CELAM document confronts the challenges of synodality

By Michael Sean Winters, 11 November 2022
An October 2022 image of Pope Francis meeting with members of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM). Image: Vatican Media/Vatican News


The English text of the final document from the first Ecclesial Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean has been released. This November 2021 meeting, convoked by CELAM, the continent-wide episcopal conference for Latin America and the Caribbean, was called an “ecclesial assembly” rather than a “synod” because it did not exclusively include bishops. That said, it placed itself in the direct lineage of CELAM meetings starting in Rio de Janeiro in 1955, through Medellin in 1968Puebla in 1979Santo Domingo in 1992 and Aparecida in 2007. For those unfamiliar with that history, the new text provides a useful historical account of the trajectory from Rio de Janeiro up to today.

Americans who have invested in the universal synodal process would do well to consult this document, not least because the synodal process was inspired by Pope Francis’ experience of CELAM meetings, but also because the document shows how differently the challenges facing the church appear to those Catholics in the Global South.

There is much to ponder here and much that can and should challenge those of us in affluent countries, as well as those of us who share in that most distinctive American characteristic today, placing our political and ideological identities in front of our Christian and Catholic beliefs.

There is also much that is not here. The text makes it clear that this is a snapshot in a process, not a definitive document. That, too, is key to the shift from a clericalist to a synodal church.

What is beginning to become apparent is that Francis, by inviting the universal church into a synodal process so much inspired by his own work with CELAM, is calling the church to renew itself by recalling God’s promise to be with us until the end of time, and to take that promise seriously. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas did a lot of heavy lifting but that doesn’t mean we get to slack off. We must gird our loins, as Scripture says, as we approach the task of renewal, prepared to shed our preconceptions and our agendas, our ideologies and our animosities, and surrender to the Holy Spirit.

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With thanks to the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) and Michael Sean Winters, where this article originally appeared.


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