"ECCLESIA IN AMERICA" - FIFTEEN YEARS ON

Vatican City,  (VIS) - A press conference was held in the Holy See Press Office this morning to present the International Congress "Ecclesia in America" on the Church in the American continent, which will take place in Vatican City from 9 to 12 December. The Congress is promoted by the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and the Knights of Columbus in collaboration with the Institute for Guadalupan Studies. Participating in the conference were Cardinal Marc Ouellet P.S.S., president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Professor Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of the same Commission, and Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus.

Cardinal Ouellet began by recalling the Synodal Assembly that took place in November and December 1997, convoked by Blessed John Paul II, which was dedicated to the American continent and addressed the theme of the "Encounter with the living Jesus Christ: The way to conversion, communion and solidarity in America". This theme will inspire the Congress as it works towards its aim of "re-examining the prophetic intuition of Blessed John Paul II and the basic content of the exhortation 'Ecclesia in America', as well as intensifying the communion and co-operation of the Churches in Canada and the United States with the Churches of Latin America in order to address common problems and challenges faced by the mission of the Church in the American continent".

"The valuable heritage of Christian faith, which is at the origin of the American 'New World' and inspires the life of its people, is now subject to erosion caused by waves of secularisation and the impact of a global culture increasingly distant from and hostile to the proliferation of 'sects', and needs to be revitalised, reformulated and brought up to date. The encounter between the strengths and experiences of the Churches of God from different latitudes of the continent will surely be fruitful and rewarding. Such an exchange already occurs within the providential 'laboratory' created by the increasingly important Hispanic presence in the United States and Canada".

The cardinal went on to mention some of the common problems and challenges which have arisen during the last fifteen years and which the Churches of North, Central and South America  must face together. "The theme of immigration is a controversial topic in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America; narcotrafficking networks, drug abuse and related policies are subject of serious concern and debate; there is an increase in urban violence, especially among marginalised youths; the culture of life and the institution of the family are gravely threatened throughout the continent; the defence and promotion of religious liberty is of concern everywhere, and situations of poverty and indigence are widespread. ... This is all located within a context of shifting political, economic and cultural relationships between the United States, Canada, and the countries of Latin America, which are seeking improved dialogue, comprehension and respect, and solidarity and justice".

In order to face these problems "in the light of the Church's mission", it is fundamental to "strengthen the sense of communion in each of the Churches and among them. This international Congress hopes to co-operate in the creation of networks of friendship throughout the continent, with a loyal sense of belonging to the Church. Without true, strong unity, she cannot hope to exercise missionary and social influence. In this respect, it can be understood why this inter-American Congress is being held in the Vatican. Indeed, this highlights the universal care of the Churches which represent over fifty percent of the world's Catholics, in trust and devotion to Peter's Successor, universal Pastor, first witness and guarantor of unity and communion".

Professor Guzman Carriquiry explained that the congress will be attended by over two hundred participants linked to the American continent, including both clergy and lay persons. It will open and conclude with two Eucharistic celebrations: the first on 9 December in St. Peter's Basilica, in which the Holy Father will greet the participants, and the second on 12 December, Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in the Church of Santa Maria in Traspontina.

On the morning of 10 December in the Synod Hall, debates will be held on "the event in Guadalupe as the origin of evangelisation in the New World", "The post-Synodal Exhortation: prophecy, teaching and commitment" and "The Apostolic Exhortation 'Ecclesia in America' with the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, star of the new evangelisation and mother of the civilisation of love". Later there will be a discussion on fundamental issues regarding co-operation between Churches throughout the continent. The day conclude with the conference "The meaning of the Year of Faith", presented by Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer S.J., secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

On 11 December participants will pray the rosary before the statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican Gardens, followed by a screening of a documentary on the image of the Patron of the Americas. On 12 December participants will attend the Holy Father's general audience. In the afternoon Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley O.F.M., archbishop of Boston, USA, will lead a conference on "Scenarios and proposals for communion and co-operation between the Churches of the Americas and for solidarity among their peoples".

Carriquiry added, "The results of the Congress will be communicated to the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Episcopal Conferences of the continent, and to the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).