LIMA, PERU – In his first weeks as head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis has echoed many of the concerns that he and fellow prelates raised in a conference of Latin American bishops six years ago.
Evangelization, ministry to the disenfranchised, the seduction of the global marketplace, cultural changes and the environment were among the issues addressed at the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007.
Then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires headed the commission that drafted the final conference document – more than 160 pages.
"He gave everyone a chance to speak and gathered the most important points, developing the road map we were going to follow," said Archbishop Ricardo Tobon Restrepo of Medellin, Colombia, a commission member. "We saw him as a serene man, solid, serious in his work, a man who went to the heart of the matter."
Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello of Santiago, Chile, who also served on the drafting commission, recalled "the feeling and conviction of coming face to face with a 'man of God.'
"I was struck by the great trust he placed in his collaborators," Ezzati said in an email message. "I found him to be excellent at drawing things together and a great architect of dialogue and consensus."
When the conference began, Bergoglio was the runaway choice to head the drafting commission, said Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru.
"More than 130 bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean trusted him," he said. "That trust reflected his simplicity, his lack of desire to stand out. Those things drew everyone's attention."
Three themes at the heart of the Aparecida conference, which Pope Francis has echoed in his early homilies, were "the personal encounter with Christ, the option for the poor and stewardship of creation," Barreto said.
Before his election in March, Pope Francis told his fellow cardinals the Church needs to reach people on the periphery.
While he may have been speaking metaphorically, that expression resonates in Latin America, where slums and shantytowns of substandard housing, without sewers or running water, ring the cities.
Ministry in large urban areas like Mexico City or Lima poses challenges that the bishops discussed in Aparecida, and which the pope will have to address.
The Argentine pope "is demonstrating a pastoral style and a vision of the Church that is inspired by the experience in Latin America," Tobon said.
"At a time when we are experiencing a profound cultural change, the Church must re-encounter its mission and vision and reach out in a new way in society."