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Catholicism Seen as Key to Latin American Unity

Vatican Aide Says Challenge Is Preserving Tradition

ROME, MAY 4, 2007 (Zenit) - The challenge for Latin America is preserving a "great Catholic tradition," for which the upcoming episcopal conference in Brazil will be a key event, says a Vatican official.

Guzmán Carriquiry Lecour, undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, spoke with the Italian magazine Il Consulente Re about the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Brazil this month.

Benedict XVI will inaugurate the conference in Aparecida on May 13.

The Pope has asked Carriquiry to attend the conference as an expert.

Indigenous cultures

In the interview, the 63-year-old Uruguayan professor spoke about modern attempts to revitalize practices from pre-Columbian civilizations.

"The great symbols of Latin American unity are not indigenous ones because, before the arrival of the Spaniards and Portuguese, the continent was totally fragmented -- a Babel -- without the slightest awareness of itself," he said.

"The true symbols of unity are Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Christ of the Andes, the Church as the sacrament of unity among our peoples in Catholicism," he added. "The Gospel incarnated in the peoples is the deepest element of the historical-cultural originality that we call Latin America."

Carriquiry spoke of the changes facing indigenous peoples, many of whom migrate to large Latin American cities to escape poverty. He calls them "sectors which, for far too long, have been humiliated, exploited and marginalized."

"Indigenous people demand respect, dignity and access to all the benefits of education, work, cultural progress, genuine human promotion, solidarity and justice toward the most needy -- to be truly integrated within the national societies and to take part as fully entitled citizens in the building of nations," the Vatican aide pointed out.

"However," he added, "another matter altogether is trying to rekindle sorcerers, shamans, ancient indigenous cosmogonies -- the attempt of an arbitrary archaism, stemming more from ideological manipulation than from a true answer to the needs and demands of indigenous communities."

With Peter's successor

For the first time, representatives from the United States, Canada, Spain and Portugal will vote at the bishops' general conference, a change that Carriquiry called "a very favorable gesture."

"Aparecida will be a Catholic event," he said. "Indeed, the Catholic imprint is to be found particularly in the fact that the Pope himself has summoned the conference, chosen the theme and wished to personally inaugurate the symposium in Aparecida, which is to be [...] marked by a collegial impulse, in communion with Peter's successor.

"The crucial point for the bishops of Latin America is to safeguard and replicate the great Catholic tradition of our peoples.

"This tradition, Latin America's most valuable gift, the most significant wealth of its peoples, is besieged and sometimes eroded by dominating cultural factors, which are widespread by international communication powers, increasingly hostile to Catholicism."

Protestant conversions

Carriquiry said that he considers the "main challenge" not to be the growing influence of Protestantism in the subcontinent.

Rather, "it is fundamental to return to the sources of our faith, to carry out the 'getting to the essential' about which Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, in order to avoid getting caught up in secondary issues," the Vatican aide said.

He added: "In this sense, the first thing to do is to look within ourselves, at home, to see whether and in what way the event of Christ's presence is a surprising and decisive fact in the lives of people, families, communities and nations."

Culture of death

The undersecretary of the Vatican dicastery mentioned hunger, disease, misery, drug trafficking and "the unconstrained political violence of guerrilla and even of terrorist activity" as "signs of death" in Latin America.

He added: "The continent grows economically, perhaps in a 'showy' way, but the struggle against poverty and the scandal of enormous inequalities are not faced appropriately.

"In large cities, insecurity and delinquency are an everyday matter. A 'global culture' is being extended and strong pressures are exerted toward overlooking and trivializing even the abominable crimes of mass abortion, the proposal of euthanasia and genetic manipulation.

"Thank God, our democracies are holding out; but more and more autocratic deviations are arising, with the risk of gradually smothering those democratic liberties that were reconquered during the 1980s at the cost of so much suffering and sacrifice, even of human lives."

Continental evangelization

Among the issues to be dealt with in Aparecida, the undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity points out that "one idea launched by the [bishops] is that of a great 'post-Aparecida' continental evangelizing mission."

"For the moment," he said," the plan is not fully defined. It is important that the conference should truly reach the hearts of Latin Americans, and give rise to a tremendous spiritual and missionary drive."

The 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean will gather some 300 participants, including delegate bishops and special envoys. The conclusions of the conference will serve to orient the Church's pastoral action in the region for the coming years.


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