be no prospect of relief, has been a considerable concern during the Synod. Even though the international debt is not the sole cause of poverty in many developing countries, it cannot be denied that it has contributed to creating conditions of extreme privation which constitute an urgent challenge to the conscience of humankind. Accordingly, we join the Holy Father in his appeal for the reduction or forgiveness of debts in an effort to give relief to the people of some of the worldís poorest nations (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, 51). Relief from debt will only begin to lift the burdens of the poor. Much more will have to be done to prevent the marginalization of whole countries and regions from the global economy. Any reduction of the debt must truly result in benefit to the poor. Measures must be taken to avoid the causes -- whatever they may be -- that created the debt.
29. We call on the leaders of government and of industry and finance, on those who are rich in material possessions, on economists, on social workers, on theologians and experts in the Churchís social teaching, and all people of good will to walk together with us and the poor and to search with them for a way that respects their human dignity. We are grateful to God for the assistance we receive from many sources. Many of our particular Churches are especially thankful for the substantial help they receive from Europe and the central bodies of the Catholic Church. We equally recognize the continuing collaboration that the leaders of other churches, ecclesial communities and faith groups offer in service of the poor. Before us, as always, are the two paths: the wide and easy one of acquiescing in the way things are, and the way that is long and hard that leads to justice (cf. Mt 7:13-14). We must choose the hard path; and during Advent, as we hear the Lordís assurance that He makes all things new (cf. Rev 21:5), may He make us worthy of helping to restore this world in Him, so that the poor may hope once again for peace and joy.
THE CHALLENGES OF THE CHURCH IN AMERICA
30. During the days of our Synod, the Holy Spirit has guided us to see these challenges as among the most important for the New Evangelization. The Church needs witnesses to the faith. The Church needs saints. The most fitting way in which we can celebrate the Great Jubilee of our Lordís birth is to hear His Gospel anew, take it to heart, and share it with humility, gratitude and joy, even as the Apostles on the first Pentecost. We call on you the faithful to take up the call of the Lord to be the evangelists of the new millennium, sharing your faith openly and courageously. We invite you to witness to your faith by your lives of holiness, by your kindness to all, your charity toward those in need, and your solidarity with all the oppressed. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35). In an age tainted by materialism and yet yearning for faith, we urge you to share the Gospel with others: those who have abandoned the faith, those who in their longing are still searching for God, and those who have yet to hear the Good News of the Lord Jesus.
31. We will need to foster vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. In preparation for the Great Jubilee, all Christians must discover how best to fulfill their call to holiness. The Church appeals to generous hearts to accept Godís invitation to the priesthood and to consecrated life where those called, by their following of Jesus, show the grace of God active in history. In the quiet of your hearts, listen to the Lordís call to each of you on the threshold of the new millennium, even as Samuel did: "Speak, for your servant hears" (1 Sam 3:10).
32. In addition, the missionary efforts of the Church must be fostered. This Synod for America has been for all of us a reminder of the gifts we have shared through the evangelizing efforts of previous generations, of the gifts given by the sending Churches and the gifts they have been given in return by the receiving Churches. The New Evangelization envisages a continued exchange of gifts with many ways of collaboration between our local Churches in the common work of sharing the Gospel. Priests and other missionaries from the North continue to be needed in the South and elsewhere. At the same time, the Church in the South has intensified its efforts to send missionaries to the North and to other lands. They come to minister to their people and proclaim the gospel to all. This missionary exchange is at the heart of the New Evangelization to which the Holy Father has so often called the whole Church. "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!" (Rom 10:15).
33. The media of social communications play an increasingly influential role in the life of society and the Church. They are creating a "new culture". As the Holy Father has said, this "new culture" arises not only from the content of these means of communications "but from the very fact that there exist new ways of communicating with new languages, new techniques, and a new psychology" (Redemptoris missio, 37). The Church needs to continue the development of her own use of these means in service of the Gospel. Her dedicated corps of professionals in communications can serve as the leaven which influences those in a field of endeavor often unmindful of religious values to reconsider their values for the sake of society. St. Paul writes in Romans, "And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?" (Rm 10:14). And indeed we must learn to preach in the new language to which so many have become accustomed through the contemporary means of mass communications.
34. Consequently, the New Evangelization requires cultures that are open to faith in God where believers can contribute to society. For the most part, we in America enjoy the blessings of religious liberty. Still, as the Church lives out the Gospel, in proclaiming the Kingdom of God, in advocating justice for the poor, and in defending human life and dignity, she faces many obstacles. In some places, despite legal protection of the Church, bishops, priests, deacons, delegates of the Word, consecrated and lay people are penalized and slandered, intimidated and even slain for their Gospel defense of the poor. In still other places, a new, aggressive secularism would deny a voice to people of faith in the public arena and demean the enormous contribution of the Church to public life. Accordingly, we appeal to the faithful in public life and to people of good will who have influence on public opinion to stand with us in defense of the Gospel of Life against abortion and euthanasia. We also call on them to stand with us against anti-religious prejudice, and to support the contributions of the Church and other communities of faith to the common good, which will be fully realized when we reach the Fatherís house.
JESUS CHRIST OUR HOPE (1 Tim 1:1)
35. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we have described the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the needs of America. In the face of all the pain and suffering in the world, shall we lose heart and become discouraged? In the power of the Holy Spirit, we say to you: Jesus Christ has overcome the world. He has sent His Holy Spirit among us to make all things new again; indeed, in the words of Holy Scripture, to renew the face of the earth. This then is our simple message: Jesus Christ is Lord! His resurrection fills us with hope; His presence on our journey fills us with courage. We say to you, as the Holy Father tells us all so often: Do not be afraid. The Lord is with you on the way, go forth to meet Him.
36.And where shall we meet Him? We can find Him dwelling within us if only we will open our hearts to the challenge of His love (cf. Jn 14:23). We can find Him in our neighbor, especially in the poor and the hungry and those in want (cf. Mt 25:40). We can meet Him personally whenever two or three of us gather together in His Name (cf. Mt 18:20). We can discover Him in His Word (cf. Jn 1:1) and in the wonder of His world (cf. Rom 1:20). We encounter Him in the Sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation which is the Sacrament of His mercy (cf. Jn 20:21-23). Most perfectly we encounter Him in the Eucharist where He wills to feed us with His own Body and Blood (cf. Jn 6:51ff). In a word, Jesus desires to be present with us always. Let each of us follow the admonition of the Letter to the Hebrews: "And let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith ..." (Heb 12:2).
37. If we come to this encounter with the Risen Jesus, as did Mary Magdalene and the Apostles after the Resurrection, we shall find ourselves changed. We shall accept the call to conversion, to a change of life, to a new beginning in grace. This change of heart will not only touch our individual lives, but it will challenge our society, the Church herself, us as pastors, and all the world to turn from hesitant and wary steps to walk in joy with Jesus on the road to everlasting life. This conversion will touch the lives of the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. It will remind the politicians of their responsibility to foster the common good; and it will challenge the economists to find a way to solve the material inequalities of our societies.
38. If we come with courage to this personal encounter with Jesus Christ, we shall find there an irresistible call to communion, modeled and patterned by the inner communion of the Most Blessed Trinity. In the power of the Holy Spirit, the divine source of communion, we shall find ourselves drawn to a deeper relationship of love and cooperation among ourselves as individuals and in the communities of which we are a part. The fervent call to that communion will bring closer together the local Churches of the North and the South in an increasing cooperation among the episcopal conferences and among the Catholic Churches of different rites. The same longing for communion will draw us and our Christian brothers and sisters of America closer to the unity which the Lord has willed. We have greatly appreciated the presence among us during this Synod of Fraternal Delegates from your churches and ecclesial communities. In ways still unrecognized this same concern will guide us in the way of love to a greater sense of family with other religious communities, especially with the Jews, who are our elder brothers and sisters in faith.
39. Ultimately, the personal encounter with Jesus Christ leads to solidarity, which is a requirement of charity, as it must be practiced in human relationships today. Solidarity in its completeness is the sharing of what we are, what we believe, and what we have. Jesus is the perfect example of this as He "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant" (Phil 2:6). Solidarity impels us to look out for each other as brothers and sisters, even as Jesus looks out for us. It calls us to love each other and to share with each other. It reaches from the personal charity we owe the poor neighbor in our community to the call of the Holy Father to solidarity with the poor of the world in preparation for the celebration of the Great Jubilee. In the light of solidarity, wars, conflicts, the arms races have no place on this planet created by a loving God.
40. This is the message of the Special Synod for America. It is a message that calls on each of us to continue to work together to advance the Kingdom of God among the nations of America. Perhaps we can summarize our message in the words of the Holy Father: Do not be afraid to cross the threshold of hope. There we shall all meet the Lord, the living Jesus Christ, who is our hope and our salvation.
41. Confidently, then, we place this message in the hands of Mary, the Mother of God. In every country, she is hailed as Queen and Lady, and Mother too. In a special way, we, the Church in America, hail her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. There, almost at the very beginning of the first evangelization of America, she showed herself to an Indian son of this land as the Mother of the poor. May she, the Star of the first and New Evangelization, guide our message to your hearts so that under her direction we may all truly meet Jesus, the Son of the Living God, who leads us with love and the power of His grace into the third millennium of His Coming and into eternal life itself.
[00288-02.04]  [Original text: English]