CELAM: Church in Our Region at Crossroads

By Mike James, Catholic Standard, Guyanas

Lat week´s Catholic Standard reported that at its recent Assembly in Honduras 13-18 May, CELAM, Conference of 22 Episcopal Conferences from Latin America and the Caribbean, including the AEC, identified major crises facing countries in a region that accounts for more than half the world´s Roman Catholics.


«We see throughout Latin America and the Caribbean the growth of an ethical, political, economic and cultural crisis, at the root of which we see an anthropological fracture that manifests itself in many ways», among which the bishops´ closing statement mentions» machismo that undermines the dignity of women «and» migrations forced by poverty and violence «.

Latin America and the Caribbean is the continent where the gulf between a minority of very wealthy and the masses of the poor is the worst in the world and that gulf is widening. Societies and politicians have been unable to craft solutions and the bishops identify growing desperate waves of migrants from the region as a result of grinding poverty and worsening violence as a pressing challenge.

The Bishops express their alarm at the weakening of democracies in many countries. The document also focuses on the need to fight «against corruption», deeply rooted in the social, economic and political structures of Latin American countries, based on «a change of mentality that leads people to understand that their value is not in having but in being, and that life is measured not by the capacity to consume, but to share. «

The church has not been spared from this situation of crisis or from the urgent need to return to the heart of Christian faith and mission. The closing statement highlighted:

“CELAM must constantly ask itself, and even more so in this hour of need , what does God want from this institution at this moment in history? «

Following the priority set in 2007 Aparecida Assembly in Brazil and «on which Pope Francis has insisted, CELAM must embrace and go forward on the path of pastoral conversion».

«CELAM needs a new Pentecost, an eruption of the Holy Spirit, to announce Christ today, with greater courage, audacity, initiative, in all latitudes of Latin America and the Caribbean.»

The Bishops recognized that  mere words and a multitude of programmes on paper have not addressed the crisis in society and church. In a radical and unprecedented decision the Bishops voted to suspend elections of new heads of the 8 different CELAM departments  which oversaw some 253projects costing more than US$3 million in the last 4 years, but with doubtful real impact, and instead name a committee to urgently consult with Episcopal Conferences and their people on what are the real, concrete priorities for the Church in region. «Every four years the need was stressed for renewal, but everything remained up in the air. Now, finally, we have taken it seriously, «says a bishop who is confident that the work that is now beginning will have a positive outcome, although he acknowledges that it will not be simple:» We need a change of mentality. We have to stop thinking about the departments that exist to plan the pastoral from the theological nuclei and address the needs that the episcopal conferences require «.

Outgoing  General Secretary of CELAM,  Mexican Bishop Juan Espinoza Jiménez also highlighted the fact that Catholic donor agencies in the developed world themselves face financial constrains and are no longer prepared to support non-priority programmes. «The decrease of financial resources intended for the implementation of these projects and, particularly, those that concern training, has led to rethinking how CELAM can carry out its essential mission», he noted.

Celam officials have been concerned for some time that donors  are showing much more enthusiasm for supporting programmes for social justice, human rights and alleviating poverty and marginalization, than for supporting training mainly for relatively well-off clerics and church personnel

Celam has given itself a two-year limit, till its next Assembly in Puerto Rico to put its house in order and commit to the core priorities of love of God in Christ and love of neighbour in Latin America and the Caribbean especially the poor of Christ. Christ poor patiently waits.


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