SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) — A church dedicated to carrying out acts of mercy can help heal countries in the Americas torn by war, economic struggles and cultural and political divisions, Quebec Cardinal Gerald Lacroix said at the conclusion of a regional gathering of church leaders in Colombia.
“From the North Pole to Patagonia, there is a need for the Catholic Church, its priests, its laypeople, everyone, to be more coherent in our testimony in life,’’ he said in a telephone interview from Bogota following the four-day extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on the American continent, which concluded Aug. 30. “There is suffering. A lot of people are hurt. A lot of places are divided. We need to share God’s love.”
The gathering, which drew representatives from nearly every country in North and South America, provided a reminder that church leaders need to work more closely with the neediest groups in their communities, said Lacroix.
“We need to not only talk the talk, we need to walk the walk,” he said.
It was a sentiment echoed by Bishop Pierre Dumas of Anse-a-Veau and Miragoane, Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. He said testimonies given from participants at the gathering provided a reminder that the church must do more than preach mercy.
“Mercy has to be brought to the streets,” he said in a telephone interview. “Mercy has to be seen in the villages in Latin America and around the world.”
Participants visited 29 church-led projects in the poorest neighbourhoods of Bogota and heard about dozens of other projects being carried out across the region, which provided a reminder of the work church groups are doing on a regular basis, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said in an interview provided by CELAM, the Latin America bishops’ council.
“We didn’t just reflect, we saw and heard what mercy has done not only in Colombia, but throughout Latin America,” the archbishop of Tegucigalpa said. “Holiness has flourished on the continent.”
The projects participants visited ranged from soup kitchens and food banks to homes for the disabled staffed by volunteers. Canadian Bishop Lionel Gendron of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, Quebec, visited a project run by the Sisters of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, who work with prostitutes in a Bogota slum.
“They are trying to connect with these women to help them slowly but surely regain their human dignity,’’ he said in a telephone interview Aug. 31. “It was a very deep experience.”
Gendron said in his community in Quebec, the church is leading projects that help reinsert homeless people into society using art and writing, among other things.
“What we are trying to do in this Year of Mercy is be more attentive to the Spirit and where it is leading us,” he said. “What is needed in this world is to show how God is love and God is mercy. That was something I will take away from this celebration.”
The gathering took place as Colombians debated an agreement between the government and Marxist rebels to bring to an end an armed conflict that has lasted more than five decades and claimed an estimated 220,000 lives. The agreement, which is set to be signed in coming weeks in Havana, has to be voted on in a referendum in October.
Colombian Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota urged citizens to consider the benefits of the agreement.
“It would be paradoxical if we as Colombians were not able to talk about what has been achieved in the peace talks between the government and the guerrillas of the FARC and all agree on how to build a better country,” he said in a news conference Aug. 30.
Lacroix said the situation in Colombia provided a vivid example of the depth of divisions in some countries and how the church can play a role in helping them heal.
“We talked a lot about the need for peace, not just in countries like Colombia and Venezuela, but in Canada and the United States and in our own communities, many of which need to find inner peace,” he said. “It’s a process that takes time, and we have to walk with them through it.”
Copyright (c) 2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops