ROSARIO, Argentina — On Sunday, the Catholic Church in Latin America launched  a consultation process that involves not only the hierarchy but also the laity, and Pope Francis reminded those taking part that “an elite illumined by one ideology or another” is not the Church.

“This Ecclesial Assembly [cannot] be an elite, separated from the holy faithful People of God,” said Francis in a video message sent to the online presentation of the Ecclesial Assembly of Latin America and the Caribbean.

An assembly, the pope says, is a sign of a Church that doesn’t exclude anyone.

The pope’s words were made public on Sunday, during the presentation of the first regional assembly that aims at “reviving” the spirit of Aparecida, the landmark 2007 regional meeting of the Conference of Bishops for Latin America and the Caribbean, CELAM.

The assembly launched on Sunday will take place Nov. 21-28, 2021, in Mexico City, and has a “synodal character,” as it is a convocation to lay men and women, religious, deacons, seminarians, priests, bishops and cardinals, with the scope of “marking a milestone in the journey of the missionary disciples of our continent.”

The website of the Assembly also notes that this is the first time such an initiative is taking place at the regional level, and that the hope is to “generate places of encounter and an itinerary for all the members of the Church, with the purpose of looking for the will of God from prayer, the exchange of ideas, and debate.”

In his video message, Francis offered two keys for this path: For it to take place walking with the people of God and in prayer.

The Assembly is taking place 14 years after the Aparecida meeting that was opened by Pope Benedict XVI. The then-archbishop of Buenos Aires, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio — today Pope Francis — was tasked with coordinating the drafting of the final document of the meeting.

Ahead of the November meeting, a process of “listening to the People of Good” will take place.

“It will be an experience of listening, dialogue and encounter, under the light of the World of God, the document of Aparecida, and the magisterium of Pope Francis, to contemplate the reality of our peoples, deepen in the challenges of the continent in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, revive our pastoral commitment, and search for new paths so that everyone can have life in abundance,” CELAM said.

Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Latin America, sent his own message to Sunday’s event, transmitted live via Facebook and YouTube.

The cardinal said that the pope “follows up close and with a lot of interest” the development of the Assembly, and “hopes that the fruits of this search can be in continuity with his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,” released during Francis’s first year as pope, and still considered the cornerstone document of the papacy.

“We see in this initiative a prophetic sign for the future of the Church, because not only the bishops are meeting, but all the participants of the People of God,” he said.

Ouellet also said that if all want to truly work together, respecting the “diversity of charisma,” it’s necessary to further develop the “vocational culture” of all, from bishops to lay people, spouses and consecrated.

Archbishop Miguel Cabrejas Vidarte of Trujillo, president of CELAM and of the Peruvian bishops conference, said that the assembly and the listening process is not open only to those who have a formal job or role in the Church – either as a member of the hierarchy, a theologian or a ministry – but to every member of the Christian faithful.

By sharing its social, cultural, ecological and ecclesiological dream, the Church in the region hopes to “renew its identity at the service of life,” Cabrejas said.

Beginning Sunday and up until November, an ample participation of all is expected, he said, to look into “the coherence with the Gospel” amidst a crisis that includes the “cries of the impoverished and our sister Mother Earth in this time of pandemic.”

Cabrejos said the Assembly “intends to accompany the profound and urgent process of renewal and restructuring of CELAM, inspired by the four dreams of the Pope in Querida Amazonia,” Francis’s 2020 apostolic exhortation after the 2019 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon region. 

These four dreams call for a “continent that fights for the rights of the poorest, of the native peoples, of the least, where their voice is heard and their dignity is promoted (social dream); a continent that preserves that cultural richness that highlights it, where human beauty shines in such diverse ways (cultural dream); a continent that jealously guards the overwhelming natural beauty that adorns it, the overflowing life that fills its rivers and forests (ecological dream);” and with “Christian communities capable of giving themselves in Latin America and the Caribbean to the point of giving the Church new faces with Latin American features (ecclesial dream).”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma