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From September 28 to October 3, 1999, more than 2,900 persons from 40 countries, including nearly 700 priests and more than 120 Bishops, took part in the COMLA VI – CAM I, which was hosted this time by the city of Parana in the north of Argentina.

The COMLAs (Latin American Missionary Congresses) began at the end of the 70s encouraged by the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), the Pontifical Missionary Societies, the Episcopal Commissions for the Missions, and the missionary religious orders. The first congresses were held at the diocesan level, than nationally, and finally on the continental level. In 1977, the VII Mexican Missionary Congress became COMLA I.

Subsequently other COMLAs were held in Tlaxcala (Mexico, 1983), Bogota (Colombia, 1987), Lima (Peru, 1991), and Belo Horizonte (Brazil, 1995). COMLA VI in Parana was also CAM I, the First American Missionary Congress.

The theme of this Congress was “America, with Christ come out of your country”, and its objective was “to encourage the Churches of America to proclaim Jesus Christ, the Savior, to all peoples, through witness, service and dialogue”.

For the first time, the Congress enjoyed the participation of 346 children from Missionary Childhood. They came from different countries and were accompanied by 62 animators. All the children between 10 and 14 had all the rights and privileges of the other participants: that is, they not only attended the meetings but they also took part in the work groups, answered the questions they were asked, and presented their conclusions.

“The children’s presence is important”, said Fr. Patricio Byrne, Missionary Childhood Secretary General, to L’Osservatore Romano, “because in the whole world and in Latin America in particular the value is being discovered of the missionary service that children can give, especially through prayer and witness to Christian life. This can be both spiritual and material assistance. Thanks to children’s help we can carry forward 2,500 projects around the world in favor of abandoned and suffering children”.

During the five meeting days, the children made presentations and had work sessions. Their conclusions were integrated into those of the adults. Their activities took place in the Eva Peron School Complex with a special methodology. They met with the rest of the congress participants at the opening and closing events, during the large-scale events, and at the liturgical celebrations in the Metropolitan Cathedral Church.

Between 5 and 10 children aged 10-14 were invited from each country. These children had participated and persevered in a Missionary Childhood or Adolescence group for at least two years, preferably child guides, with one adult animator accompanying every five children. 50 children took part from Argentina, the host country.

The basic texts were drawn up in such a way that all the children of the continent could work beforehand on the topics to be discussed at the congress. Although the Congress was only able to welcome several hundred children, there were hundreds of thousands of children who took part spiritually in this event in the missionary groups in their respective parishes. For this purpose, the material published had been sent to all the P.M.S. National Directions to be reproduced and distributed in time.

On September 29, Cardinal Jozef Tomko presided at a Mass for the children of Missionary Childhood in the “Our Lady of the Cenacle” Seminary. For this purpose, the children walked from the Eva Peron School Complex to the Seminary in a procession, singing and clapping their hands, in order to proclaim to all that Missionary Childhood was present at the COMLA VI – CAM I.

Cardinal Tomko stressed the importance of the children’s participation in the COMLA VI – CAM I and expressed his desire that in the children’s hearts love would grow for the Church of Christ and for the Mission he has entrusted to them. He congratulated the children for their missionary commitment and for having understood that the duty to help, pray for, and dedicate time to the missions is the responsibility of all Christians.

The children also presented a Missionary Exposition on Friday, October 1st. Its purpose was to share the creativity and riches of the work of Missionary Childhood in the different countries.

The themes on which the children reflected were: “Ecumenical and Inter-religious Dialogue; The local Church; The New Evangelization of those who are farthest; The Vocations ad gentes; The New Areopaguses: the communications media and the large cities; The Service of the Missionary Societies; Inculturation; Kerigma, Missionary Spirituality and Missionary Animation.

At the end of the First American Missionary Congress, the children from the Holy Childhood of America concluded the following:

  1. “We promise to talk about or disseminate what was experienced in this Meeting by reporting in detail on the work with the Missionary Childhood children.
  2. We promise to pray every day for the world’s children and to organize a meeting to which we will invite our companions and friends in order to tell them about the experience we had and, together, to unite ourselves to Jesus.
  3. We promise to be better missionaries every day by proclaiming Jesus courageously, by sharing, by making sacrifices, by always giving witness, by denouncing injustices, and by staying in constant communion with God.
  4. We promise to maintain our missionary ardor and to favor ecclesial communion through the animation, formation and cooperation of the children and animators in order to make the slogan a reality: AMERICA WITH CHRIST, COME OUT OF YOUR COUNTRY.
  5. We promise to take advantage of the Jubilee and the prayer week for Christian unity by giving a special place to the children, by making children inform other children (through diaries, posters, etc.) about the situation of the world’s children, thereby becoming the voice of charity in favor of their needy brothers and sisters.
  6. We promise to seek methods and dynamic attitudes for achieving a new evangelization, while taking the culture of each region into consideration.
  7. We promise to include adults through missionary animation and to transmit the awareness of universal peace.
  8. We promise to promote children’s participation in the Church by building awareness in others that they are small, great missionaries.
  9. We promise to promote spiritual and material cooperation starting from our witness: “Many are called, few are chosen”. Let us thank God for choosing us, and let us act because if God chose us it is because we can do it”.

We hope that these Meetings, which have given so many fruits to the Church on the American Continent, can become a reality in the other continents of the world, too.

“The particular Churches in America are called to extend their missionary efforts beyond the bounds of the continent. They cannot keep for themselves the immense riches of their Christian heritage. They must take this heritage to the whole world and share it with those who
do not yet know it.”

(H.H. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, No. 74)


In America, at present there are 85 ecclesiastical Jurisdictions or Territories under the direction of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; 8 Archdioceses, 30 Dioceses, 18 Apostolic Vicariates, 7 Apostolic Prefectures and 2 Missions sui iuris.