MEDELLIN, Colombia — The Catholic Church needs to look at how far it has come in offering a preferential option for the poor and what still needs to be done, said Archbishop Ricardo Tobon Restrepo of Medellin.
Machismo, a Spanish term that suggests men are innately superior to women, as well as new forms of colonialism, widespread poverty, violence and lack of access to resources are among the areas where the Church has struggled to offer a preferential option for the poor, he said Aug. 23 in Medellin’s Metropolitan Cathedral.
“This is about continuing on the march of hope,” Tobon said at the Mass, which kicked off a meeting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a landmark regional bishops’ meeting that took place in the same city in 1968.
The original Medellin conference shifted the Church’s emphasis toward the poor majority and “we have to now go further,” Tobon said. He encouraged reflection on the 1968 conference’s documents and the goals that have not yet been met.
“We must recognize the quality of Medellin as a movement of renovation of our Church in the Americas,” he said.
The 16 documents of the Second General Assembly of the Bishops’ Conferences of Latin America and the Caribbean, which express the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, inspired the renewal of the Church in Latin America and had a major influence on Catholicism worldwide.
Hundreds of local Catholics attended the Mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral, which towers over the city’s main downtown square. Medellin is the capital of Antioquia department, the Catholic heartland of this majority Catholic country of 49 million people.
At the Mass was pharmacy employee Mauricio Hospina, who said he believes the Church has “more knowledge of the sufferings of the people” because of the 1968 conference conclusions.
“The Church is more with the people … wherever they are,” and it must “keep doing that,” Hospina said.
The conference “has significance for the U.S. because a third of our Catholics are Spanish-speaking,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services. The archbishop is part of a U.S. delegation at the meeting.
“It will be interesting to see what comes out of this … because obviously it’s not just to commemorate something that happened 50 years ago, it’s to see what’s the next step,” he said, noting that the U.S. Church needs to know the pastoral progress of Latin America.
One of the conference’s aims is to “insist on awareness and also our … individual responsibility,” Broglio said. “So if our brothers and sisters don’t have enough to eat, if they don’t have schools, if they don’t have clothing, then we have to respond to that.”
Along with advancing the idea of “an option for the poor,” Church leaders at the congress are expected to address several issues confronting the Church in the region. These include the Venezuelan refugee crisis, ongoing investigations into clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups in Chile, threats to the Colombian peace process, and a shortage of priests in the region that means some Catholics spend years unable to participate in the sacraments.
The 300 Catholic laypeople and religious from the region may choose from 22 working groups focused on specific areas of the Church’s evangelization, including justice, peace and reconciliation; education; youth; the Church and the poor; and mediums of social communication. Each working group will produce a document analyzing the Church’s progress and challenges going forward in their respective areas, using the 1968 conclusions as a guide. From September through December, the documents and commitments they contain will be reviewed, to be published as part of an official report from the congress.
The official conclusion of the 1968 conference was that the “bishops couldn’t remain indifferent given the tremendous social injustices in Latin America, which keeps the majority of our people in painful poverty, in many cases close to human misery.”