SAN ANTONIO—Archbishop Roberto González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, addressed the U.S. bishops on the implications of a “Continental Mission” to reignite Catholic identity and missionary zeal throughout the American continent, as urged by the Latin American bishops.Commentary. Without wanting to make any political commentary, the attendance of Archbishop González to the USCCB summer meeting is a testimonial of the issues that Puerto Rico - a US territory - has in common with the Mainland and the role that Puerto Rican Catholics can play to bridge the North and South.
He addressed the full body of bishops June 17, at the General Assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in San Antonio. The day before, he led a workshop on the same topic accompanied by U.S. bishops who participated in the Fifth General Conference of Bishops of Latin America in Aparecida, Brazil, May 13-31, 2007.
That meeting gathered bishops from more than 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the United States. Participants analyzed the pastoral life of their regions and identified positive and negative aspects of their social, cultural, economic, political, pastoral realities. They identified common problems and considered common solutions and guidelines for pastoral action.
Archbishop González said that the late Pope John Paul II “correctly identified the need to evangelize Catholics anew in the ‘continent of hope’” if they were to be true witnesses to their faith. Archbishop González said the Continental Mission is directed to baptized Catholics because “we are losing our sense of being light and salt.”
He summarized key points from the Aparecida meeting, whose theme was “The Life of Christ in disciple-missionaries.” Latin American Bishops seek to “revitalize the life of the baptized so that they may deepen, remain and grow as disciple-missionaries of Jesus Christ,” he said. The commitment of all Christians, laity and clergy alike, to this identity will transform “the Church into a missionary community,” he said.
Archbishop Gonzalez said that in the Aparecida document the Latin American bishops vowed to re-assert their presence and closeness to their peoples and recommit themselves to “continuing formation of our disciple-missionaries, as well as to be more attentive to the individual stages of their formation.” The bishops declared the whole Church to be in a state of “permanent mission” and said that “in the vigor of the Holy Spirit they “convoke all their brothers and sisters to engage with enthusiasm and in a spirit of unity in the Continental Mission.”
Archbishop González also explained that in these historic events— there have been only five such meetings before in the history of the Church in Latin America—the “process is more important than the document.” To prepare for these general episcopal assemblies, there is extensive consultation. It begins locally with both laity and clergy invited to suggest which pastoral concerns the bishop should bring to the assembly. In his diocese alone, he said, “50,000 people responded to the questionnaires,” about half with their own suggestions. He estimated that throughout Latin America, “millions of people participated in the process.” This methodology is consistent with an ecclesiology of communion that places a premium on the participation of the community of faith.
U.S. Bishops are not officially part of CELAM, but were invited to speak and given one vote representing the USCCB. The delegation was led by Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, Washington, and included Bishop Ricardo Ramírez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Bishop Plácido Rodríguez of Lubbock, Texas, and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, California. Speaking for the U.S. bishops, Bishop Ramírez said their contribution was to bring to the agenda the topics of international migration and the need for greater collaboration among bishops’ conferences of the Americas North and South.
At both presentations in San Antonio, U.S. bishops cited the need to study how Aparecida’s proposals can be interwoven with the U.S. Bishops’ five pastoral priorities. Some said that the call for a “permanent state of mission” would benefit the Church in United States. A few shared that they are already applying, or planning to apply, the Aparecida principles in their own dioceses. Msgr. Carlos Quintana Puente, director of the USCCB’s Collection for the Church in Latin America, reported on several follow-up activities in Latin America funded from the U.S. bishops collection.
Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio, chair of the USCCB’s committee on Cultural Diversity in the Church, offered the help of the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity to those who seek to learn more about Aparecida and the call to a Continental Mission.
Archbishop González is a native of New Jersey and was ordained a bishop in 1988. He has served as Auxiliary Bishop of Boston, Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas, and since 1999 Archbishop of San Juan.
"Pontifex," a title of old Roman pagan origin, is now commonly applied to Latin-rite bishops. The word means "bridge-builder." It has been emptied of much of its pagan meaning - as back then it was understood as a title for priests who built "bridges" between the gods and men - having acreeted a uniquely Christian meaning: bishops now are called to build bridges between the children of men. I am proud that Archbishop González is playing exactly this role to build bridges of understanding between our peoples.