Those who have followed Pope Francis’s papacy closely have likely heard many references to his role in creating what is known as the “Aparecida document.” Released in 2007 by the Episcopal Council of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), then-Cardinal Bergoglio was the head of the commission that drafted the document, which encapsulates a vision for the future of the Church in Latin America. The Aparecida document was published with the authorization of Pope Benedict XVI on the Solemnity of Saints Peter And Paul. About the document, Benedict wrote, “This document contains an abundance of timely pastoral guidelines, explained in a wealth of reflections in the light of faith and of the contemporary social context.”

Indeed, the writing of Pope Benedict is cited many times in the Aparecida document, especially his first encyclical Deus Caritas Est. Pope Francis has spoken frequently about his commitment to implementing the principles of the Aparecida document in his papacy. In fact, he has stated openly that the main influences of his landmark exhortation Evangelii Gaudium were the Aparecida document and an exhortation by another of his predecessors, Evangelii Nuntiandi by Saint Paul VI. He is quoted as saying in a 2017 interview,

“The pastoral focus I want to give the Church today is the Joy of the Gospel, an implementation of Pope Paul VI’s Evangelii Nuntiandi. He was a man ahead of his time. … He sowed the seeds history would go on to harvest. Evangelii Gaudium is a mixture of Evangelii Nuntiandi and the Aparecida Document. They were constructed from the ground up. Evangelii Nuntiandi is the best post-conciliar pastoral document and it has lost none of its freshness.”

In our recent podcast with Rodrigo Guerra (who was also involved in the drafting of the document), Dan Amiri asked him for some insights into Aparecida, and how it might shed some light on the papacy of Pope Francis. Rodrigo shared some background with us, and encouraged us to read the document. If nothing else, he encouraged us to read paragraphs 11 and 12 of the Aparecida document to understand the core of its message:

11. 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. Our greatest danger is

the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the church in which everything apparently continues normally, but in reality the faith is being consumed and falling into meanness. [8]

We must all start again from Christ,[9] recognizing that

being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.[10]

12. In Latin America and the Caribbean, at a time when many of our peoples are preparing to celebrate the bicentenary of their independence, we find ourselves facing the challenge of revitalizing our way of being Catholic and our personal options for the Lord, so that Christian faith may become more deeply rooted in the heart of Latin American individuals and peoples as founding event and living encounter with Christ. He reveals himself as newness of life and mission in all dimensions of personal and social existence. This requires, on the basis of our Catholic identity, a much more missionary evangelization, in dialogue with all Christians.

In other words, our faith cannot be reduced to a list of rules and morals, or it becomes nothing but a system of ethics. It must be rooted in the Gospel, in the Resurrection, in Jesus Christ himself. This is similar to how Francis reminds us that if our work of justice and charity aren’t rooted in Christ, the Church becomes nothing more than an NGO.

This is the heart of Pope Francis’s vision: all things must be rooted in Christ.

Read the entire document in English here.

Footnotes from Aparecida Document Citations:
8) J. Ratzinger, Situación actual de la fe y la teología. Conference given at the Meeting of Presidents of Bishops Commissions of Latin America for the doctrine of the faith, held in Guadalajara (Mexico), 1996.7 Ibid.

Published in L’Ossevatore Romano, November 1, 1996.

9) Cf. NMI (Novo millennio ineunte) 28-29.

10) DCE (Deus Caritas Est) 1.

Image: By © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37371021

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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