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Friar Participates in Continental Congress of Theology in Brazil

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Edgardo Jara shares his thoughts during a group discussion. (Photo courtesy of Edgardo)

I have always said that God works in mysterious ways. My participation in the Second Continental Congress of Theology in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, last month was no exception. I would like to share some of the highlights of the experiences I had among many men and women ministers of our Church who, like us, are trying to serve the poor, marginalized, and excluded brothers and sisters of our Church and society.

Approximately 262 people from 23 countries attended the Oct. 26 to 30 gathering. “Historical” theologians, such as Leornardo Boff, Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, Victor Codina, Marcelo Barros, Fr. Juan Hernandez Pico, SJ, Mons. Bishop Álvaro Ramazzini of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, and many other recognized Latin-American theologians shared their knowledge and experience. We gathered to discern from the Word of God the Holy Spirit’s presence within the practice of solidarity with the excluded. This should be the root of a new way of being a Christian community and is part of the necessary reform that the Church is challenged to make today. As the motto of the congress says, “Iglesia que camina con espíritu y desde los pobres” — the Church that walks with spirit and with the poor.

Re-encountering and recovering several meaningful social and pastoral practices from Latin-American theology — which has so clearly influenced Pope Francis — supplemented and enriched the theological training I received at the Franciscan School of Theology during the last two years.

A new way of being for the Latin-American Church, as the people of God directed by the preferential option for the poor, has emerged since the synod of Latin-American bishops in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968. It has been a Church animated by spiritual encounter with the historical Jesus, communal reading and reflection on Scripture, discipleship modeled in Christian based communities, and a strong social and political commitment; in short, a religious life inserted into the reality of the people, with martyrs like Blessed Óscar Romero, Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, SJ, and Bishop Juan José Gerardi pointing the way forward.

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During the week of the congress, I had the opportunity to reflect on many theological issues using our Latin-American post-conciliar methodology: “Ver, juzgar, actuar” (See, judge, act). In the 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, the Spirit is still blowing, and the authority of the poor is still challenging us. We Friars Minor continue to be challenged by this. The decree of our General Chapter celebrated in 1985 at Assisi points out: “In their Franciscan apostolate, they are to be constantly concerned to imitate the Seraphic Father in his love and concern for all people, and especially for the poor.”

We also prayed and lifted up a specific population each day of the congress: The Indo-African American pueblos and cultures, the poor and the immigrants, the children and youth, and the cry of women. They are our Church; they are the people who cry, laugh, sing, and persevere throughout many of life’s scenarios.

The experience of the congress highlighted the importance of dialogue, listening, exchanging experiences, and creating processes animated by the Word of God, so that a “Church that walks with spirit and with the poor” is possible. As Victor Codina pointed out at the congress, “the Spirit of the Lord acts from below.”

Latin-American theology serves as a bridge between a historical past and an unknown future, the crossing of which sometimes seems threatening. The present ecclesial community will do well to discover the Spirit’s action in history and, from it, develop its theological analysis and reflection. It is from here that Spirit-driven ecclesiastical reform can emerge from within the tradition to respond to the present-day challenges faced by God’s people.

Br. Edgardo graduated from the Franciscan School of Theology in Oceanside, Calif., in May. The Costa Rica native is currently completing his internship year at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md.

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