The bishops’ analysis of the reality of Latin America begins in paragraph 23 with what might be called a prayer of thanksgiving.
Blessed be God, Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every kind of blessing in the person of Christ (cf. Eph 1:3). The God of the Covenant, rich in mercy, has loved us first; he has loved each one of us regardless of merit; thus we bless him, enlivened by the Holy Spirit, the life-giving Spirit, soul and life of the Church. Poured forth in our hearts, he groans and intercedes for us and strengthens us with his gifts on our journey as disciples and missionaries.
They concretize the reasons for giving thanks in the following sections.
First of all in paragraph 24, they are grateful for the mission God has given them:
…to be instruments of his Kingdom of love and life, and of justice and peace, for which so many sacrificed themselves. He himself has entrusted to us the work of his hands to care for it and put it at the service of all. We thank God for having made us his collaborators so that we may be in solidarity with his creation for which we are stewards. We bless God who has given us created nature, his first book, enabling him to be known, and us to inhabit it as our home.
In this paragraph, the bishops recall that their mission includes not only working for justice and peace but also caring for creation. The care for creation had been treated in the 1992 Santo Domingo Document but not in previous documents (as far as I can recall.)
In the context of this mission for justice and peace, the bishops recall the many martyrs of Latin America and the Caribbean who have “sacrificed themselves.” Though they do not name them, these martyrs have included not only well-known bishops such as Monseñor Oscar Romero of El Salvador, Monseñor Juan Gerardi of Guatemala, and Monseñor Enrique Angelelli of Argentina, but also thousands of priests, religious, and lay leaders who have taken the side of the poor.
The bishops, after calling for solidarity for creation, note that created nature is God’s first book. In this, they are reflecting the long-held Catholic belief that God speaks to us through nature.
In their 1979 document from Puebla, they had noted that “all of creation is, in a certain way, a sacrament of God, since it reveals God to us.” (Romans 1: 19)
But it was Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et ratio, ¶19, who explicitly wrote about the book of nature:
… the author [of the Book of Wisdom] affirms that, in reasoning about nature, the human being can rise to God: “From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13:5). This is to recognize as a first stage of divine Revelation the marvellous “book of nature”, which, when read with the proper tools of human reason, can lead to knowledge of the Creator.
In paragraph 25, they mention other reasons to give thanks:
- the gift of speech to communicate with God through Jesus, the Word of God, who “by his great love has spoken to us as friends”
- the celebration of the faith, especially in the Eucharist, “vital nourishment of disciples and missionaries,”
- the Sacrament of Forgiveness,
- and the gift of Jesus’ holy Mother, Mary, “star of renewed evangelization, first disciple and great missionary of our peoples.”
In this document, thanksgiving for God’s gracious gifts is a prelude of the process of looking at the reality of Latin America.
It might be because of what I’ve been reading recently, but beginning with thanksgiving reminds me of these words of Gustavo Gutiérrez in We Drink from Our Own Wells, p. 110:
The experience of gratuitousness is the space of encounter with the Lord. Unless we understand the meaning of gratuitousness, there will be no contemplative dimension in our life….In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live our life as a gift from God and to look at everything that happens as a manifestation of this gift.