Congress in Bolivia rekindles the flame
of missionary discipleship from Canada to Chile
Father Alexi Tovar traveled 12 days to get to the Fifth American Missionary Congress (V CAM), in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, from July 10 to 15, 2018. With a little financial help from friends overseas, he left from Carabobo, Venezuela, and rode buses through three countries—Colombia, Ecuador and Peru—to be at the congress and share the joy of the Gospel.
Father Tovar had moments of pain because of the excessive “traveling by bus,” but his effort was worth it, he says, as he returned to his country reanimated to share “the peace, joy and hope of the risen Jesus.”
Kelly Hickman, assistant director of the Mission Office of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Wash., had a three-hour delay flying from Miami to Santa Cruz, but V CAM made her feel as energized as Father Tovar.
“It’s like the Olympics, but for the Church and the Americas,” said Hickman referring to V CAM. She has returned to Seattle encouraged to share her missionary experience.
Like the Olympics, the missionary congress is held every four years. The first Latin American Missionary Congress (COMLA) took place in Mexico in 1977. At the request of Pope John Paul II, the episcopal conferences of the United States and Canada were invited to the congress in 1999, and COMLA became CAM. The first CAM was held that year in Paraná, Argentina.
Although lacking the media attention the Olympic games get, each American mission congress has been important for the Catholic Church of the Americas. V CAM, which gathered more than 3,500 participants, was no exception. It resulted in 11 proposals for missionary conversion for the Church in America, including evangelizing the family as a Christian key to social and cultural transformation.
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and delegate of Pope Francis to the congress, presided at the opening Mass. In his homily he emphasized that missionary work is a “blessing for all those to whom the name of the Lord is announced.” It is necessary to be conscious of this, he said, in order to prevent missionary work from being reduced to philanthropy or works of goodwill.
V CAM, whose motto was “America in mission, the Gospel is joy,” had as its main goal to “strengthen the missionary identity and commitment of the Church in the Americas with particular attention to the peripheries of the world.” The congress was structured around four themes: Gospel; Joy; Communion and Reconciliation; Mission and Prophecy. These themes served to shed a Christian light on the problems the continent faces, such as the crisis of the family, the defense of life and human dignity, the exclusion generated by the economy, the struggle of women and care of the earth.
To face such challenges, the congress reaffirmed that the Catholic Church is by its nature missionary and that each baptized person is called to mission. Bishop Santiago Silva Retamales, president of the episcopal conference of Chile, urged greater participation of the laity, particularly women, in mission.
“The laity is responsible for the mission of the Church, embedded in the complex and variable realities of both the domestic and the social, economic and political spheres where the decisions of everyday life and the common good are made,” said Bishop Silva Retamales.
He said this “requires lay people with solid doctrinal, pastoral and spiritual formation. And in addition to having the confidence of their pastors, the laity must have the necessary autonomy, the ministries and commissions that allow them to live … their commitment to missionary discipleship in a responsible manner.”
Marilyn Santos, missionary education coordinator of Missio USA, the online platform of the Pontifical Mission Societies, was one of 44 people in the U.S. delegation at V CAM that included bishops, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers, and lay leaders.
“One of the bishops reminded us in today’s plenary that ‘there is no hierarchy in the mission of God,’ ” Santos said. “Our delegation is a reflection of that. Mission is everybody’s call. All the baptized are called to mission and to work in an equitable and collaborative way.”
Deacon Leonel Yoque, Maryknoll mission promoter in Los Angeles, Calif., and another U.S. delegate at V CAM, said, “We discerned what it is we announce when we are in mission … we announce the risen Jesus Christ.” Deacon Yoque highlighted the invitation of Pope Francis to be an outgoing Church “that is in the peripheries near where the marginalized are. This means that we have to announce Christ with the marginalized, not for the marginalized.”
Maryknoll also contributed to V CAM through the support provided by members of the Maryknoll Missionary Center for Latin America (CMMAL), whose headquarters are located in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Maryknoll Father Alejandro Marina, director of CMMAL, moderated the discussion on “New Perspectives for Missiology” during the congress.
“[We remember] the missionary keys of the Medellín Document, 50 years ago, a foundational document for the Church in America, and what are its implications for today,” said Father Marina. “One of the proposals was to rethink ministerial theology, rethink the structure of the Church for mission, and the challenges of preaching a message of joy amidst great suffering. And we remember a phrase of Pope Francis about the joy of the Gospel, [which] springs up when the word of Christ manages to transform realities, situations of injustice, death and suffering, into situations of life.”
CMMAL also prepared a book for V CAM that presents a methodology for missionary formation, for the use of pastoral agents in parishes, institutions and movements.
Observing the lively atmosphere outside the building where the congress’ plenary sessions were held, Marilyn Santos said smiling:
“You have to make a mess. We are not called to be silent in our pews [of the church]. What Francis is reminding us is that being pious and being reverent does not mean you cannot be loud and cheerful. I see the dance and the prayer around. This mess and the noise for me is reverent. They do it because they love God and love their brothers and sisters and because they see God in them. This is as pious and reverent as when I see people spending time in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”
Featured Image: Members of United States delegation to V CAM stand outside Don Bosco High School in Santa Cruz, where congress took place.