From Aparecida to the Amazonian Synod

From Aparecida to the Amazonian Synod October 7, 2019
Our Lady of Aparecida Shrine (Brazil) Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Marian spirituality of the Church in Latin America is everywhere to see, particularly in the several national shrines across the continent.

Many Americans are familiar with Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City but may not be aware of Our Lady of Lujan (in Argentina), Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (in Cuba) or Our Lady of Aparecida (in Brazil), among others.

The Aparecida shrine — a national cathedral — is the second largest basilica in the world and the largest Marian shrine, seating 45,000 people, and receiving an estimated 10 million pilgrims annually.

It was here in May 2007 that the fifth CELAM conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops was held. (We might remember that these clerics represent 40% of the world Church.) Pope Benedict XVI made the introductory remarks while then-Cardinal Bergoglio was elected by the bishops as chairman of the committee to write the final document.

The Aparecida Document has turned out to be an interpretive key to the papacy of Pope Francis: he has referred to it as “a treasure yet to be fully exploited”, even as three of his own key statements are heavily inspired by Aparecida: Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato Si’, and Amoris Laetitia.

It is arguably the experience that created what historian Austin Ivereigh has called “The Francis Option.” And its prophetic power is helping to drive the deliberations at this month’s Amazonian Synod in Rome.

Part of the historical background to the Aparecida conference was the Argentinian crisis of 2001, a catastrophe of failed capitalism which had a great impact on the worldviews of Pope Francis and many other Latin American observers.

Another was the end of the Cold War and its various associated repressions of the politics around poverty: a revised, de-Marxified version of liberation theology was able to re-emerge.

We can now see the groundbreaking way these bishops, working from their distinctly Latin American experiences, called in 2007 for a unified way of finally engaging the powerful forces of technocracy, globalization, inequality, ecological disaster, mass migrations, and the decline of nation-states.

In a spirit of self-criticism of the Church, the document also stated (in section n. 12):

… A Catholic faith reduced to mere baggage, to a collection of rules and prohibitions, to fragmented devotional practices, to selective and partial adherence to the truths of the faith, to occasional participation in some sacraments, to the repetition of doctrinal principles, to bland or nervous moralizing, that does not convert the life of the baptized would not withstand the trials of time.

Key themes of the document could be summarized as:

  • Importance of the personal encounter (a personalist approach to evangelism, especially developed in the work of the Argentine philosopher Enrique Dussel)
  • A new missionary drive to go out to the “peripheries,” including the areas of the indigenous peoples as well urban ministries, along with mission not as a program but as a permanent and paradigmatic way of being
  • A recovery of the theological (not merely social) emphasis on the preferential option for the poor and marginalized
  • Living with the simplicity and humility taught in the Gospel (see my earlier post on the relevant Pact of the Catacombs)
  • Serious commitment to the environment, especially the region of Amazonia
  • Commitment to teología del pueblo, ”theology of the people,” emphasizing not Marxism but instead the importance of culture, popular religiosity and popular mysticism

There is of course much more which could be said here of Aparecida and other influences behind the Synod, including the way it was transported onto the larger canvas of the global Church by Pope Francis. These are the same themes we are hearing about in these opening days of the Synod, with more coming later in the month.

More on the Synod shortly.

For now, and relevant to the ethos of this event, I’d like to close with a personal anecdote from my trip to Rio in June 2013 for World Youth Day, a formative experience I’m still working through, one in which the beauty of the global Church became visible before my (and my two young daughters’) eyes.

As a speaker at a symposium on “Christ and the Environment” during the week of World Youth Day, I stayed at a wonderful guesthouse in the bohemian-chic Rio neighborhood called Santa Teresa, along with a number of other panelists and speakers, from Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Peru, Columbia, and Brazil, among other countries.

On one evening, we all had a dinner together and then talked for a bit until someone pulled out a guitar. What followed was mostly raucous and comical, as we sang bad versions of Beatles songs, folk songs, and nonsense.

But near the end of the evening, the guitarist began playing a song I’d never heard, Santa Maria de America Latina. It’s a simple Marian folk song, each verse of which is devoted to a different shrine in a different country: Panama, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras. (I’ll paste in the lyrics in Spanish and English below.)

But as much as the tenderness of the song, what struck me in that Rio setting among new friends from numerous countries was the spontaneous way some seven or eight different Hispanic men — teachers, theologians, laypeople — all apparently knew the song through all its verses. It felt like a small example of just what the teología del pueblo refers to, i.e., an instinctive devotion not created by any committee but from the hearts of the people.

Personally, I feel these currents very strongly in what we’re watching at this month’s Amazonian Synod.

[English/Spanish lyrics of “Santa María de América Latina”]

Santa María de América Latina
Madre nuestra eres, María
Our mother, Mary

de todo este continente
from all over this continent

pues tú has estado presente
well you have been present

en toda nuestra historia
in all our history

y nos sigues conduciendo
and you keep leading us

a la verdadera gloria
to true glory

Nuestra evangelización
Our evangelization

sintió tu mano amante
felt your loving hand

pues tú seguiste constante
Well, you remained constant to

aquella grande misión
that great mission

por eso te apareciste
that’s why you appeared

en el santo Tepeyac
in Saint Tepeyac

Y ahora tus hijos te imploran
And now your children implore you

Latinoamérica toda
Latin America all

Madre de todos los hombres
Mother of all men

con el nombre de La Antigua
with the name of La Antigua

invocado fue tu amparo
invoked was your protection

en Panamá por vez primera
in Panama for the first time

María de Guadalupe
Maria of Guadalupe

te llaman los mexicanos
the Mexicans call you

y son tus fieles cubanos
and they are your faithful Cubans

aun sufriendo pobreza
still suffering poverty

hijos todos muy devotos
all very devoted children

de la Morena del Cobre
of the Morena del Cobre

Virgen de Copacabana
Virgin of Copacabana

te invoca el hombre del Ande
the man of the Andes invokes you

y en todo el Sur del Perú
and throughout southern Peru

te quieren Virgen de Chapi
they love you Virgin of Chapi

y los chilenos piadosos
and pious Chileans

en tu santuario en Maipú
in your sanctuary in Maipú

Y es hacia Aparecida
And it is towards Aparecida

donde van los brasileños
where the Brazilians go

para pedirte postrados
to ask you prostrated

escuches sus sufrimiento
to listen to their sufferings

y en Argentina en Luján
and in Argentina in Luján

te imploran los argentinos
Argentines implore you

Señora de Coromoto
Lady of Coromoto

te aman los venezolanos
Venezuelans love you

y van los ecuatorianos
and the Ecuadorians go

a tu santuario del Quinche
to your sanctuary of Quinche

bella estrella de Colombia
beautiful star of Colombia

Virgen de Chiquinquirá
Virgin of Chiquinquirá

En el Paraguay tu reinas
In Paraguay you reign

Señora de Caacupé
Lady of Caacupé

alma de los uruguayos
Uruguayan soul

Virgen de los 33
Virgin of the 33

sol de los dominicanos
sun of the Dominicans

Señora de la Altagracia
Lady of Altagracia

Oh Señora del Rosario
Oh Lady of the Rosary

lucero de Guatemala
star of Guatemala

y en Cartago de Costa Rica
and in Cartago of Costa Rica

acoges a los peregrinos
you welcome the pilgrims

Virgencita de Suyapa
Virgin of Suyapa

Honduras te da su amor
Honduras gives you its love

En El Salvador te invocan
In El Salvador they invoke you

oh Señora de la Paz
Oh Lady of Peace

y aunque la aflicción se sienta
and although the affliction touches

los fieles nicaragüenses
faithful Nicaraguans

en Chinandega te piden
in Chinandega they ask you

que la fe no sea vencida
that faith is not defeated

María, Virgen y Madre
Mary, Virgin and Mother

cuida este tu continente
take care this your continent

que vivamos en justicia
that we live in justice

y que ya no haya miseria
and that there is no more misery

que en nuestra tierra fecunda
that in our fertile land

haya reconciliación
there is reconciliation

Y ante todo, María, enséñanos el Amor
And above all, Mary, teach us Love

a ser fieles a Dios Padre
to be faithful to God the Father

fraternos con los hermanos
fraternal with the brothers

condúcenos a tu Hijo
lead us your son

que seamos como Jesús
that we be like Jesus


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