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 Global Perspective

Nobember 12, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 32

global perspective
Florence Anderson, a professor of New Testament, has been teaching in Brazil for over 40 years and teaching seminarians for 33 years. She is co-editor of the Jerusalem Bible in Portuguese. In English, she has published two articles in The International Bible Commentary, Liturgical Press, 1998. She has also worked in the formation program for Ministers of the Word that prepared 5,000 ministers for the basic Christian communities in the São Paulo archdiocese.



But Gustavo was adamant that what is important in Latin America is not what we call our theology, but the option for the poor, the basic Christian communities, justice and peace issues and human rights. He says this is what really irritates our critics.

The Latin American church gathers

By Florence Anderson

SÃO PAULO, Brazil -- This past July, in the city of São Paulo, 740 people from 31 countries participated in a conference on Christianity in Latin America and the Caribbean. Each morning, talks were given at the College of the Baptist Church, and every afternoon, participants could choose among 48 round table discussions at the Pontifical Catholic University. The meeting was ecumenical and, as one participant said, it was organized on an academic level but it turned into a prophetic cry. The mystique of the gathering transformed analysis into an instrument of love.

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I would like to remind the readers that in 1980, the Third World theologians held their first meeting in Latin America in São Paulo. The Nicaraguans were there in force celebrating their revolution. Luís Inácio Lula da Silva spoke of founding a workers' party in Brazil. Today, he is the president of the country. In 23 years, we have lost much and gained much. There was great curiosity at the conference about where we will go from here.

All our old friends were present: Cardinal Paulo Arns, Bishop Federico Pagura of the World Council of Churches, Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Elsa Tamez, Sérgio Torres, Pablo Richard, Jon Sobrino, Carmem Lora, Frei Betto, José Comblin, Carlos Mesters and many others. But at least 300 of the 740 participants were under 30: seminarians, religious sisters, university students, lay people from many different professions.

It was wonderful to see hundreds of young people respecting the past but with their eyes on the future. There were no ecumenical problems. The biggest difficulty was that the Spanish speakers spoke too quickly for the Brazilians and the Brazilians spoke too quickly for the Spanish speakers!

It would be almost impossible to present the all results of the conference in one article, but I would like to give you an idea of what impressed me. Gustavo Gutiérrez, at the height of his 75 years, remembered that for the last 40 years, before and after Medellin, the church of the poor in Latin America had found Christ.

Gustavo stressed the importance of memory, for it is the presence of the past. Without memory, there is no prophecy. The prophet needs what happened in the past to reveal what is important in the present.

The social scientists present at the conference insisted on the importance of liberation theology. Comblin has a theory that when all theology was based on medieval philosophy, other scientists had no idea what we were talking about. Liberation theology uses the social sciences to reflect on revelation, and thus theology becomes intelligible to other fields of study.

But Gustavo was adamant that what is important in Latin America is not what we call our theology, but the option for the poor, the basic Christian communities, justice and peace issues and human rights. He says this is what really irritates our critics. It is the life and the witness of thousands of Christians that really count. One act of true love is worth more than any theology. We New Testament teachers thought right away of the First Letter of St. John: All those who love know God, because God is Love.

But, Gustavo said, we have to recognize that poverty is becoming crueler, more inhuman, anti-evangelical.

The last speaker was Bishop Demétrio Valentini of Jales, São Paulo. He is very active in the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops. Valentini began by saying that the reality of Christianity on this continent is more complex than we had imagined.

Some of the problems we face come from the fact that for centuries, our people came from a rural background. This formed their culture and their identity. In a few generations, 74% of the population of Latin America was urbanized. Another pole of disintegration is the media. It is very rare in Latin America to have news analysis that is not a defense of the rich and the powerful.

With the increase in unemployment, the economic situation is worsening for the poor and for the middle classes. A new and virulent imperialism is the cause of war in many parts of the world. In the '70s and the '80s, our people were full of hope for the future. What can be done now to rekindle this hope?

Valentini thinks that the first thing we should do is understand that history has cycles and that change cannot be completed in one generation. What is important is that we all know where we want to go and are willing to get there with great evangelical creativity and a climate of universal participation. Pope Paul VI stressed the necessity of inculturation, ecumenism and lay ministries.

It has become very clear that we have to de-westernize the Church and to valorize the different ecclesial expressions of faith. All of this presupposes a very deep unity. Valentini gave two examples of how difficult this is:

  • A well-known Protestant leader was asked if all the Evangelical churches were united in the Bible. He answered that they certainly were, as long as they didn't open it!
  • Archbishop Helder Câmara was asked about the unity among Catholic bishops. He answered that they were deeply united in the creed -- but not in its interpretation!

Valentini ended by making an appeal to all the churches in Latin America:

  • to deepen our concept of the People of God;
  • to create more ecclesial communities;
  • to renew our option for the poor;
  • to clarify exactly what is the utopia we long for and are willing to sacrifice for.

Elsa Tamez of Costa Rica presented an Epistle of Priscilla to the sisters and brothers meeting in São Paulo, Brazil. First of all, she asked us not to withdraw into our own vision of the world, but always to be open to poverty, exclusion, war and violence, wherever they exist. Above all, we must dedicate ourselves to an ecumenical dialogue so that no one, of any religion, can use the name of God to justify war and violence.

To promote peace among the nations, we must become humble and always remember that we Christians aren't even one third of the world's population. But above all, we must fight against the most nefarious ideology of the last decades: that there is no alternative. Elsa begs us to have engraved in our hearts: A different world is possible!

In the closing words of the conference, Cardinal Arns said: "The flag we carry out of this conference must be one of hope with complete liberty. Those who sow hope with joy will harvest peace." He smiled and asked the churches to be like little children with their kites. All have different colors and different shapes. But when the children run through the fields of their little world, how beautiful the difference is! May God grant that we in Latin America be just as different and just as beautiful.

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