Sunday, November 19, 2006

Speaking of Episcopal Plenaries....

The US bishops may gather every year, but the plenary of the CELAM -- the mega-conference comprising the bishops of the 22 Latin American nations -- comes but once every decade... and then some.

While you weren't looking, preparations have been quickening toward the body's fifth plenary assembly in its history: next May's gathering at Brasil's Marian shrine at Aparecida. The meeting will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of CELAM's founding.

Keeping with the tradition begun when Paul VI traveled to Medellin for the 1968 general assembly, Pope Benedict is planning a visit to open the church's largest regional gathering of bishops. (John Paul II is shown above at the opening session of the 1979 plenary in Puebla, Mexico; the late pontiff also attended the last CELAM general, held at Santo Domingo in 1992. The Aparecida meeting will mark the first in Brazil since the conference's founding assembly, which took place in Rio de Janiero in 1955.)

The member-bishops' recommendations for agenda items at the monthlong convocation are due by month's end. While previous meetings have hewed toward questions of social activism -- namely, the church's outreach to the poor and the resulting push for, then exorcism of, liberation theology -- two issues would seem to stand at the forefront of this moment of the ecclesial situation in the region: the rise of the "sects," which have palpably diminished the church's influence and numbers in Latin America, and a perceived crisis of the family, which senior prelates have found under threat given recent trends toward same-sex marriage in Mexico and the Chilean government's campaign for increased condom use, among other instances.

At its reunion, CELAM will also be electing a new president to serve a four-year term in succession to Cardinal Javier Errazuriz Ossa, the archbishop of Santiago de Chile. Viewed as papabile for a nanosecond in the run-up to the 2005 conclave, Errazuriz -- a onetime superior of the Schoenstatt Fathers -- was secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life before being named to Chile's marquee diocese in 1998.

As the CELAM is closely watched in Rome, and given the key role in the interaction of the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who also serves as president of the Pontifical Commission on Latin America, a change in the occupant of said post in advance of Aparecida would seem highly unlikely.

And while, as of this writing, a key post in the host country is vacant, to put a twist on an old saying, between now and then, Hummes providebit.