From July 21-23 a delegation of five bishops representing the U.S. Catholic Conference met in San Jose, Costa Rica, with 10 bishops representing SEDAC, the Episcopal Secretariat of Central America and Panama. Our meeting examined both the religious and the socio-political situation of Central America with particular emphasis on the role of the U.S. government in the region and on the dramatic problem of the refugees and undocumented Central Americans who have found it necessary to emigrate to the United States.
At the conclusion of our reflection, which has been carried on in a climate of great fraternity, prayer and communion, we issue this joint communique.
Before all else we want to stress our deepest concern for the extraordinary human suffering which characterizes to a greater or lesser degree the life of the people who live in the Central American countries, a suffering which has its origin in the reality of poverty and the complex problems that prevent these brothers and sisters of ours from living according to their dignity as children of God.
At the same time we want to express our hope of better times to come, given the extraordinary vitality of our churches in each of the countries of Central America.
2. We have examined the problem of the Central American refugees residing in neighboring countries, and we express our recognition for the hospitality of those who receive them as brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, our pastoral focus has been fixed above all on the hundreds of thousands of undocumented persons from the region who have felt obliged to go to the United States due to the conflictive situations in their respective countries. In this regard we not only exchanged information, but examined as well the scope of the recent U.S. immigration law and the efforts by the church in the United States to modify certain key aspects of the law.
Most important was our discussion of the best ways of assisting these persons both spiritually and in all other ways, including legal assistance.
3. We bishops of the United States and of Central America meeting in San Jose have analyzed from a pastoral perspective the complex socio-political reality of the region. We are in complete agreement that the solution to the conflicts afflicting Central America needs to be sought through political measures. This presumes an intense and persevering task of seeking the dialogue for peace at the national, regional and international levels.
We have at the same time seen as a sign of hope the rise of democratic processes both in Latin America generally and specifically in Central America. While we must strongly encourage these processes, we want also to stress that democracy is not limited only to political life, but should be social and economic as well.
We have further been unanimous in insisting that U.S relations with Central America must give clear priority not to military aid, but to economic assistance for development.
4. The U.S. delegation took advantage of its presence in the Costa Rican capital to meet with the president of the republic, Dr. Oscar Arias Sanchez, to discuss with him his proposals for establishing firm and lasting peace in Central America.
In supporting both this peace initiative as well as previous ones such as that of Contadora and its support group, we pray for the success of the forthcoming meeting of Central American presidents in Guatemala.
5. As true peace is not the fruit only of human effort, but a gift of God confided to men in the fine phrase of Pope John Paul II, we urge our peoples to ask the Lord for peace with ceaseless prayer. Therefore we associate ourselves heartily with the Day of Prayer which the church of Costa Rica has organized for the vigil of the patronal feast of that country, Our Lady of the Angels, to pray for the presidential summit in Guatemala; we hope that similar initiatives might be realized in the other nations that we represent.
May Mary, pilgrim of faith, be with us in this difficult stage in our history and grant us from her son the precious gift of reconciliation and of peace.