Latin American bishops seek "evangelical force"

As Latin American bishops gather in Cuba, Pope Benedict has signalled his approval of their earlier Aparecida declaration which calls for an "evangelical force" in the church to combat declining membership, the rise of individualism, as well as poverty and corruption.

The International Herald Tribune reports that Catholic bishops from across Latin America released a blueprint on how they plan to reverse the exodus of members to evangelical Protestant churches, a central theme of Pope Benedict's visit to the region in May.

To slow the tide of defectors, the 136-page declaration released Wednesday said Catholic leaders must create "a church full of evangelical force and capability" that is dynamic enough to win over members who have let their faith lapse.

The bishops also criticised everyday Catholics, expressing concern about the rise of "individualism and a mentality of relativism in ethics and religion," and denounced homosexuality.

The declaration was posted on the website of the Latin American Bishops' Conference while 68 of its cardinals, priests, bishops, religious leaders and special guests met behind closed doors in Cuba's capital.

Fr David Gutierrez, a spokesman for the conference, said the final version approved for publication by Pope Benedict XVI was virtually identical to the draft posted on the Internet and needed only minor grammatical changes.

"The wording will not change," Gutierrez said, adding the statement would be published next week at the conference's headquarters in Bogota, Colombia.

The statement did not mention evangelical churches specifically, but recognised eroding membership throughout the region, saying "a significant number of Catholics are abandoning the Church to join other religious groups."

The bishops decried the "insufficient number of priests" in the region and called on Catholic leaders to more energetically and effectively spread their faith to the remote corners of their countries.

In a world made smaller by technology, the clerics said they embrace "a different globalisation that is marked by solidarity, by justice and by respect for human rights."

The decree described homosexuality as a threat to family.

"Among those things that weaken and debilitate the family we find gender ideology which allows anyone to choose their sexual orientation without taking into account the differences in human nature," the document states.

The conference also blasted widespread poverty, corruption and violence fueled by drug trafficking throughout the region, blaming in part "neopopulist-style regimes," without singling out a particular government.

In his comments on the text, Pope Benedict recalled "the spirit of communion" at the conference, Zenit says.

"I read with particular appreciation the exhortation for priority to be given, in pastoral programs, to the Eucharist and the sanctification of the day of the Lord," the pope said.

He also underlined the importance the text gives to strengthening "the Christian formation of the faithful in general and of pastoral workers in particular."

"In this context," the Holy Father said, "I was happy to learn of the desire to create a 'continental mission,' which episcopal conferences and dioceses are all called to study and put into effect, channeling all their vital energies to this end."

Latin American Catholic bishops urge more dynamic church to stem declining membership (International Herald Tribune, 12/7/07)
Pope OKs Aparecida Document (Zenit, 12/7/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
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13 Jul 2007