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The Synod for America: A Call for Unity


  Signs of Growing Solidarity

 Justice and Unity

Until now, the Synod for America has received little attention in the media. Yet the upcoming synod of bishops—to take place in Rome from November 16 to December 12—deserves our notice. A first for our part of the globe, the meeting could result in enormous good for our hemisphere.

The synod will bring together Church leaders from North, Central and South America, as well as from the Caribbean. The meeting’s full name is the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America.

The first announcement of this synod came from Pope John Paul II on a very historic date: namely, October 12, 1992. He was then visiting Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic to mark the 500th anniversary of the coming of Christianity to America.

“On the threshold of the third Christian millennium,” the pope asserted, “the Church feels that it has an inescapable duty to unite even more closely all the peoples that make up this great continent.”

Interestingly, the pope and the organizers of this synod, by their careful choice of language, have come to look at our hemisphere as one Americaone continent. Although in the beginning, the pope and others spoke about the Synod for the Americas, the language has since shifted from plural to singular: The historic gathering is the Synod for America.

The language itself gently nudges the synod participants and all of us to look beyond our strong sense of national independence and cultural identity and to embrace our “oneness”—and our interdependence. The language challenges us to see ourselves as people of one faith and one baptism, one people under God.

If the Synod for America helps all Americans—whether we are citizens of North, Central, South or Caribbean America—move a little closer to seeing ourselves as brothers and sisters of one American family, then one of the pope’s primary goals is already being achieved.

Signs of Growing Solidarity

Our hemisphere has already moved, however slowly, in this direction, especially during the past century. Hundreds of priests, religious and laity from North America have been going to Latin America as missioners and collaborators with the Church of the South. They in turn have been strengthened by the joyful faith and family values of their Latin American co-workers and have brought back this enriching experience to North America.

In the 1980’s four U.S. Churchwomen and other U.S. missioners, sharing the fate of thousands of Latin-American victims of violence, were murdered in Central America as they sought to work in solidarity with local churches of that region. Another sign of a growing commitment between the Church of the North and that of the South is the “sister parish” program. More and more, parishes in the United States have begun linking themselves with those in Latin America, allowing both sides to benefit from the sharing of faith and resources.

The idea of “one America” is already a reality in some major U.S. cities like New York, Miami, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles. In some churches in these cities, we already have many people from Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean, praising God alongside the North Americans as we all struggle to become one faith community. The harmony among the groups is not always perfect and may be marred at times by discrimination, but many diverse American people are prayerfully striving to fulfill Christ’s desire that “all may be one.”

The Struggle for Greater Justice and Unity

Another goal of John Paul II is spotlighted in the lineamenta, a preliminary paper released last year outlining the purposes and themes of the Synod for America. According to this document, the pope wants the synod to address “the problems of justice and the international ecomomic relations among the nations of America” and the growing gap between the rich and the poor.

Among the social issues mentioned specifically in the lineamenta are poverty, the external debt, the drug trade, the unequal distribution of resources among North, Central and South America, and the problem of religious sects.

“Another subject deserving attention,” notes the lineamenta, “is the relationship of transnational coorporations. These have acquired great power in recent years and are assuming greater importance with the markets becoming more global.” The increase in power, says the document, must go hand in hand “with a greater responsibility on the part of the executives of these corporations.”

The issue of immigration is also an important issue that needs to be dealt with by the synod, says Bishop Ricardo Ramírez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, expected to be one of the U.S. delegates to the synod. As a Mexican American, Bishop Ramírez is acquainted firsthand with the tensions between North and South and the need for greater solidarity between the diverse cultures.

“We need to be advocates for a just immigration policy in all our countries,” says Bishop Ramírez. “Immigration problems touch us all.” He also sees a need for greater justice in dealing with the indigenous peoples in many American countries, including our own. “They have been suffering for 500 years—deprived of their land or pushed onto reservations....”

The challenges are immense, but so is our hope. We are about to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the entry of Jesus Christ into human history. He is still present among us through his Spirit. Responsive to that Spirit, may we be led to support the synod with our prayers and look for ways to work together for the welfare of all Americans.—J.W.

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