Vatican Aide Considers Challenges for the Church in Latin America

Views of Guzman Carriquiry, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 22, 2012 ( ZENIT recently visited the offices of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (PCLA) to speak with Uruguayan Dr. Guzman Carriquiry, secretary of PCLA and the first layman in history to hold such a high level post in the Vatican Curia.

Carriquiry said that “There is much joy and hope in this second trip of the Holy Father to Latin American lands, in which the people of Mexico and Cuba will receive him with great affection.”

The Pope has also invited all the bishops in Latin America to join with him in the cathedral of Leon. This is to mark the anniversary at the end of the year of 15 years since the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America.

Carriquiry said that he recently read that the Catholic Church continues to be the institution that gets the greatest consensus, credibility and trust, surpassed only by firemen, in the continent. Around 80% of the population in Latin America are baptized in the Catholic Church.

At the same time he admitted that the Church cannot ignore the process of secularization that has spread in the large cities. As well, there has been a growth in the numbers of people following Evangelical and Neo-Pentecostal churches, along with other forms of spirituality and pseudo-religious syncretism.

According to Carriquiry there are some governments in Latin America that think the Catholic tradition is an anomaly that must be weakened and eroded and seek to change the cultural ethos that stems from the Catholic tradition.

“We are struck by the contemporaneity of many pressures and legislative drafts that try to impose the liberalization of abortion, the assimilation of homosexual unions to union between man and woman, and other sensitive anthropological topics,” he commented.

Cultural religiosity

On the topic of popular religiosity, Carriquiry quoted Pope Benedict XVI, who has said that popular religiosity is a great treasure of the Catholic patrimony in Latin America, because it is a way of inculturation of the Catholic faith in the life of the Latin American peoples.

“However, popular piety must lead to the liturgy, which is the most important prayer of the Church, and to the sacraments,” Carriquiry continued.

The issue of popular religiosity is a big one in Mexico, where celebrations for, for example, All Souls Day, Epiphany or the Presentation of the Lord, are entrenched in the culture, but sometimes with a shaky link to the original religious feast.

“When we see that great expressions of popular piety gather multitudes but that afterwards participation in the Sunday liturgy is considerably reduced, we then see that there is a whole job to be done of evangelization and catechesis, so that those baptized peoples, whose faith is so rooted in their piety, will be transformed increasingly into a people of disciples, witnesses and missionaries of Jesus Christ,” he explained.


Turning to the matter of vocations to the priesthood Carriquiry said that in the last years the numbers have grown everywhere. For example, Guadalajara, Mexico, has the seminary with the largest number of candidates to the priesthood in the world. “That growth poses the need to raise the level of spiritual, community, doctrinal, pastoral and cultural disciplines in our Latin American seminaries,” he said.

Many of the candidates, he explained, come with problems of emotional and cultural imbalance, so that it is very important to support them and to develop in them priestly personalities mature in the faith, with an adequate cultural background.

Priests must know Latin American history, our Church’s tradition, the patrimony of the saints we have, our devotions, and the most important Latin American writings, Carriquiry commented.

“They must also grow as saints, in answer to God’s love who chose them and called them to the priesthood, totally at his service, and in communion, united to their presbytery in which the bishop is father and brother,” he continued.

For their part the laity, Carriquiry observed, in many parts is like a “sleeping giant,” to quote the words of a Latin American cardinal. For a part baptism has remained buried by indifference and neglect. For many others, he said, their faith is manifested in expressions of popular piety, “which must be rooted increasingly as the Catholic faith in people’s heart, in the life of families, and in the nations’ cultures.”

The Pope himself has said, Carriquiry continued, that this Catholic continent has a lack of strong presences and lay leadership in the fields of politics, economy, culture and the media.

Carriquiry also commented that after Easter his office will launch a Web page to communicate with the bishops, CELAM and other Catholic organization in Latin America.

As well, the PCLA will call a meeting of all Latin American priests and men and women religious who reside in Rome, either because of studies or because they work there.

At that meeting Cardinal Ouellet will give his testimony of what he saw, heard and experienced during the Pope’s trip to Latin American. The ambassadors of Mexico and Cuba will also be present to give their testimony.

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