Interview with Susana Nuin of CELAM

Pope Francis Is a ‘Powerful Sign of the Times,’ She Says

Susana Nuin
Susana Nuin

Pope Francis “signifies for me a powerful sign of the times, led by a strong wind of the Spirit, which leads to ever old and ever new realities, as are the realities of the Church,” says Susana Nuin, General Coordinator of Center of Formation and Studies (CEBITEPAL) of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM).

Nuin talked with Exaudi about the current Pontiff, whom she met in 2007 during the 5th General Conference in Aparecida, the General Conference of the Latin American Episcopate and the Caribbean, in which the then Cardinal Bergoglio had a great presence. The now Holy Father presided over the Commission of the final writing of the Document of Aparecida, as it is known. This text is key to understanding the ministry of the current Successor of Peter and for the Church in this great region.

CEBITEPAL’s General Coordinator also talks, of course, about this formation Center and its excellent educational and formative program, of her work in this ecclesial organism, as well as the role of the laity and of women in the Church, of the situation of women at present and of the recent Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean.

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Exaudi: You met Pope Francis in Aparecida, when he was still Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Tell us about your meeting with him and what the current Pontiff has meant and means for you . . .

 Susana Nuin: I had the pleasure, the honor to meet Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Aparecida. In fact, my meeting with him was an intense meeting, of work, of understanding in the sense of being in the same line, cooperating for that very broad and significant work of an Assembly such as the 5th Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate.

It’s very clear to me that Cardinal Bergoglio worked inordinately, to be able to harmonize all the Aparecida proposals, in a text that is full of meaning and which was a “text in context,” because it was an experience lived very harmoniously, where unity in diversity reigned and where there was no lack of diversity, and for that very reason, harmony and the bond among all was empowered.

The current Pontiff signifies for me a powerful sign of the times, led by a strong wind of the Spirit that leads to ever old and ever new realities, as are the realities of the Church. What do I mean by this? That the Pope has dedicated himself to have that fantastic Document acted upon, but which, in addition, comes and stems from the extraordinary epochal event that was Vatican II. I believe Bergoglio brings three fundamental aspects, which must be highlighted: the implementation of Vatican II, the start-up that even if it has the decades that it has, doesn’t mean that it cannot develop and be embodied ever more in time. At the same time, being a Jesuit Pope, he brings all the baggage of discernment which was something that existed in the Church of the early times but that, subsequently, has been covered by other elements and, Pope Bergoglio, brings it again to the table of the Church, in addition to a special look on the peripheries, the forgotten faces, all brothers suffering in the world and, obviously, creation.

Pope Bergoglio is a page in the history of the Church, which I never imagined I would read or that I would be given the in a lifetime to be able to read it and it amazes me.

Exaudi: As a laywoman occupying a post of direction in an ecclesial organism, you are an example of the leadership that the Holy Father intends to give to the laity and to women in the Church.  What do you think of these inclusive changes? What benefits do you think are brought to the Church by a greater presence of the laity in general and of women in particular?

 Susana Nuin:  Without the laity and without women, the Church isn’t the People of God. Vatican II, and before that the primitive Church, the Church that accompanied Jesus, had that profound longing for what could be their presence, the inclusion, and that dimension of the People of God, where all participate. Within this framework, the presence of the laity is fundamental because they are the ones that interact in the culture, in the social, political, and economic dimension  … and it’s not only where they act, but also because of the vocation they themselves have. It’s a magnificent ministry of fulfillment in society. Likewise, I think it’s impossible to think of a Church without women. I believe we must always re-center ourselves in the Trinitarian dimension of the man-woman relationship, to understand that, in that relationship, beyond marriage, the couple, in every man-woman relationship, that unique Trinitarian image of God is established. They are dimensions that must not be lacking. A process is underway which is slow, which if possible must be sped up.

Exaudi: As a sociologist, you have researched the situation of women at present. What do you think are the main social challenges they face, which must be addressed?  What is the Church’s attitude to them?

 Susana Nuin: Women have undoubtedly won spaces, rights, and leadership. Women offer a singular look that is no man’s, which is fundamental for the concretization of any harmonious coexistence in life in general and at all levels. The challenges that must be addressed are many because, for example, femicides exist as never before or as they are never made known by communication, the media, and networks. In any case, we must ask if femicides, if the violation of women’s rights isn’t linked to a certain disorientation that occurs in men from having lost the hegemony, which characterized the culture of some decades ago. We must be very attentive in this area because there are femicides that are hidden or not even perceived. For example, a pregnant woman, as happens in our Latin America, has to pick coffee beans on a steeply inclined mountain, full of precipices, with the enormous possibility of sacrificing her life and that of her child. This is only one fact. There are very many femicides and we are not aware of them, we are not aware of the dangers, neither are we aware that they are so very serious, as those that are committed with an ax, or a knife, or a pistol. The commitment, <which is necessary>, in face of the many challenges. And this is an investigation, which indicated that we must go beyond to know what is really happening to women in society.

Exaudi: For people that don’t know it, can you explain why CEBITEPAL exists and its role in the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean? What are your functions as its General Coordinator? 

 Susana Nuin: My function is that of General Coordinator of CEBITEPAL: Center of Formation and Studies of CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Council). It is made up of theological and biblical and ecological-social pastoral teaching. All these dimensions are found in the studies CEBITEPAL offers, which is for the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. Is it over 45 years old and has always had an input; it has left a mark on pastoral formation. That is why it’s so recognized by the Episcopal Conferences and study centers: the primacy of the pastoral dimension.

CEBITEPAL has different dimensions. It responds to and is at the service of the Episcopal Conferences, the Continent’s Universities, study centers, dioceses, regions, local Churches, and, in addition, it offers a unique experience in the Continent of interculturality.  Each course, diploma course, or formative itinerary, is frequented by individuals of the 22 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is also very exciting. It is an inter-vocational, inter-ecclesial, and, especially, an inter-cultural experience.

Exaudi: Explain to us CEBITEPAL’s most immediate prospects and objectives. Who can benefit from this excellent center of ecclesial formation?

 Susana Nuin: I believe that everyone can benefit from CEBITEPAL: all can be formed. For example, we have courses for migrants in the United States, migrants in Europe. We want to attend to those Latin Americans that are around the world, and this is being achieved. The foundation of CEBITEPAL lies in the fact that it’s an organ of CELAM’s heart itself, along with the other three departments, which is offered in articulation with the Center and Networks of Pastoral Action, with the Knowledge Management Center, and with the Center for Communication. Projected from there is its action for the formation of all the People of God.

Exaudi: You took part in the recent Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean. Tell us about your personal experience and what this event means for the regional and universal Church …

 Susana Nuin: I have had the honor, God’s grace, to be able to take part in the Continent’s 1st Ecclesial Assembly, which evidently marks an important sign: that of the People of God on the march down a synodal path altogether in communion, participation towards the mission. In this connection, the Assembly has been a great achievement, first for being part of a process: it’s not a closed and self-referential event, but one that takes up listening, discernment, it discerns again those elements in the Assembly, and offers 41 challenges, which are then synthesized in 12. What was most interesting and outstanding about this is that it happened in a framework of great openness, of 150 people in Mexico as a small representation, and 750 people on Zoom. The commitment of people who took part digitally is enormous. We are transiting the veins of Latin America, as author Galeano said, more than open veins they are arteries of fraternity, of possibility towards sociality and arteries that are above all communal arteries and following the Synod path. This 1st Assembly is already a very great testimony, a whole process of how Latin America is preparing for the Synod. I see this event as very, very important. It’s important to point out that the polarization that exists in our society, which was perceived, received, and verified, was being transformed into possibilities. It’s not that we are outside the culture or outside of time. In this connection, we can say that the Assembly has been a coexistence and convergence of what was different, the different views, conceptions, ways of acting capable of converging and this is an enormous richness for the Church.

Exaudi: What is the formative itinerary, CEBITEPAL’s Educational offer for 2022?

 Susana Nuin: In regard to CEBITEPAL’s formative offer for 2022, I believe that Number 1 leads, formation on different fronts, in different vocations, and different services of Synodality. The importance is that it is not a term that is fashionable or that goes from mouth to mouth, but a reality of conversion, of transformation and effect in all of us and in our communities. Then, Synodality takes the first place. In CEBITEPAL’s formative offer much attention is given to the whole process of renewal that CELAM is living and that has to do with Integral Ecology, Social Justice, Peace, Human Rights, the Afro-Indian populations, the last and the forgotten. In a word, the fronts to which CEBITEPAL  responds are intimately linked to the process of the 41 challenges presented in the Assembly and the 12 subsequent ones. The courses and diploma recipients reflect this reality.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester