Aparecida is the most important Marian shrine in Brazil. Last May it was also the site of the fifth general conference of the bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM). These general CELAM conferences are unique, a type of synod that periodically comes together to set pastoral priorities for the church of an entire region.
CELAM’s first general conference was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1955. It was followed in 1968 by one in Medellín, Colombia. The third was held in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979, followed by Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1992. Except for the Rio conference, the pope has inaugurated each meeting. Themes for the meetings are generally announced several years before the conference, and commissions are assigned to develop a working document.
The general theme for Aparecida was disciples and missioners: what it means to be a faithful disciple of Christ, and the church’s mission today in Latin America and the Caribbean. For the first time, bishops from the United States and Canada were invited not only to observe but to participate and to vote. Besides 162 bishops, there were 110 other representatives, including theological experts, religious men and women, and members of the laity. Although not everyone could vote, all took part in the discussions concerning the final document.
Pope Benedict XVI set the tone for the two-week meeting with...