MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (OSV News) — Latin America wrapped up the church’s continental synod process in early March after nearly one month of meetings that brought together representatives from around the world’s most Catholic region.
Unlike other continents, each of which held only one assembly, Latin America split the process in four. Mexico and Central America held the first meeting in mid-February in El Salvador. The Caribbean countries followed, meeting in the Dominican Republic; countries from Andean region gathered in Ecuador, and, finally, the countries in the Southern Cone, including Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, had the final meeting. Held in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital, it concluded March 10.
“We were the fourth leg of the regional table. The conclusions of each zone will now be synthesized into one document and sent to Rome as an instrument for the October synod,” Father Matias Taricco, deputy executive secretary of the Argentine bishops’ conference, told OSV News.
The continental phase of the synod has traveled across the globe with sessions in Europe, Oceania, North America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East in February and March.
While each Latin American subregion focused on the general theme of the continental synod phase — “enlarge the space of your tent” (Is 54:2) — they looked at distinct issues that are shaping the church in Latin America and the Caribbean and which were raised during the listening phase of the synod process.
The crisis in Nicaragua was front and center at the Mexico and Central America meeting, which began at the Cathedral in San Salvador, El Salvador. It is where the remains of St. Oscar Romero, the martyred archbishop of San Salvador, are interred.
The archbishop was killed in 1980 because he criticized El Salvador’s military government. Parallels were drawn to Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, Nicaragua, a critic of the Nicaraguan government who was sentenced to 26 years in prison Feb. 10.
Bishop Álvarez refused to leave Nicaragua in a mass deportation ordered by President Daniel Ortega’s regime in early February prior to his sentence. He has since been moved to a maximum security prison and has no contact with the outside world.
On March 13, the Nicaraguan government asked the Holy See to close their respective diplomatic missions. “This is not a break in relations, as has been reported by media outlets,” Vatican News reported.
Pope Francis was asked about the situation in Nicaragua speaking to a Spanish-language media outlet Infoabe; the interview was published March 10. Responding to the questions about Bishop Álvarez, Pope Francis said that “we have a bishop in prison, a very serious and capable man, who wanted to give his testimony and did not accept exile.” The pope added “it is something from outside of what we are living, as if it were a communist dictatorship in 1917 or a Hitlerian one in 1935.”
Calling the dictatorship “rude” the pope called Ortega “unbalanced.”
Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos of Trujillo, Peru, president of the Latin American bishops’ council (CELAM), published an open letter prior to the subregional synod supporting Bishop Álvarez and others detained in Nicaragua.
Writing in the name of CELAM, Archbishop Cabrejos said Feb. 11 that in such trying times, “I offer my solidarity, proximity and prayers with and for the people of God and their pastors.”
The meeting in the Caribbean focused on Afro-Caribbean populations and the role of women and young people in the church, while the Andean region — Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — put a spotlight on Indigenous people and the environment, two themes that have been stressed by Pope Francis throughout his papacy, particularly in visits to these countries.
The final meeting in Brazil, which included Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, looked at the themes of women (the meeting coincided with International Women’s Day on March 8) and how Pope Francis has changed the church. The church commemorated the 10th anniversary of Francis’ election on March 13.
Uruguayan Sister Rosina Thevenet, a Daughter of Mary Help of Christians, said the meeting stressed the need to listen to the pope’s call that the church cannot stand still.
“We discussed what ‘expanding the tent’ means. It is a change in mentality, in co-responsibility and participation of the people of God. It means transparency in the church, not only in terms of economics, but the whole church, from daily activities in a parish all the way to the top,” Thevenet told OSV News.
“I would say that we are in a kairos moment. It is a time to listen, but also for dialogue and discernment,” said Thevenet, one of 19 people in the Uruguay delegation to attend the assembly.
Blanca Palacios, a laywoman who heads the pastoral commission in the Paraguayan bishops’ conference, said her takeaway from the synod process has been the impact of the spiritual conversation that Pope Francis has stressed. “The spiritual conversation means a church that is more participatory. A church that walks together and makes decisions based on active listening,” she said.
Palacios, one of 14 representatives from Paraguay who attended the meeting, said the spiritual conversation is a way to address common themes, including clericalism in the church.
“The synod will have to address clericalism and hierarchy if we want a church that reflects the people of God from Vatican II,” she said.
Father Taricco, one of more than 40 representatives in the Argentine delegation, said his country’s contribution was about the concept of a synodal church.
He said that since the first “listening phase” of the synod, Argentina has stressed the need to review the church’s institutional management and rethink governance. “We believe in new forms of management that are not unipersonal, but collective and participatory,” he said.
Father Taricco said that a synodal church needs to consider new ministries, new forms of service and authority. “This means talking about the place of women, the role of the LGBQT+ community and how we receive others, expanding the tent to those who have left the church,” he said. “It is about God’s promise.”
Lucien Chauvin writes for OSV news from Montevideo, Uruguay.