Latin American and Spanish-speaking Caribbean Catholics are walking the walk in their embrace of synodality as a grammar to discern what it means to be an evangelizing church today. They are doing it in a true spirit of communion and are visibly led by their bishops.
This past November 2021, hundreds of representatives from every country in Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries gathered for a full week to talk about dreams, visions and challenges for the church in the continent. It was the first Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean, sponsored by the Latin American bishops’ council.
A core group met in Mexico City, yet the vast majority joined via videoconference. We often complain about how burdensome a two- or three-hour meeting on Zoom can be. Well, try a full week, starting at 9 a.m. until about 9 p.m. each day! I was one of the participants.
Yes, people took breaks and not everyone had to be glued to their screens for 12 straight hours. However, as soon as I joined the conversation, I did not want to miss a moment! The energy of the participants was contagious. The conversations were profoundly engaging.
Much can be highlighted about this ecclesial assembly. The range of topics discussed was wide and diverse. Think of almost anything that may concern Catholics when talking about evangelization, including controversial topics, and you could hear about that in the different conversations.
Participants were organized in “discernment groups.” That is where the most exciting interactions took place. Lay women and men, vowed religious, bishops, priests and deacons together in dialogue. Ecclesial ranking or years of ministerial experience did not seem that relevant.
I want to commend the many bishops, including cardinals, who participated. Sometimes bishops attend this type of meetings for a short moment, then leave to attend to other duties. Nearly all the bishops in this assembly stayed the entire week, most joining from their computers. They were listeners and contributors.
Why this much emphasis on bishops? Because bishops as pastors can make things happen nationally and locally — or not. They are instrumental in the process of synodal discernment.
The assembly identified a good number of urgent pastoral priorities that will occupy the minds and hearts of leaders and communities in the years to come. The meeting also set the tone for how ecclesial conversations will likely take place in the future. The experience reaffirmed the wisdom and validity of synodal dialogue as a process that can light up the evangelizing fire in many faith communities.
I joined the meeting as a full participant along with dozens of others invitees from the United States. We had voice and vote in the deliberations. While most assembly participants from the U.S. have strong connections to Latin America, personal and professional, it was clear that we were guests.
As we debriefed about the experience, we coincided on the strange feeling of being home and being guests at the same time. It was our conversation and it was not at the same time. For me it was a confirmation that all reflections about synodality must start with discernment at home.
Latin America and Spanish-speaking Caribbean Catholics did a superb job coming together in a spirit of synodality as part of this First Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean. I think that Catholics in this country can and should do something similar, and soon.
It’s time for a few national ecclesial assemblies guided by a spirit of synodality in the United States. Our bishops need to come together and lead the way as the bishops in Latin America are doing it.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.
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