In the first section of Part One, the bishops analyze the role of the church in Latin America. The first section is entitled missionary disciples – not missionaries and disciples.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), ¶ 120, Pope Francis (who had a major role in editing the Aparecida document) emphasizes this identification of the two, rooted in the encounter with God’s love in Jesus:
Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are “disciples” and “missionaries”, but rather that we are always “missionary disciples”.
Aparecida paragraphs 21-22 show us bishops who are hopeful, even though, as they write,
“Our reflection on the journey of the churches of Latin America and the Caribbean takes place in the midst of the lights and shadows of our age.”
One source of hope comes from their experience during their meeting in Aparecida. They did not have Masses just for the bishops, but celebrated in the shrine with “the daily hope-filled presence of countless pilgrims” (¶ 21). They explain this hope in the light of the experience …
of the first followers of Jesus Christ who went to the Jordan, where John was baptizing, with the hope of meeting the Messiah (cf. Mk 1:5). Those who felt attracted by the wisdom of his words, the kindness of his manner, the power of his miracles, and the stunning impact of his person, accepted the gift of faith and went on to be disciples of Jesus. In emerging from the darkness and shadows of death (cf. Lk 1:79), their lives acquired extraordinary fullness: that of having been enriched with the gift of the Father. They experienced the history of their people and their age and traveled over the roads of the Roman Empire, without ever forgetting the most important and decisive encounter of their lives, which had filled them with light, strength, and hope: the encounter with Jesus, their rock, their peace, their life.” (¶21)
The encounter with Jesus is thus the starting point for the future of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean. And the pilgrims to the shrine are those who remind the bishops of this central truth. But the bishops recall the witness of the entire Church in Latin America and the Caribbean,
… when we look at the reality of our peoples and our church, with their values, their limitations, their anxieties and hopes. While we suffer and rejoice, we remain in the love of Christ viewing our world, we try to discern its paths with the joyful hope and indescribable gratitude of believing in Jesus Christ. (¶22)
Noting the relativism of the culture around them and reflecting on the inaugural address of Pope Benedict, they call for a church rooted in Christ, for …
it is ever more important and urgent to root and bring to maturity in the entire ecclesial body the certainty that Christ, the God with a human face, is our true and sole savior.
What, for me, is encouraging about this section is the emphasis on the hope the bishops find in the lived faith of the Church. They see the challenges of a relativistic church and they call for a faith rooted in an encounter with Christ. This is not a culture war against relativism but a call to acquire the extraordinary fullness that comes from that encounter.