WASHINGTON (May 21, 1999) --Taking their cue from Pope John Paul II's call for increased collaboration, representatives of the Committee for Priestly Life and Ministry, National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), and other priests from the U.S., met recently with representatives of the Commission for Clergy of the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM).
The meeting, conducted entirely in Spanish , was held May 13-14 at CEM offices in Mexico City. It was hosted by the President of the Commission for Clergy, Archbishop Alberto Suarez Inda of Morelia, Michoacan.
Those attending from the United States were Bishop Richard C. Hanifen of Colorado Springs, Chairman of the NCCB Priestly Life and Ministry Committee, Auxiliary Bishop Patrick J. Zurek of San Antonio, Rev. J. Cletus Kiley, executive director of the priestly life and ministry secretariat, and Rev. James Ronan, executive director of the NCCB Secretariat for Latin America.
Also present were Father Donald Wolf, president of the National Federation of Priests Councils (NFPC), and Father Michael Cronin, executive director of the National Organization for the Continuing Education of Roman Catholic Clergy (NOCERC).
The meeting was held against the background of Ecclesia in America, the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation which Pope John Paul II released in Mexico City in January. The exhoration recommended, among other things, a plan of integration for the continent in order to promote the life and ministry of priests on both sides of the border.
The purpose of the meeting was to explore common concerns about the on-going formation of priests as well as other pastoral concerns, in light of the unique relationship between the Church in the United States and the Church in Mexico. A major topic was the pastoral care of immigrants.
In remarks made at the meeting, Archbishop Suarez Inda praised the Church in the United States for pastoral efforts for Mexican immigrants.
"The Bishops and priests from the United States at this meeting all speak Spanish and understand it well, which indicates a closeness to us and to our people," he said. "We must, for our part, confess a sin of ommission for not having provided a religious orientation for our immigrants. We have begun to resolve this problem at this meeting, which comes as an initiative of American priests. This challenge is very great because of the great number of Mexican immigrants in the United States."
Noting that the U.S. Episcopal Conference has initiated dialogue with a number of bishops conferences in Latin America, Archbishop Suarez Inda said "this meeting is for us just a first step in bringing about this work."
Father Kiley said the need to develop a more effective pastoral plan for immigrants, in dialogue with both conferences, was a major theme of the meeting. "Part of the focus was to shape a better and more complete formation for priests in order to fulfill this pastoral plan," he added.
Bishop Hanifen commented that "Even though the two nations are very different in their cultures and societies, we are one Church." He indicated that even though the two countries are divided by a river or a "wall," which are real dividers, "they are not as strong as the faith. These divisions have not been able to divide the Church," Bishop Hanifen said. "The most basic border is one in the imagination. The Church goes beyond any border."
On the opening day of the meeting, participants concelebrated Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is across the street from the Mexican Episcopal Conference. The principal celebrant was Bishop Navarro of San Juan de Los Lagos. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the site at which Pope John Paul II unveiled Ecclesia in America early this year.