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The Virgin and the flags

To see national flags in the Vatican Basilica is an unusual sight, yet they were there during the papal celebration for the bicentenary of the Independence of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Therefore, a rare occurrence which should not give rise to nationalistic suspicions, historically extraneous to the Catholic tradition. Rather it confirms the Church’s centuries-old roots in that immense part of the world where today almost half of the faithful in communion with Rome live.

In this way, “the Church of God in Latin America”, as Cardinal Marc Ouellet said on greeting the Pope, “feels particularly welcome and at home at the centre of Catholicity, built on the solid rock of Peter”. And echoing the Cardinal, who is very familiary with the situation on the continent, warm applause greeted Benedict XVI’s announcement of his upcoming journey, before Easter, to Mexico and Cuba.

Thus, an evident fact is underscored — one that many overlook either from indifference or sometimes in bad faith: the Church is not Eurocentric and Pope Benedict’s perspective increasingly stresses the Church’s universal dimension and capacity to take root in every culture. This is precisely the deepest and most lasting outcome of the evangelization of America, “beyond the historical, social and political aspects” of events, as the Pope pointed out.

And this, too, is the meaning of the approach, as intelligent as it was bold, that the Holy See quickly adopted in recognizing the importance of the national realities developing in Latin America; back in the Pontificates of Leo XII and Pius VIII. A few years earlier, between 1823 and 1825, the young Mastai Ferretti, who became Pope Pius ix in 1846, had travelled here on a long mission as far as Chile, and turned out to be the first Successor of Peter to have set foot in the new world.

The contemporary history of the Catholic Church — from the first Plenary Council in 1899 in Rome to the great assemblies of the Latin American Episcopates which began in 1955 — owes much to the continent which was rightly called the “continent of hope”. It was visited in 1968 by Paul VI, several times by John Paul II and now by his successor. During the bicentenary celebration, with its colourful flags, the Pope gave thanks above all for the gift of faith in Christ, born of the Virgin, Mary, who is venerated in Latin America as Morenita del Tepeyac. And before her image, Catholics once again prayed to the Lord of history, the foundation of every human being’s dignity, that he sustain them in the trying and exalting journey of life.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 19, 2019

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