The Catholic University of America

Solidarity in America -
The Church, the Poor, and Social Reform

Cardinal Deardon Lecture
Address by Archbishop Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Tegucigalpa,
The Catholic University of America
March 23, 1999

Religious, social and political dimensions of the recent Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America. The Catholic Church's mission to promote solidarity between North American and Latin America.


The Special Assembly of the Synod of America was held in the Vatican from Nov. 16 to Dec. 12, 1997. The theme of the Synod was the "Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: The Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America."

The primary aims of the Synod were:

a. Increase cooperation between the various local churches of the hemisphere in order to
b. Face together within the framework of the new evangelization and as an expression of episcopal communion, the problems of justice and solidarity among all the nations of America.

The post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in America," a fruit of this Synod, was delivered to the entire American hemisphere by Pope John Paul II on Jan. 22, 1999 in Mexico City.

1. Social, Political and Religious dimensions of the recent apostolic exhortation, "Ecclesia in America."

In summary fashion we highlight the main developments noted in the Apostolic Exhortation "Ecclesia in America" in their social, political and religious dimensions.

1. Social Dimensions

In the social sphere, the Exhortation offers a descriptive evaluation of certain situations:

a. There is a broad presence of the Church in the field of education and social action in America. One of the characteristic features of church life in America in the field of education is the presence of many Catholic universities spread throughout the hemisphere since the beginning of evangelization. Likewise in the social area the church sponsors many initiatives such as clinics, hospitals, soup kitchens, asylums, social centers, etc., in order to care for sick people, the elderly, people with disabilities, all of which is a tangible witness to the preferential love for the poor. In this regard the challenge w face is not only to relieve the most grave and urgent needs through actions of direct aid, but especially to attack the roots of the evil, proposing a more just arrangement of social, political and economic structures.

b. The phenomenon of urbanization, already described by Paul VI in Octagesima Adveniens, is still on the rise in America especially because of the continual exodus from the countryside to the city. Fundamentally, the problem is one of a lack of solidarity with the rural sector, because in those areas is poverty and underdevelopment, the lack of government services, and defective educational, health and communications structures are plain to see.. Moreover, violence, juvenile delinquency, and an air of desperation are building up in ever widening areas in the cities, primarily because of the lack of planning. The pressing challenge for the Church today is the evangelization of urban culture, especially in order to deal with cultural rootlessness, the loss of family customs, distancing from one's religious traditions, even to the point where faith is destroyed.

c. In its history, the American continent has known many movements of immigration, which brought vast numbers of men and women to the various regions with the hope of a better future. This phenomenon continues today and directly affects many persons and families from the Latin American nations of the continent who have settled in the areas of the North, where in some instances they constitute a considerable portion of the population. They often bring with them a cultural and religious legacy rich in significant Christian elements. The church is aware of the problems produced by this situation and is striving to develop a true pastoral care among those immigrants so as to help them to become settled there, and at the same time to encourage a receptive attitude on the part of the local populations with the conviction that mutual openness will be to everyone's enrichment.

d. The phenomenon of corruption affects persons, public and private structures, and the ruling classes, and fuels impunity and unlawful accumulation of wealth as well as the lack of confidence in political institutions, in the administration of justice, in public investment, and so forth. The consequences of corruption fall on the poorest and most defenseless.

The plague of corruption must be condemned and combated courageously by those who wield authority, with generous help from all citizens, with the support of a strong social conscience. It is also important to encourage transparency in economic and financial transactions and to implement adequate control mechanisms. The Church can contribute effectively to eradicating this evil with a greater presence of competent Christian lay people to promote in different spheres values such as truth, honesty, industriousness and service of the common good. In such training it is very helpful to e familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the social doctrine of the Church, and the documents published on the matter by episcopal conferences.

e. Drug traffic and consumption: 1) contributes to the physical and emotional destruction of many individuals and communities, especially among young people, and to the destruction of family life; 2) stimulates the increase of violence and crime; 3) corrupts the ethical dimension of work; 4) destroys governments, fracturing the economic security and the security of nations.

Paramount in the solution of such a complex problem must be national and international solidarity. The Church in American can collaborate effectively with government leaders, executives in private companies, non-governmental organizations, civil society in general and international organizations by: 1) designing and developing joint projects to eliminate this traffic; 2) supporting legislative bodies in initiatives to prevent money laundering; 3) courageously condemning hedonism, materialism, and life styles that easily lead to drugs; 4) encouraging the action of those who strive to help pull users away from drugs, devoting pastoral attention to victims of drug dependency, keeping in mind that social recuperation and rehabilitation is also a true and proper task of evangelization; and 5) offering the true "meaning of life" to the new generations. In addition, the international organizations can provide valuable help to national governments by encouraging alternative crops through various incentives.

f. In the ecological realm, the Holy Father condemns the abuses and ecological damage taking place in many parts of America, such as the uncontrolled emission of harmful gasses and the dramatic phenomenon of forest fires which can lead to a true desertification, with its inevitable aftermath of famine and misery. This problem is especially acute in the Amazon jungle, one of the most precious natural areas in the world because of its biological diversity, and one that is vital to the environment of the entire planet. Care for the earth demands fulfillment of very concrete obligations in the area of ecology, especially the opening of a spiritual and ethical perspective that overcomes consumption-oriented attitudes and life styles which lead to the exhaustion of natural resources.

g. In a number of places in the American hemisphere women are still the object of discrimination and sexual abuse, and they suffer male domination. The Church feels committed to intensify its concern for and solidarity with women, in order to promote respect for their dignity, protection for motherhood, the defense of family life, and their participation in leadership roles in society and in the life and mission of the church.

h. Young people are a great social and evangelizing force. Many American young people are seeking the true meaning of their life and are thirsty for God, but they do not find suitable conditions for developing their capabilities and achieving their aspirations, among other things, because of the various forms of poverty, lack of work, marginalization, and situations of violence. The Church is committed to 1) maintain its pastoral and missionary option for young people so that they may encounter a living Christ today; 2) provide a pastoral care appropriate to their sensitivity in their various environments: school, university, work world, rural environment, etc. 3) stimulate Christian youth so that formed with a mature missionary consciousness, they may become apostles to people their own age; 4) develop a youth pastoral action that will take into account the evolution of the world of young people, seek dialogue with them, and encourage local, interdiocesan, and international initiatives.

i. Children, both boys and girls, are a gift and a sign of God's presence. The synod Fathers lamented and condemned the painful condition of many children throughout America, who are deprived of their dignity and their innocence and even their lives. This condition includes violence, poverty, lack of a house, lack of adequate care for their health and education, and the harm done by drugs and alcohol and other situations of neglect and abuse. The Holy Father condemns the problem of sexual abuse of children and child prostitution.

1.2 Political Dimensions

a. Among the positive features in the civil sphere, in America today is the increasing establishment of democratic political systems and the gradual retreat of dictatorial regimes. It is important to support the process of democratization that is underway in America, because a democratic system offers more possibilities of control for preventing abuses. Among the challenges existing in this field, the Church should be committed to training and supporting lay people who are members of legislative bodies, in the government and in the administration of justice, so that legislation will always bolster those moral principles and values that are in accordance with a sound anthropology and take into account the common good.

b. A system known as "neoliberalism" is ever more prevalent in many American countries; this system, which takes its bearings from a narrowly economic view of the human being, considers profits and the laws of the markets as absolute parameters to the detriment of the respect due to persons and peoples. This system has sometimes become an ideological justification for some attitudes and ways of working in the social field that lead to the neglect of those who are weakest.

c. One of the features of the world today is the trend toward globalization, which can be positive or negative. Globalization can enhance the process of the unity of peoples, encourage efficiency, and increase production. However, if globalization is governed solely by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful, it leads to negative consequences such as the deterioration of public services, environmental destruction, a greater gap between rich and poor, the imposition of values that are often materialist and consumption oriented, and so forth.

d. The problem of the foreign debt is extremely complex in its origins and in its solutions. Among its causes, the document cites high interest rates, which are the result of speculative financial policies, the irresponsibility of some government leaders, corruption, and poor management. Hence, it is unjust that the consequences of such irresponsible decisions should fall on those who did not make them. In its pastoral concern, the Church cannot ignore this problem, because it touches the lives of so many people. On the occasion of the Jubilee, the Holy Father proposes that the international debt be canceled or at least substantially reduced; he also suggests that the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, together with the Secretariat of State, in study and dialogue with representatives of the First World, and with the leaders of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and with other experts in economics and monetary matters, seek ways of resolving this problem; norms should also be issued to correct the current economic order and prevent such situations from recurring when future loans are made.

e. The particular Churches in America must voice a prophetic cry denouncing both the arms race and the scandalous arms trade, which uses vast sums of money which rather should be channeled toward combating poverty and promoting development. Moreover, the stockpiling of weapons is a factor of instability and a threat to peace.

3. Religious Dimensions

a. Christian identity of America. The greatest gift that America has received from the Lord is the faith that has forged its Christian identity. A result of evangelization that has accompanied migrations from Europe is the American religious profile, which is imbued with religious values, which, while they have not always been lived consistently and have sometimes been cast into doubt, may be regarded to some degree as a heritage of all Americans, even of those who do not identify with them. Clearly, the Christian identity of America cannot be regarded as synonymous with Catholic identity. The presence of other Christian confessions to one degree of another in the various parts of America means that the commitment to ecumenism to seek unity among all believers in Christ is urgent.

b. Popular piety. A distinctive feature of America is the existence of a popular piety that is deeply rooted in the various nations. It is found at all levels and in all sectors of society, and it is especially important as a place of encounter with Christ for all those who in a spirit of poverty and humility of heart sincerely seek God. This piety is expressed in many ways: "Pilgrimages to shrines of Christ, of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints, prayer for the souls in purgatory, the use of sacraments (water, oil, candles …) …" The Synod fathers have stressed the urgency of discovering the true spiritual values present in popular religiosity in order to enrich them with the elements of genuine Catholic doctrine, so that this popular religiosity may lead to a sincere commitment of conversion and a concrete experience of charity.

c. The challenge of the sects. The proselytizing advances of the sects and new religious groups in America cannot be viewed with indifference. They demand that the Church in this continent engage in a profound study, which should be carried out in each nation and also internationally to uncover the reasons why significant numbers of Catholics leave the Church. Based on the conclusions drawn, it will be advisable to revise the pastoral methods in use so that each particular church may offer to the faithful a more personalized religious care, strengthen the structures of communion and mission, and employ the evangelizing possibilities offered by a purified popular religiosity to enliven the faith of all Catholics in Jesus Christ, through prayer and meditation on the word of God.

2. Guiding Principles

In the document the Holy Father presents a series of guiding principles for the Church's pastoral action in America based on the Encounter with the living Jesus Christ, the way to conversion, communion and solidarity. Let us look at some of tem.

2.1 Urgency of the call to continuing conversion

In speaking of conversion, the New Testament uses the word "metanoia," which means change of mentality. It entails not only a different way of thinking intellectually, but a revising of one's way of acting in the light of the gospel criteria. In this regard, Saint Paul speaks of "faith working through charity" (Gal. 5:6). Hence authentic conversion must be prepared and nurtured through the prayerful reading of Sacred Scripture and the reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Conversion leads to fraternal communion, because it aids in understanding that Christ is the head of the Church, his Mystical Body; it urges solidarity, because it makes us aware that what we do to others, especially those most in need, we do to Christ.

2.2 Coherence between faith and life

A new life in which there is no separation between faith and works is the everyday response to the universal call to holiness. Overcoming the gap between faith and life is absolutely necessary in order to speak seriously of conversion. When there is such a gap, Christianity exists only in name. In order to be true disciples of the Lord, believers, must give witness with their faith, for "witnesses testify not only with words but with their lives." We must keep in mind the words of Jesus: "Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 7:21). Openness to God's will entails total self-offering, which does not exclude even the giving of one's own life: "The greatest witness is martyrdom."

2.3 Preferential option for the poor

The Church in America must incarnate in her pastoral initiatives the solidarity of the universal Church toward the poor and the outcast of every kind. Its stance must include assistance, promotion, liberation and fraternal acceptance. In loving the poor the Christian imitates the attitudes of the Lord, who during His earthly life devoted Himself with feelings of compassion to the needs of those who were spiritually and materially in need.

2.4 Globalization of solidarity

The starting point is the fact that solidarity is the fruit of communion and is expressed in the love of the Christian, which seeks the good of others, especially those most in need.

The Church in America is called not only to promote greater integration between nations, thus helping to create an authentic globalized culture of solidarity, but also to cooperate with the legitimate means for reducing the negative effects of globalization, such as the domination of the powerful over the weak, especially in the economic sphere, and the loss of the values of local cultures in favor of a misconstrued homogenization.

2.5 Missionary dimension of the Church

The awareness of the universality of the evangelizing mission that the Church has received must remain dynamic, as has always been shown in the history of the pilgrim people of God in America. Evangelization becomes more urgent among those who live in this hemisphere and do not yet know the name of Jesus, the only name given to men and women for their salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). The Church in America must remain open to the mission ad gentes. The program of a new evangelization in this hemisphere, sought by many pastoral projects, cannot be limited to revitalizing the faith of ordinary believers, but must seek also to proclaim Christ where he is unknown.

2.6 Fostering the ecumenical dimension

Catholic Christians, pastors and faithful, must foster the encounter of Christians of different confessions in cooperation, in the name of the Gospel, in response to the cry of the poor, by the promotion of justice, by common prayer for unity, and by sharing in the word of God and the experience of faith in the living Christ. The presence of other Christian confessions to a greater or lesser extent in different parts of America means that the ecumenical commitment to seek unity among all believers in Christ is especially urgent..

Ecumenism should be a subject of reflection and shared experience between the different Catholic Episcopal Conferences in the hemisphere.

3. Mission of the Catholic Church to Promote Solidarity between North America and Latin America

The Post-synodal Exhortation proposes an number of lines of action which make up part of the church's evangelizing mission to promote solidarity throughout the hemisphere out of an effort at cooperation between North America and Latin America. Let us look at some of these proposals.

3.1 A Culture of Life

a. To be seriously committed to having the values of life and family recognized and defended in the social realm and in government legislation.

b. To intensify through a variety of pastoral initiatives an active encouragement of adoptions and ongoing help to women through the problems of their pregnancy, bot before and after the birth of their child. Special pastoral attention must also be given to women who have undergone or actively procured an abortion.

c. To seek to abolish legislation that invokes the death penalty, all the more so today when other nonviolent means are sufficient to defend and protect the safety of person against aggressors.

d. To help in care for the elderly, who are sometimes neglected and abandoned. They must be respected as persons. It is important to implement initiatives to welcome them and promote their rights and assure insofar as possible, their physical and spiritual well-being. The elderly must be protected from situations that could drive them to suicide; in particular they must be helped to resist the temptation of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

3.2 A culture of solidarity

a. Taking the Gospel as its starting-point, a culture of solidarity must be promoted, one that can inspire timely initiatives in support of the poor and the outcast, especially refugees, who are forced to leave their villages and lands in order to flee violence.

b. The particular churches of the American hemisphere are obliged to mutual solidarity and to share the spiritual gifts and material goods with which God has blessed them, making people available to work where they are needed.

c. To foster a greater cooperation between sister Churches; to send missionaries (priests, religious and lay faithful) within the hemisphere and abroad; to strengthen or create missionary institutes; to encourage the missionary dimension of consecrated and contemplative life; to give greater impetus to mission promotion, training and organization.

d. To devote special attention to the indigenous peoples and Americans of African descent, by eliminating every attempt at marginalization. That means, first of all, respecting their territories and the agreements made with them; likewise, efforts must be made to satisfy their legitimate social, health and cultural needs, by promoting specific programs, which should include prayer in common, aimed at promoting understanding and reconciliation between different peoples, building bridges of Christian love, peace and justice between all men and women. In order to attain this goal it is essential to train competent pastoral workers capable to employing methods already legitimately "inculturated" in catechesis and the liturgy. Likewise, it will be easier to obtain a sufficient number of pastors to work among indigenous people if vocations to priesthood and religious life are promoted among these peoples.
e. Immigrants must be met with a hospitable and welcoming attitude which can encourage them to become part of the Church's life, always safeguarding their freedom and their specific cultural identity. To that end, it is very important that there be cooperation between the dioceses from which they come and those in which they settle, and also through specific pastoral structures envisioned in the legislation and praxis of the Church. The most adequate and complete pastoral care possible can thereby be assured. The Church in America must be constantly concerned to provide for the effective evangelization of those recent arrivals who do not yet know Christ.

3.3 A culture of economic and political participation

a. To encourage the international agencies of the continent to establish an economic order dominated not only by the profit motive, but also by the pursuit of the national and international common good, the equitable distribution of goods and the integral development of peoples.

b. It is important to support the democratization process which is underway in America, since a democratic system offers the community greater opportunities for control thereby making it possible to prevent abuses. There must be developed in the community a concern for the obligation to be involved in political action in harmony with the Gospel; involvement in the political field is part of the vocation and activity of the lay faithful.

4. A Culture of Peace.

a. To condemn both the arms race and the scandalous arms trade, which consumes huge sums of money which instead should be used to combat poverty and promote development.

b. To be ever vigilant vis-à-vis the risk of armed conflicts, even between sister nations. As a sign and instrument of reconciliation and peace, the church must seek "by every means possible, including mediation and arbitration, to act in favor of peace and fraternity between peoples."

3.5 Spread of the Church's Social Doctrine

To make known, as urgent pastoral task, the Church's social doctrine, urging first that it be assimilated by agents of evangelization (Bishops, priests, teachers, pastoral workers, and so forth) so that enlightened by it, they may be able to interpret the present situation and pursue lines of action. It is well to promote and support the study of this doctrine throughout the particular Churches in America, and especially in universities, so that it may be more deeply known and applied to American society. To draw up a compendium or approved synthesis of Catholic social doctrine, including a kind of "Catechism" that will show the relationship between it and the new evangelization.

3.6 Training of pastoral agents

To encourage the formation of lay faithful capable of working on the basis of their faith in Christ, to transform earthly realities. They Church must be committed to the task of education and supporting lay people involved in law-making, government and the administration of justice, so that legislation will always reflect hose principles and moral values which are in agreement with a sound anthropology and advance the common good. To that end the church must pay greater attention to the training of conscience, prepare social leaders for public life at all levels, promote ethical education and respect for law and human rights, and put more effort into ethical formation of those active in politics.