North American Bishops Participate in Brazil
APARECIDA, Brazil, MAY 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Bishop Ricardo Ramírez says the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean is an opportunity to learn many things for the direction of the Church in the United States.
Bishop Ramírez of Las Cruces, New Mexico, spoke to ZENIT about the North American bishops’ participation in the conference, taking place in Aparecida until May 31.
Q: How did the invitation to North American bishops to participate in the Aparecida conference come about?
Bishop Ramírez: I believe the idea to invite them came from Pope John Paul II who took the initiative to unite the entire hemisphere in the American synod, and then in the document “Ecclesia in America” he completed an attempt to unify all the dioceses of the Americas, not only Latin America, but also North America.
For this reason bishops from Canada and the United States are included in this conference. There are four of us from the United States: the president of the bishops’ conference, the president of the Commission for Hispanic Affairs, the president of the Church for Latin America and a person who has worked on the central committee for the general conference.
Q: What is the role of the North American bishops in this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: We are here as observers, to see in what way we can serve, because we cannot impose ourselves.
We are a very large country, very powerful, with a lot of influence, but we must be careful about the way we act at this conference. Without imposing, we would like to offer our experience and knowledge of a country that has a lot of influence worldwide, and certainly in Latin America.
Many good things, as well as bad things, come from the United States. And that is why we are here.
Q: What concerns do you bring with you to this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: Problems of evangelization, pastoral problems, we want to discover norms for the new evangelization which John Paul II spoke of.
I believe that we can learn many things for the direction of our country, even if we are not part of Latin America. The Medellin conference had a great impact on the United States, as did [the one in] Puebla.
I hope that Aparecida has an influence on our pastoral practices in the United States, above all with the Hispanics living there; it can enrich the entire continent.
Q: What is the state of affairs with Hispanics in the United States at the moment?
Bishop Ramírez: The most worrisome aspect is the situation of the illegal immigrants, who live in the shadow of society because they cannot lead normal lives.
Sometimes, for example, they are afraid to go to church for fear of being captured by the border police. They are afraid to be ministers.
When they have the chance to sign up to be catechists, they refuse because they are afraid that the government will find out and they will have to leave. Many are there with their children who were born in the United States: The children are legal citizens but the parents are not. If the parents are exported, what will happen to the children?
Q: Are these Hispanics a powerful presence in the Catholic Church of the United States?
Bishop Ramírez: More and more! In two or three decades the largest group of Catholics in the United States will be made up of Hispanics — more than 50%.
Q: What can Catholic Hispanics, who live in the United States, expect from this conference?
Bishop Ramírez: They can expect support from the bishops of Latin America who will encourage them to stay Catholics, to keep their families united, to maintain the traditions and values which they have received from here, from Latin America.
I believe that words of encouragement from the Latin American bishops for the immigrants would be a very good thing.