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from issue no. 06 - 2011

An interview with Carlos Aguiar Retes, new president of the CELAM

Only humility keeps us free of blackmail

Interview with Carlos Aguiar Retes by Gianni Valente

The 61 year-old, Carlos Aguiar Retes, Archbishop of Tlalnepantla (Mexico) was appointed president of the Latin American Bishops Council (CELAM) in Montevideo last 19 May, at the thirty-third ordinary assembly of the body representing the bishops of all Latin America. The bishops and other delegates from all the Latin American churches voted by an overwhelming majority to entrust him with the responsibility for a term of four years.
A graduate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a former professor of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical University of Mexico, Aguiar is in his second term as president of the Mexican Bishop’s Conference. By personal character and for biographical reasons he well represents the ranks of bishops who after the divisions and the intra-ecclesial ideological radicalisms within the Church over the past decades are most aware of the urgent need for ‘pastoral conversion’, set out in the CELAM Aparecida Assembly document (2007) as the pressing need of the apostolic work of all the churches in Latin America.


Carlos Aguiar Retes [© Celam]

Carlos Aguiar Retes [© Celam]

Your Excellence, you became president of CELAM in the years when all the Churches in Latin America are being called to the ‘Continental Mission’. What is it? It it just a new formula for the ‘usual’ call to action?
CARLOS AGUIAR RETES: The Continental Mission did not arise out of nothing, like the idea of some committee. Even before the General Assembly of CELAM at Aparecida many dioceses had begun to take up a similar pastoral position. At Aparecida those experiences converged and were acknowledged, and the entire Latin American episcopate chose to take the path they indicated.
What helped to arrive at the new shared unity of purpose?
The fact that we are moving into a new social context. It’s a process particularly pronounced in the large urban areas, which keep on growing. For that reason the mission proposed at Aparecida also comes out of thinking about the megalopoli. Migration from the countryside to the cities is a constant of life in Latin America. But now the phenomenon marks the transition from a time when Christian values were accepted by everyone to a situation where the models are changing, and a multi-cultural society is forming.
And what does that entail, from the pastoral point of view?
We can’t take the view that our primary task is to stand on the threshold checking whether or not people have the administrative requirements for belonging to the Church. This is the moment to proclaim the essentials of Christianity, to everybody. To people as they are, in the concrete circumstances in which they live now, with the expectations that they now have. In the area of Mexico where I live, there are twelve dioceses where people live who come and go each day because of their vital needs. That’s the point, we must take on board all the new conditions of coexistence. For example, making access to the sacraments easier, so that the demands of the parish do not become a reason to lose all contact with the Church.
In the past decades the so-called New Evangelization focused largely on organized groups and movements. What considerations does the episode of the Legionaries of Christ now suggest?
That an attitude of humility is needed, of the sort that Benedict XVI continuously shows us. Recognizing that human frailty necessarily implies the real possibility of falling, of sin. It’s no use to present ourselves to society with the claim that the Church is a kind of perfect human institution, where everything works. That, of course, is a good intention. But we also know that even amongst us human frailty and wretchedness lead to lamentable situations of scandal and counter-witness. And the attitude of humility suggested by Benedict XVI comes out of the trust that the grace of God works, and can change things. Only in that way can we cease to be hostages to the media that strive to denigrate the ecclesiastical institution.
Many people continue to see the Churches in Latin America as if we were still in the ’sixties and ’seventies. They continue to point to the reduction of the Christian message to political ideology as the most serious threat. Is that how things really stand?
For years now the attempts to construct and impose an ideological ‘mapping’ of the members of the Church has looked futile and out of date, granted that it was ever a fitting key for really knowing the features and experiences of the Churches of Latin America. Aparecida looked at the Church as it is now, and what the Holy Spirit inspires in it now. I believe that document is itself a clear sign of how those ideological interpretations have completely fallen through. In the communion of the Church different sensibilities and different ways of focusing on things can live together.
Often the media and even the Catholic news agencies describe men of the Church as representatives of an ‘antagonist’ force to the governments and political groups that are prevailing in Latin America. Is it a plausible picture?
Compared to the historical past in Latin America a conviction is growing that the Church has to be very free in the face of governments. Respectful of constituted authority, eager to encourage all possible collaboration, but at the same time free to have its say on how society should be. Unfortunately, the ideological schematism which I mentioned earlier, and which is a wholly inappropriate way of looking to the Church, does not seem entirely superseded in some countries. Some still consider ideological discourse fundamental as guide to their government and its policies, and also as guide for the masses. But alongside the cases of those who continue with the rigid ideological approach of the old school, there are others, more pragmatic, who think of social policies as tools for solving problems.
And in your country, what problem stands out most at the moment?
One major problem in Mexico is the overall impact of drug trafficking and money laundering. Problems that cannot be solved without true international collaboration. In particular, that of the United States. They should take a much more rigid approach to preventing the passage of weapons into Mexico. Mexico does not produce weapons, there isn’t even one weapons and military hardware factory. How is it that weapons can be found so easily across the border? This is certainly a consequence of criminal activity.

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