EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: President of CELAM – the Episcopal Council of Latin America

Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and Caribbean Is “Synodal Event,” Says Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos

Latin American Episcopal Council
Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos- CELAM

Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos, President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM), gave an exclusive interview to Exaudi, in which he points out that the forthcoming Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean, to be held in Mexico in November 2021, is a “synodal event” that intends to “find new ways for the Church in the Region, in the light of faith and in keeping with the signs of the times, with an integral conversion that takes up again the perspective of a missionary Church going forth, ‘disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that they have life in Him,” as the Holy Father proposes.”

In the course of this conversation, Monsignor Cabrejos, who is also President of the Peruvian Episcopal Conference (PEC) and Archbishop of Trujillo talks, among other things, about the preparation of the said Assembly; the anniversary of the Synod of Amazonia, and the publication of “Querida Amazonia”; the economic and social situation in Latin America and the Caribbean in this year of pandemic, as well as the pastoral work and charity of the Church during these extraordinary times.

Moreover, the Prelate offers his “fraternal blessing” to Exaudi, sending his “words of encouragement, recognition and gratitude for the commendable work you have begun.” “The purpose to which you are directed is of utmost importance, in order to collaborate with the Church’s evangelizing endeavor through strengthening unity with the Holy Father, whose teaching is very fruitful, enriching and is signifying a true aggiornamento to the realities of the times we are living in and its challenges,” he adds.

Here is a translation of the full text of the interview.

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Exaudi: The Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean was presented on January 24 and will take place in Mexico in November of 2021, with the theme “We Are All Missionary Disciples Going Forth.” It is already taking the first step in a work of reflection, listening, and spirituality of the same. What does this ecclesial event imply? How is the itinerary being prepared to foster the participation of the People of God of this Continent?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: The referent and inspiration of this Ecclesial Assembly is the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate held in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, which left the Continent with a great challenge, and which is contained in the Final Document. Therefore, in the conversation with Pope Francis, during the Audience granted to CELAM’s Presidency in September 2019, the Holy Father said that the assumption of many of these challenges was still pending, as well as the profound meaning of the Continental Mission, as Church in “missionary going forth” and, therefore it would be important to hold a new event to take it up again, to reflect and to discern the conclusions of Aparecida in the present times we are living in the Region as well as in the universal Church.

Thus CELAM’s Presidency, together with the Presidency of the Mexican Episcopal Conference (MEC), called a preparatory meeting in MEC’s headquarters at the end of January 2020, with the participation of Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga and a working team to discern what should be the significant event to convoke. Discussed at that meeting was the legacy and challenges of Aparecida, and the main conclusions were taken up again of the Pan-Amazonian Synod, which had ended a few months earlier in the Vatican and which in turn posed the challenge of integral conversion — social conversion, cultural conversion, ecological conversion and pastoral conversion — and the imperative to walk in a synodal way, following new ways for the Church and for integral ecology.

After an in-depth reflection, we discovered in this meeting that the event to be held should be a synodal event, which would convoke representatives of all the People of God pilgrimaging in Latin America and the Caribbean. It was agreed that the proposal should be of an Ecclesial Assembly, which will be the first of its kind in our region, but also for the universal Church, as never before in the history of the Church has an Ecclesial Assembly of this magnitude been held, involving a whole Continent.

In the preparation of the Assembly, several Commissions have been set up to carry it out and a Working Document has been elaborated — which has been named “Document for the Way” — a Methodological Guide to encourage communities of the whole Continent to take part and make their contributions.

In this perspective, we are following a synodal path similar to the one implemented for the Pan-Amazonian Synod, with attentive listening to the communities, to the various pastoral actors and agents, and also the native peoples themselves.

Following that example, beginning this month of April a process of listening will take place throughout the Region, which will enable us to specify better the Ecclesial Assembly’s Agenda, whose main objective is to elaborate a strategic framework for the Church in the Region, which reflects synodality and is projected to 2031/2033 with the Guadalupan event and the Year of Redemption. Hence, it will be very significant that it is held in Mexico, next to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

With this Ecclesial Assembly, we seek to find new ways for the Church in the Region, in the light of faith and in keeping with the signs of the times, with an internal conversion that takes up again a missionary Church going forth, “disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that she has life in Him,” as the Holy Father proposes.

Exaudi: In the past year 2020, the first Plenary Assembly took place of the Ecclesial Conference of Amazonia, energizing ecclesial organism of evangelization in this Region, which arose as fruit of the 2019 Synod of Amazonia. Moreover, celebrated recently was the first anniversary of the publication of “Querida Amazonia,” the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Exhortation. After the time that has passed, how do you evaluate the holding of this important ecclesial event centered on this Region?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: The evaluation is very positive, and my answer to this question is in close relation to the previous one. As you well say, proposed in the Final Document of the Pan-Amazonian Synod is the creation of an Ecclesial Organism for Amazonia, given the specific problems and the need for the Church’s adequate answers to the challenges of the building of a Church with a true Amazonian face, which really assumes integral conversion, which is able to incorporate the joys, hopes, sadness, and anxieties of the communities that need to have their voice heard and propose new ways of evangelization in fidelity to the Lord.

The process has been so rich, that the proposals regarding the holding of the Ecclesial Assembly for Latin America and the Caribbean also helped in the discernment regarding the creation and functioning of the said Organism of the Church for the service of the People of God in Amazonia. Therefore, following the perspective of synodality in the key of integral conversion, the creation was suggested to the Holy Father of an Ecclesial Conference of Amazonia (whose acronym would be CEAMA), in which all the representatives would take part of the People of God pilgrimaging in Amazonia: Bishops, priests, men and women religious, laymen and women and also members of the native peoples. This novel proposal is also innovative, not only for our region but also for the universal Church, as it is the First Ecclesial Conference in the History of the Church.

The time passed is relatively short since the end of the Pan-Amazonian Synod (October 2019) and the publication of “Querida Amazonia” (February 2020), but in just over a year of these milestones for our Church, the process continues and, with the inspiration of the Hoy Spirit, new ways are being found for a renewed Church that is able to respond to the signs of the times.

Exaudi: In the Angelus last February 14, Pope Francis thanked Colombia for the implementation of the Statute of Temporal Protection for Migrants of Venezuela present in the country, fostering “the reception, protection and integration” of these people. What does this step imply to palliate the drama of Venezuelan migration?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: It’s a great step and, in some way, fruit of the agreements reached in the meeting held in the city of Cucuta (border between Colombia and Venezuela) in the month of February 2020, called by the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, and with the participation of the Bishops of the border, the Presidents of the respective Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic Nuncios in both countries, the social pastorals and CELAM’s Presidency.

One of this meeting’s commitments was also to call a meeting with the Bishops of the Bolivarian Region to assume the Cucuta agreements and apply them in the whole sub-region, the same that was held in March of 2020, responding to CELAM’s convocation, shortly before the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this process, CELAM seeks to be faithful to the Holy Father, who wants migrant brothers and sisters and refugees to be RECEIVED, PROTECTED, PROMOTED, AND INTEGRATED. In this same line, CELAM seeks to strengthen the CLAMOR (Latin American and Caribbean Network on Migration, Shelter and Human Trafficking) Network, which was created in Latin America and the Caribbean and is part of a global network in face of the problem of human mobility the level of the universal Church. In the case of our Region, the CLAMOR Network seeks to promote networking given the two great migratory fluxes that involve Venezuelan and Central American brothers and sisters in search of better conditions of life, in face the dramatic situations in their respective countries, they move running innumerable risks, which, in many occasions, have taken human lives.

In this connection, the decision of the Colombian government, to implement an at least temporal Statute for Venezuelan migrant brothers and sisters, is a notable advance. It’s a very important step that requires being emulated by the other countries of the sub-region and of the whole Region, especially in these times of pandemic, in which migrant populations and their families suffer great vulnerability and are hardly included in government aid programs given the pandemic.

Exaudi: In regard to the pandemic, among the Continent’s regions, the Pan-Amazonian region is especially worrying given that, due to its particularities, the indigenous population is particularly exposed to the virus.  CELAM has shown its concern and collaborated with the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) to provide, for instance, oxygen, ventilators and respirators. At what stage is the evolution of the situation in this very vulnerable zone?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: The pandemic’s situation in Amazonia is truly dramatic. According to one of REPAM’s latest report, which has followed the pandemic’s effects in Pan-Amazonia, the confirmed cases last March 23 were 2,387, 526, of which the deceased rose to 59,694, really alarming figures. The health systems have collapsed and the native peoples certainly have a greater difficulty in accessing health centers, which are also destitute.

In fact REPAM, the Vicariates, Dioceses, Prelatures and various organizations of the Church have come together and joined efforts with the civil society for the provision of medicinal oxygen with different alternatives, such as those you mention.  However, there is no doubt that the determined action of the governments is urgent. It’s not possible that evidenced on the part of States are levels of abandonment of their populations, especially in Amazonia. These situations cry out to Heaven and many Bishops and Episcopal Conferences have pronounced themselves in this respect, as the case of Brazil has been, for which CELAM has given its backing in a recent press release.

Happening also, however, are moving experiences of solidarity in the fight against the pandemic in Amazonia. For example, a short time ago REPAM’s socio-environmental Justice Axis and Good Living organized a Seminar on experiences of indigenous Traditional Medicine in the fight against COVID-19, where sobering experiences were shared on how the native peoples themselves stemming from their ancestral knowledge and the active principles in the Amazonian species have had curative experiences for the case of people infected in the communities with positive results; moreover, they have established their own prevention protocols.

Exaudi: The health emergency also entails the economic and social crisis. What instruments, material, and spiritual means do you think can contribute to come out of it — taking into account that even before the arrival of the virus the Continent was experiencing a very difficult economic situation –, in order to be able to look at the future with hope?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: In fact, we can say that the situation in the Region is dramatic. According to CEPAL’s reports, the fall of the level of the Region’s production in 2020 was just over 9%, which was not seen in decades. It has exceeded the situation that happened in the times of the Great Depression of the ’20s and ’30s, which is extremely grave. It has increased the levels of unemployment, to the point that close to 13 million people have lost their jobs and the great majority that survives in the sector of the popular economy has seen its businesses collapse, leaving their families homeless.

That is why it’s so important for us to be the echo in the Region the Holy Father’s appeals both for a universal basic salary/income, as well as alternatives regarding the external debt of many countries whose repayment will affect very especially the poorest.

The transfers of welfare vouchers to families in extreme poverty in the Region have been and are very insufficient and don’t always reach those in greatest need. Moreover, countries have taken recourse to external debt and many have surpassed the threshold of “sustainability” of the public debt with the danger that the subject of external indebtedness and insolvency will return to the Region.

However, there have been very important experiences of the solidary economy in pandemic places that are really inspiring and should be made known.

Exaudi: In more complicated situations, such as that described, outstanding always is the pastoral presence and charity of the Church. What can you tell us in this regard?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: The action of the social-Caritas pastoral programs in the Region has been and is more than important. We could say that it has been crucial to attend to the different situations of people that have been and still are very vulnerable given the pandemic, such as, for example, the impoverished populations of the countryside, the fringes of the city, Amazonia, boys and girls, older adults, brothers of the native peoples, disabled people, those deprived of liberty, migrants. The 22 national Caritas of Latin America and the Caribbean and their respective networks have responded with solidarity and efficacy.

I can share an experience in Peru of three initiatives promoted by the Peruvian Episcopal Conference (PEC), inspired by the Task Force created in the Holy See in face of COVID-19 and that the Pope entrusts to the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development. Thus, PEC first stimulates the Pastoral Initiative “You Give Them to Eat” for the support of parish soup kitchens in the 46 ecclesiastical jurisdictions; then the “Peru Now Breathes” Initiative, which supports public hospitals with more than 15 medicinal oxygen plants, as well as with oxygen cylinders and concentrators, acrylic protectors, etc. and, more recently, the “Peru Resurrects Now” Initiative to strengthen the social coalition given the pandemic, and the dialogue with the Authorities.  Similar experiences have also happened in other countries of the Region.

The whole of this action is inspired in Pope Francis Encyclical Letter Fratelli Tutti, which poses to us the radicalism of Social Friendship and accounts for a true social Diakonia in our lands.

Exaudi: Vaccinations are now beginning in Latin America, and Pope Francis himself has already received a second dose. From the Latin American Episcopate, how have you attempted to make people aware of the urgency to achieve global immunization for the common good?

 Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: The subject of vaccines has been the concern, since the beginning of the pandemic. On August 24, 2020, CELAM’s Presidency published a letter addressed to rulers and leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean, and different international entities.

We have posed the need for safe vaccines in the Region and with the access to them by all populations without exception; moreover, they must be considered as public goods, as it is the responsibility of States to acquire and distribute them with adequate health guarantees. There must be universal and free access to safe vaccines.

CELAM has also posed the possibility to support its distribution with the participation of the Region’s Episcopal Conferences. We also took part in the Seminar organized by the Pontifical Council for Latin America in the month of December to accomplish our proposals in this regard in our pastoral care.

Exaudi: We, the team of Exaudi, Catholic News Agency, began our journey recently. This medium’s main objective is to inform, in order to collaborate with the evangelization of the world, strengthening the Church’s unity with the Pope. Finally, we ask you for your blessing, and that you give us some words of encouragement to carry out this exciting endeavor.

Monsignor Miguel Cabrejos: Well, I gladly give you my words of encouragement, recognition, and gratitude for the very commendable work you have begun. The purpose to which you are directed is of utmost importance, in order to collaborate with the evangelizing endeavor of the Church through unity with the Holy Father, whose teaching is very fruitful, enriching and means a true aggiornamento to the realities of the times in which we are living and its challenges.

Continue, then, with such an important commitment and I give you my fraternal blessing: in the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. PEACE AND GOOD.