The Holy See Search



of the Commission for information of the

16 November-12 December 1997

"Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ,
the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America"

The Bulletin of the Synod of Bishops is only a working instrument for journalistic use and the translations from the original are not official.

English Edition


03 - 16.11.1997



At 9.30 this morning 16 November 1997, 33rd Sunday of ordinary time "of the year", in St. Peter’s Basilica, the Holy Father Pope John Paul II presided over the Solemn Concelebration of the Holy Mass with the Synodal Fathers on the occasion of the inauguration of the Synod of Bishops Special Assembly for America, which will be held in the Synod Hall in the Vatican from 16 November-12 December 1997, on the topic: "Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America".

Concelebrating with the Pope were the Synodal Fathers and collaborators (41 Cardinals, 81 Archbishops, 98 Bishops, 76 Priests).

The Holy Father gave the Homily during the Holy Mass ( UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL IT IS PRONOUNCED).

1."So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming" (Acclamation to the Gospel , cfr. Mt 24: 42.44).

Staying awake in prayer, which is what today’s Liturgy invites us to do, is most appropriate for the important event we are living: the opening of the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops , whose theme is: "Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America ". It is an Assembly which gathers Bishops from all the Episcopates of the American Continent, from the North to the Central and the South, including the Caribbean region. I wish to address my greeting to everybody and a warm welcome to those who have come from across the Ocean for this occasion.

Today the Word of God offers us an adequate perspective for the work of discernment which we are about to carry out: the perspective is that of the impact of faith on history, the "eschatological" perspective.

This is the way of considering human events through which the Lord educates the faithful. We have listened to a prophecy taken from the Book of Daniel, which the prophet himself received from the mouth of a heavenly messenger, sent "to tell you the truth " (Dn , 11:2) about historical events. It is a prophecy which talks about the anxiety and salvation of people: would you not see it as a preannoucement of the Easter mystery, the only center of history and the key for its authentic interpretation?

In the light of the Easter mystery the Church prepares and carries out every step of Her pilgrimage on earth. And today She celebrates the solemn beginning of a unique time of reflecting on and facing up to the mission She is called upon to carry out in the American Continent. The Word of God offers Her the proper look of faith needed to read, as the angel said to Daniel, "what is written in the Book of Truth" (Dn 10:21). In this perspective the Church looks at the way She has taken until now to project Herself towards the new millennium with renewed missionary zeal.

2. Not much time has passed since 1992, when we solemnly commemorated the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of America. The Synod, which today solemnly opens in St. Peter’s Basilica, ideally reminds us of the time when the inhabitants of the so called "Old World ", thanks to the admirable feat of Christopher Columbus, learned about the existence of a "New World ", of which they previously knew nothing. From that historical day the work of the colonizers began and, also, the immense work of the evangelizers to make Christ and His Gospel known to the peoples of that Continent.

The fruit of this extraordinary missionary work is the evangelization of America or, as one can say more precisely, of the so called "three Americas", which today are mostly Christian. Therefore, it is very important, five centuries later and at the threshold of the Millennium, to mentally review the way taken by Christianity throughout the whole extent of those lands. It is also important not to separate the Christian history of North American from that of Central America and South America. They should be considered together, safeguarding at the same time the originality of each one, because they appeared as a single reality to the eyes of those who reached their shores over 500 years ago and in particular because the communion amongst local communities is a living sign of that natural unity of the only Church of Our Lord Jesus, of which they are an organic part.

3. Everyone is aware that on the great American Continent, the results of the activity of the colonizers are evident today in the political and economic diversity of the Continent, with undoubted cultural and religious repercussions. In comparison to other countries, North America has reached a higher level of technological advancement and economic well-being, and in the development of democratic institutions.

Faced with these realities, we cannot but ask about the historical causes which gave rise to such social differences. To what extent are these differences rooted in the history of the last five centuries? To what extent does the heritage of colonization count in them? And what influence did the first evangelization have?

In order to furnish an exhaustive response to these questions, it will be necessary, during the Synod, to consider the Continent as a whole, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, without introducing a separation between the North, the Center and the South, so as not to risk a contrast between them. On the contrary, we must look for the deeper reasons which prompt this unitary vision, by appealing to the common religious and Christian traditions.

These few indications enable us to understand the importance of the Synod we are inaugurating today.

4. "So stay awake, because you do not know the day when your master is coming".

This exhortation, which we have just heard in the Acclamation of the Gospel, refers to the spiritual climate we are living, as the liturgical year is coming to an end. It is a climate rich in eschatological themes, especially highlighted by the Gospel passage from Mark, where Christ underlines the impermanence of heaven and earth: "Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (13:31).

The shadow of the world passes away, but the Word of God will not pass away. How eloquent this contrast is! God does not pass away and what comes from Him does not pass away. Christ’s sacrifice, which we read about today in the Letter to the Hebrews, does not pass away: Jesus "has offered one single sacrifice for sins" (10:12); and again: "By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all who are sanctified" (10:14).

During this synodal assembly we pause to consider the past, but in particular the present of the American Continent. We shall try to grasp the signs of the saving presence of Christ, of His Word and His sacrifice in every region, so that all of our energy can be devoted to conversion and evangelization.

5. How can we forget the comforting intentions, in particular the cooperation among Pastors in view of the new evangelization, announced at the end of the fourth General Conference of the Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo in 1992? The intention was then to intensify missionary pastoral work in all the communities to revive the awareness of the commitment to go beyond frontiers "to communicate to all the other peoples the faith which came to us 500 years ago" (Messaggio , "Osservatore Romano", 31.10.1992, p.6).

Let us give thanks to God so that today the wish I expressed at the opening of that conference may be fulfilled. On that occasion I said: "This General Conference could examine the possibility that, in the near future, there could be a Meeting of representatives of the Episcopates of the whole American Continent , which could also be of a synodal nature, in order to promote cooperation among the different local Churches in various fields of pastoral activity and in which, in the context of the new evangelization and as an expression of episcopal communion, the problems related to justice and solidarity among all the nations of America are also faced" (Insegnamenti , Vol. XV, 2, 1992, p. 327).

Here we are now gathered together with the intention of developing those goals of pastoral charity, urgent requests of the Church in America, and in a spirit of affectionate and effective collegiality among all the Pastors of the local Churches.

6. Dear Brothers and Sisters! We are opening the sessions of the Synod in the context of the imminent end of the Liturgical year and of the forthcoming start of Advent. May this significant coincidence determine the basic direction of our reflections and our decisions!

Truly, dear Brothers and Sisters, these times invite us to stay awake. We must stay awake and pray, recalling that one day we will appear before the Son of man, as Pastors of the Church on the American Continent.

To you, Mary, Mother of hope, beloved and venerated in many shrines throughout the whole American Continent, we entrust this synodal assembly. Help the Christians of America to be vigilant witnesses of the Gospel in order to be awake and ready on that great and mysterious day, when Christ comes, as glorious Lord of peoples, to judge the living and the dead.


[00006-XX.04] [00000] [Testo originale: plurilingue]


Return to:

- Index Bulletin Synodus Episcoporum - Special Assembly for America - 1997

- Index Holy See Press Office
[English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish]