Cardinal Jaime Ortega (left) of Havana will address Canada's bishops on a document of the Latin American bishops written by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before he became pope.

Cardinal Jaime Ortega (left) of Havana will address Canada's bishops on a document of the Latin American bishops written by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio before he became pope.

September 22, 2014

Cuba's Cardinal Jaime Ortega is about to welcome Canada's bishops to the rough and tumble world of Latin American theology.

When Canada's bishops gather Sept. 15-19 in the nation's oldest parish in Quebec City to celebrate 350 years of North American prayer, struggle and faith, they will meet the other half of what Pope Francis calls the continent of hope.

Ortega will attend the bishops plenary in Quebec City to lead Canada's bishops through a consideration of the Aparecida document.

The 2007 Aparecida document concluded a 40-year history of contention, struggle, misunderstanding, drama and growth in the universal Church – all of which Canadians have largely observed from afar.

Liberation theology, base communities, political battles, revolutions, divisions among bishops and within religious orders, political murders of bishops and priests, Vatican censure and the passions of two generations of Catholics are all concluded here.

In prayer and dialogue at the huge shrine to Our Lady of Aparecida outside Sao Paulo, Brazil, Latin America's bishops planned a new way forward for the Church in their region.

Liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor – once sharply criticized within the Church – carried the day.

The Aparecida document has often been held out as a blueprint for the current papacy, if only because the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis in 2013, composed the final draft.

Much of what Aparecida had to say about the new evangelization found its way into Pope Francis' magisterial exhortation Evangelii Gaudium.

But there are better reasons than the name of the principal writer to think of Aparecida as a road map for the Church in our time. Half the world's Catholics live in Latin America.

With Pope Benedict XVI present and encouraging them, the Council of Latin American Bishops was speaking for more Catholics than any other grouping of bishops could.


Before he became pope, Bergoglio described how Pope Benedict encouraged open and fearless dialogue among bishops. He also described how the conference was rooted in prayer alongside the ordinary Catholics who came to their shrine in Aparecida.

"Celebrating the Eucharist with the people is different to us bishops than celebrating it separately among us. This made us really feel our people's sense of belonging, of the Church's members walking together as the people of God, of us bishops as servants," Bergoglio said.

The final document links a theology of liberation with the new evangelization and calls for a faith that delivers concrete results in the lives of the poor.

The concession Aparecida grants to St. Pope John Paul II's anxiety over Marxism wheedling its way into theology, is that this document affirms a strict separation between the roles of clergy and of lay people.

Aparecida does not envision another revolutionary government of Nicaragua with five priests serving in its cabinet – a situation that caused Pope John Paul to withdraw his hand in 1983 when Jesuit father and Nicaraguan Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal knelt to kiss his ring on the tarmac of Managua's airport. The pope then wagged his finger and scolded the priest.

Aparecida speaks of forming and educating politicians and business people. It speaks of the Church pushing for a different and better world.

For the Latin American bishops the new evangelization has nothing to do with winning academic arguments against atheist professors and anti-clerical writers. It's about forming Christians in the "essential task of evangelization, which includes the preferential option for the poor, integral human promotion and authentic Christian liberation."

It matters that Dominican Father Gustavo Gutierrez – the founder of liberation theology – is now welcomed at the Vatican and praised by Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Redemptorist Father Paul Hansen, head of his order's Biblical Justice Consultancy.

Aparecida challenges the faithful to critique political and economic life in Latin America.

"Bergoglio had gone through his own revolution in terms of liberation. He was known as 'the bishop of the slums,'" Hansen wrote in an email.

"He started naming corrupt economic structures. He noted that unbridled capitalism creates a situation of social sin that cries out to heaven."

It's been a while since Canadian bishops talked about social sins that cry out to heaven, said Jesuit Father Jack Costello, director of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service.


In the 1980s Canadian bishops challenged political and economic orthodoxy that accepted high unemployment as a natural product of our economic system. But today's Canadian bishops, like most Canadians, don't ask those questions, Costello said in an email.

"We don't feel we can do anything about corporate institutions, as well as the banks sitting on their huge profits and not investing that money – the money of Canadians – in Canadian economic initiatives," said Costello.

But Aparecida is not a document that pushes a liberal agenda and exiles conservatives from the Church.

"The document is an enormously rich one with many lines of thought to follow up," said Keith Cassidy, president of Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy, a liberal arts college in Barry's Bay, Ont., that emphasizes its Catholic identity.

"I would say what's very exciting on review of it is the focus on the new evangelization. That is something that we at the academy are very interested in and very much desire to advance."

As a product of decades of dialogue in the Church, Cassidy doesn't believe the Aparecida document is only applicable in Latin America.

"Clearly there are different histories and economic backgrounds in the two continents, but we do have that same call and that same urgency," he told The Catholic Register.


Perhaps this will be a challenge to Canadian bishops, but it will challenge the rest of us much more.

"Canadians avoid dissent and conflict," notes Costello. "We also stay ignorant about understanding the causes of structural barriers to people having a fair chance at a life of dignity – economically, educationally and socially.

"We trust our leaders with a sort of made-in-Canada intellectual laziness. We don't generally work at connecting the dots between people hurting and social structures causing the hurting."