Pope Francis has been handing out the concluding document from the 5th General Conference of Latin American Bishops, a.k.a. \”Aparecida\” to many diplomats and leaders from Latin America. Maybe even ones from around the world? I know John Allen, Jr. and the National Catholic Reporter have already covered Pope Francis\’ \”Magna Carta\” back in July. Please correct me if I sound too liberal, but I think studying Aparecida has many benefits, especially since Pope Benedict XVI wrote several letters and talks leading up to and following the Fifth General Conference of Catholic Bishops of Latin America, the location of this highlighting key points for those who work with Latino populations and for those who are engaged in intentional discipleship. He and his Encyclicals are cited throughout the document.
I have a personal testimony about Aparecida as well, which perhaps bends my favoritism toward championing it. I was waiting in an interminable line at World Youth Day when I began a conversation with the pilgrims behind me. They were from Córdoba, Argentina, and I am still overwhelmed with gratitude by that fact that Bishop Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock mandates his priests to study Spanish. Not only did it help to pass the time \”conviviendo\” laughing with Padre Juan and two lay youth leaders, but I also got a first-hand testimony on Aparecida, the 2007 Document published by CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference, analogous to our USCCB in the United States).
Padre Juan and his faithful had been passionately studying and implementing Aparecida for the past 6 years. The idea of a \”Missionary Disciple\” was imprinted on my heart at that moment. Apart from hearing Pope Francis speak in his native language during his audiences at World Youth Day (Gracias, de nuevo Señor obispo Taylor), the candid chat with these Argentines was the hallmark of my trip to Rio. The theme of World Youth Day was \”Go and make disciples of all nations… (Mt. 28:19) and I run a program called Evangelical Catholic, founded by Jason Simon, at my two parishes with the goal of forming intentional disciples. Now, I form \”Missionary Disciples.\” When both of my parishes are 80% Latino or more, I find Aparecida a helpful light that aids this mandate from Jesus Christ to make disciples. With this, Aparecida also adds emphasis on Lectio Divina (see 446) and reading the Bible in the same Spirit with which it was written. Hispanics for the most part are more biblically-based. What can be difficult in Hispanic Ministry is to teach and explain the Church\’s rich traditions, including general pious prayers like the rosary and Mass as well as particular cultural celebrations imported from various Latin American countries, i.e., Our Lady of Guadalupe, posadas, El Día de Los Muertos.
Anyone interested in making disciples would benefit from reading Aparecida. Discipleship requires a regular life of prayer, reading scripture, inviting others to join, and building a community of love. Being a missionary involves the working out of our faith through the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy and Evangelizing those who are not yet Catholic. These tasks are done right at home, in the work place, and in the towns where we live. Being a missionary and a disciple, says Pope Benedict in his address at the Inaugural Session of Aparecida to the Bishops of CELAM, \”Discipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him to we find salvation…\”
I believe the enrichment of studying what it means to be a true disciple and a true missionary in the 21st Century has a lot of value in and of itself. The fact that by reading Aparecida with the Pope didactically illustrates Pope Francis\’ ecclesiology for me is exciting. I think it is reflected in recent books such as Sherry Weddell\’s Forming Intentional Disciples and George Weigel\’s Evangelical Catholicism.
As a tangent, I also would like to reference Aparecida\’s call to the Catholic Church to do more to empower the youth. It calls for a \”Preferential Option for the Youth\” (446) and reminds us that the most effective evangelizers for the youth are the youth themselves:
As missionary disciples, the new generations are called to transmit to their fellow young people without distinction, the current of life that comes from Christ and to share it in community, building up the Church and society (444).
Time Magazine earlier this year, in a front-cover article called \”The Latino Reformation,\” has already pointed out the number of 2nd and 3rd generation American Hispanics who are leaving the Catholic Church because they are failing to find a place. Perhaps this is a danger for all ethnicities in the US and around the world. Forming the youth as disciples, not just pew-warmers, will lead them to make a firmer commitment to Christ and his Church and will bring many more to follow in their footsteps.