Pope addresses the challenges of secularism and globalisation
The Pope's recent visit to Mexico - and the simultaneous release of a pastoral letter on the Church in the Americas - has signalled a major effort by the Church to address the challenges of secularism - including the declining practice among believers - as well as of globalisation and the implications of this in social justice terms.
Despite its overwhelmingly Catholic population, the Church in Mexico has been persecuted throughout much of the 20th century.
The Pope's four visits to Mexico have ended this era.
The hope of Mexico lies in its youth, who constitute the majority of the population. As soon as the Holy Father addressed the youth, during a Papal Mass attended by over one million people on 24 January, inviting them on behalf of the Lord Jesus to be "like the apostles, fishers of men", a roaring round of applause and exclamations broke out from the crowd as an affirmative and lively response to the invitation of the Pope.
The Pope appealed to Mexican Catholics to be actively committed in overcoming the differences that characterise social life. In a country in which up until recently the Church was systematically excluded from social life, the Pope exclaimed: "Have the courage to witness to the Gospel on the streets and in the parks, in the valleys and on the mountains of this nation! Promote the new evangelisation, following the guidelines of the Church."
Reflecting these sentiments was the release during the papal visit of Ecclesia in America (The Church in America), a 140-page wide-ranging document by John Paul II containing proposals made at the end of the Synod of Bishops for America, held in November and December, 1997. For the first time in the history of the Church, representatives of the hierarchies of North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, had sat at the same table to discuss common problems and new challenges.
The problem of the differences between North and South America has been the recurrent theme John Paul II has heard in his meetings with bishops, priests and heads of State. In 1992, when the Latin American Episcopal Council met on the 500th anniversary of the evangelisation of the continent, the Pope proposed a solution few understood. The solution to the problems of the Americas is in America itself. In other words, in the capacity of all the peoples to face their own destiny united - through a common faith. A spiritual "conversion," if sincere, could effect a social conversion able to overcome the terrible wounds of the continent.
One of the most debated topics in the Synod was the impact of globalisation. "The global economy," states the Holy Father in Ecclesia in America, must be analysed in the light of principles of social justice, respecting the preferential option for the poor ... The Church should co- operate by legitimate means to reduce the negative effects of globalisation: the dominance of the stronger over the weaker, especially in the economic realm."
The foreign debt was another topic of great concern: "In her pastoral solicitude, the Church cannot ignore this problem, as it affects the life of so many persons.". John Paul requested the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace - the Vatican body responsible for addressing social problems - and other competent organisms, such as the section for Relations with the States, of the Vatican Secretariat of State, "through study and dialogue with representatives of the First World, and with officials of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to seek ways to resolve the problem of foreign debt and regulations which will impede the repetition of such situations in case of future loans."
At the Holy Father's suggestion, the Holy See has begun a campaign for the total or partial cancellation of the foreign debt of the poor countries, as part of the celebrations of the Great Jubilee.
The problem of foreign debt is intimately linked to that of public corruption, an absolute plague in some regions of America. "The Church," said the Pope, "can contribute effectively to eradicate this evil from civil society by having a greater number of qualified Christian laymen who, because of family, school and parish background are able to promote the practice of values like truth, honesty, industry and the service of the common good."
The Pope also dealt with 'life' issues: "In America today, as in other parts of the world, the model seems to be a society of the powerful, isolating and at times eliminating the weak members ... the unborn, defenceless victims of abortion ... the elderly and terminally ill, at times the object of euthanasia .... Nor can I ignore the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty, when other bloodless methods are sufficient to defend and protect the security of persons against an aggressor."
Other subjects to receive detailed attention in The Church in America included education, the family, the rights of ethnic minorities - especially Indians and Afro-Americans. Under the key topic of evangelisation, the document looked at the inroads being made by religious sects and called for detailed research into why so many Catholics have given up the practice of the faith - a problem not confined to the Americas.