Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Close to God...Close to the Poor: Final message of the Latin American Continental Congress of Theology

This is the final message of the Congresso Continental de Teologia, held October 7-11, 2012 at UNISINOS in São Leopoldo, Brazil. It is available in Spanish on the Amerindia website.

The first generation of liberation theology...mostly male

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and the 40th of the beginning of liberation theology, we have gathered in the Continental Congress of Theology at Unisinos University in Sao Leopoldo/RS, Brazil. On reaching the end, we are addressing a message to our churches and peoples to share what we have heard and discussed, lived and celebrated.

Seven hundred and fifty of us -- young and old, lay people, men and women religious, priests and bishops, brothers and sisters of other Christian denominations -- participated. We came from the various countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, from North America and Europe. We have experienced a true kairos and the mobilization of the theological community of the continent.

Theologians Geraldina Cespedes and Jon Sobrino share a moment

First of all, we want to communicate that we have emerged strengthened in our hope, a hope that drives us to put our lives at the service of the Kingdom of God. We have prayed, evoking the church's journey from the beginning of Vatican II and the 40th anniversary of liberation theology. We have reflected creatively in panels and workshops on important aspects of the people of God that challenge our theological and pastoral task.

Leonardo Boff offers some serious reflections on the state of the planet

We have noted and embraced our historical, geographical, cultural, social, and ecclesial procedural differences and diversity. We have been enriched by them, especially as we celebrated the memory and witness of martyrs who in recent decades have shown extraordinary loyalty to the God of life in the midst of our people, especially among the impoverished.

We have remembered especially the bright and endearing figure of Pope John XXIII, whose gesture we evoke of opening doors and windows so that the Catholic Church would learn that to be mother and teacher, it needed to become daughter and disciple. We also remembered Paul VI who succeeded in bringing clarity and audacity to the work of the Council and in the journey of God's people in the post-conciliar aftermath. This memory was passed on to us strongly and emotionally by Mons. José M. Pires, 94, who was a conciliar father.

Mons. José M. Pires shares his memories of Vatican II

We have reaffirmed our conviction that the path we took at Medellin must continue to be our path at this time. We have also become aware of the demands posed by the new cultural, social, political, economic, ecological, religious and ecclesial context, now globalized, plundering and exclusionary.

We have confirmed that liberation theology is alive and continues to inspire the searches and commitments of the new generation of theologians. But sometimes it's an ember that is hidden under the ashes. In that sense, this congress became a breath that rekindled the fire of that theology that wants to keep on being the fire that lights other fires in Church and society.

Daily mass, celebrated CEB style

Aware that "the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel" (GS 4), we wanted to spend some time on the signs and do a collective building process that expressed our thinking, feeling, and acting. That process demanded an effort to listen attentively to the different testimonies and experiences, beliefs and views, in a sharing that calls us out of our different contexts today and leads us to stand up for a present that has a future.

Times have changed. This has led us to pause and put our Latin American theology in dialogue with realities and knowledge that were not present in the work of Vatican II or in the early days of liberation theology. The cries coming from migrants, women, indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, the new generations and all the new faces of exclusion that are emerging from invisibility, are new to us.

These moans are the result of suffering that we passionately seek to share with those who are deprived of a decent life, of a "good life" (sumak kawsay) as God wants.

An impromptu vigil in support of the people of God in Sucumbios, Ecuador

We trust that this conference marks the beginning of a new stage. That is why it was organized. Something new is springing up and we are more and more aware of it. (Is. 43:19). We want the future to be marked by fidelity, fecundity, creativity, and joy. In it, our theological work must take on the new challenges in full harmony with the Word of God, under the action of the Holy Spirit and in deep communion with the poor who, for us, are the favored ones of Jesus. It must be so because "everything having to do with Christ has to do with the poor, and everything connected to the poor cries out to Jesus Christ" (DA 393).

Passing the light to the next theological generation

During the congress we looked forward and looked far into the future. It has left us with dreams and with the desire to make them real. One of the most important ones is to encourage young theologians to embrace the heritage of the theologians of the first generation of liberation theology. This heritage was transmitted by Gustavo Gutiérrez when he emotionally reminded the young theologians to be rigorous and deep in their theological work, close to the communities embedded in the world and to give their lives for the poor. With the phrase "close to God, close to the poor", he evoked for all the participants the best of Latin American theology. With it, we gather the best of this congress.

Gustavo Gutierrez addressed us from Notre Dame via Skype
 and got a standing ovation

We participants in this Congress go back to our church communities willing to assume the tasks that Latin American theology has today and to witness with our approach that another theology is possible for another world to be possible. This will happen if our young people see visions and our old people dream dreams (Jl 3:1).
Congress participants bless each other for the journey ahead

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