The bishops at Aparecida recognize, in paragraph 13, that above all, “the challenge of revitalizing our way of being Catholic and our personal options for the Lord, so that Christian faith may become more deeply rooted in the heart of Latin American individuals and peoples as founding event and living encounter with Christ.”
“This requires, on the basis of our Catholic identity, a much more missionary evangelization, in dialogue with all Christians and at the service of all people.”
This evangelization is to be missionary, not content to stay within the confines of the church, but it must be in dialogue with other Christians.
Antagonism between Catholics and Protestants has been a hallmark of the religious situation in Latin America for many decades. More fundamentalist and Pentecostal groups, often called sects, as well as some evangelical churches, have made major inroads into Latin America and have often included a fierce anti-Catholicism, whose vituperation has been returned by many Catholics. This call for dialogue is a needed corrective to the failure at ecumenism at many levels in Latin America.
This “missionary evangelization” must also be “at the service of all people,” an ambiguous phrase.
But, at this point in the document, they do not treat the inroads of Protestantism as threats. They are concerned about something they consider more serious: the erosion of the Catholic patrimony of Latin America. They state this challenge in stark terms: “paths that lead to life and those that lead to death.”
The paths that lead to death are described in very broad terms – which seem to include secularism and atheism in the public sphere, but which also name power, wealth, and pleasure as idols that threaten this patrimony:
“They [the path to death] are paths that mark a culture without God and without his commandments, or even against God, driven by the idols of power, wealth, and momentary pleasure, which end up being a culture against the human being and against the good of Latin American peoples.”
On the other hand the paths to life are characterized as “traced by the fullness of life that Christ has brought us…”
Though the challenge is stated starkly, the bishops, in paragraph 14, call to mind the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid.” They furthermore note that …
“We are encouraged by signs of the victory of the risen Christ, while we plead for the grace of conversion and keep alive the hope that does not deceive. What defines us is not the harsh dramatic living conditions, nor the challenges of society, nor the tasks that we must undertake, but above all the love received from the Father through Jesus Christ by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.”
Their proposal is thus to promote “disciples and missionaries”:
“Here lies the fundamental challenge that we face: to show the church’s capacity to promote and form disciples and missionaries who respond to the calling received and to communicate everywhere, in an outpouring of gratitude and joy, the gift of the encounter with Jesus Christ. We have no other treasure but that. We have no other happiness, no other priority, but to be instruments of the Spirit of God, as Church, so that Jesus Christ may be known, followed, loved, adored, announced, and communicated to all, despite difficulties and resistances.”
The challenge then is to be an evangelizing Church, with disciples and missionaries, who are instruments of the Spirit of God.