In May 2007, the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean met at the shrine of the Virgin of Aparecida in Brazil for their fifth general conference.
The Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) began in the 1950s with the first general conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1955. Three subsequent general conferences were held Medellín, Colombia (1968), Puebla, Mexico (1979) and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (1992).
Medellín broke new ground as the Latin American bishops sought to bring the “revolutions” of the Second Vatican Council to the continent. The documents of Medellín recognize the structural injustice rampant throughout the continent and speak of the need for an integral liberation. In the document “Justice,” ¶3, the bishops wrote:
… for our authentic liberation, all of us need a profound conversion so that “the kingdom of justice, love and peace,” might come to us…. The uniqueness of the Christian message does not so much consist in the affirmation of the necessity for structural change, as it does in an insistence on the conversion of men and women which will in turn bring about this change. We will not have a new continent without new and reformed structures, but, above all, there will be no new continent without new people, who know how to be truly free and responsible according to the light of the Gospel.
Puebla continued this line, coming at the end of a period of intense pastoral work among the poor in the face of military dictatorships in most of Latin America which also brought the first wave of modern martyrs which continued into the 1990s. It reinforced the recommendations of the Medellin conference. The bishops were clear in their call for an evangelization that “aims at personal conversion and social transformation.” They also affirmed the need for an evangelical liberation. The final document also affirmed the “preferential option for the poor.”
The Santo Domingo conference was very different from those in Medellín and Puebla. Its methodology was quite different–which is another issue. Its theme was “the new evangelization” which included “the evangelization of culture.”
The fifth Conference of CELAM (which now includes the Caribbean in its name) was set for 2007. A process of soliciting ideas from across the Latin American church helped the conference root its deliberations in the reality of the continent.
The meeting was held May 13 to 31, 2007. 162 bishops (from Latin America, the Caribbean, as well as the US and Canada) and 110 others (including theological experts, religious men and women, and some laity) took part in the deliberations, though not all the non-bishops could vote.
The final draft was edited by a committee presided over by the future Pope Francis.
After several changes made by the Vatican, the final conclusive document was issued on June 29, 2007.
For deeper examination, the USCCB has the English translation of the 2007 document from the Aparecida Conference here.