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Second man accuses Chicago’s Father Pfleger of sex abuse

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:24 pm (CNA).- A second alleged victim has accused activist Chicago priest Fr. Michael Pfleger of sexually abusing him as a minor decades ago, the Chicago archdiocese has confirmed to local media. The priest has strongly denied both accusations, which come from two brothers.

The Chicago archdiocese’s general counsel had “just received” the second allegation Sunday evening, a spokesperson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It is important to note that Fr. Pfleger remains removed from ministry pending the outcome of civil and church investigations,” said the spokesperson. “We will continue to follow our process as we do with all such allegations.”

Pfleger’s lawyers, James Figliulo and Michael Monico, issued a statement on his behalf.

“Father Pfleger has never abused them or anybody else. These allegations are false and are simply being made for money. This is a shakedown,” their statement said, according to ABC7 Chicago.

The two brothers were the youngest of five children who grew up in a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, the Chicago Tribune reports. Their single mother insisted they go to church to avoid gangs and drugs. They joined the choir at Precious Blood Catholic Church, which was directed by Pfleger, then a seminarian. They said they were each sexually abused dozens of times over several years, beginning in the 1970s in Pfleger’s room at three churches, including Precious Blood and St. Sabina. They said they were 12 or 13 years old when the abuse began.

They said the priest would take them out for pizza, for movies, or for travel to other parishes to perform. Pfleger often gave them pocket money and once took them to the Six Flags amusement park in St. Louis, they said.

The brothers do not want to be named publicly to protect the privacy of relatives in Chicago and for fear of possible negative reactions from Pfleger’s supporters.

The men, both Black, are in their early 60s and live in Texas. The younger brother told the other brother that he had filed the complaint against Pfleger, and the older man said that he had also been abused by the priest.

Pfleger’s attorneys said one of the accusers had sent the priest a handwritten letter asking for $20,000, saying, “I am asking for a one time payment to help me move on in this troubled and confused time in my life. I did not want to put a price, but I must.” The attorneys suggested this supports the idea that accusers are seeking money.

The younger brother, who wrote the letter, rejected the claim that his motivation was purely financial, and said he wanted the payment to be proof that he was abused. He said he was motivated to come forward by a Nov. 28 televised interview with Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington. Gregory, a former priest and auxiliary bishop of the Chicago archdiocese, spoke about the Catholic Church’s failures to respond to child sexual abuse.

The brothers said they had met or seen Gregory several times. Gregory said in a statement he did not remember the brothers’ family but he voiced confidence in the archdiocese’s investigation, the Chicago Tribune said.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago asked Pfleger to step away from his duties in early January after the first accusation.

“Allegations are claims that have not been proven as true or false. Therefore, guilt or innocence should not be assumed,” Cupich said in a Jan. 5 statement about the first accusation. “Father Pfleger has agreed to cooperate fully with my request and will live away from the parish while this matter is investigated.”

The archdiocese reported the first allegation to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney.

Pfleger, who is white, has been a politically involved community leader based out of the predominantly African-American Saint Sabina Parish. He has served at the church since 1983 and is presently described as its senior pastor.

The 71-year-old priest indicated that many people had reached out to him after the Chicago archdiocese announced the first allegation Jan. 5. He said he was “devastated, hurt and yes angry,” but put his trust in God. He asked for prayers for his accuser.

Cupich’s Jan. 5 statement said the Chicago archdiocese “takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”

“It is crucial that you know nothing is more important than the welfare of the children entrusted to our care,” he said.

Pfleger’s biography on the Saint Sabina Church website said that since 1968 he has lived and ministered in the African-American community on the west and south sides of Chicago. He worked two summers in a Native American community in Oklahoma, and as a seminarian he interned at Cook County Jail and at Chicago’s Precious Blood Church.

He adopted an eight-year-old boy in 1981 and adopted another boy in 1992. In 1997, he became foster father to Jarvis Franklin, who was killed in 1998 in the crossfire of a gang shooting.

His causes include opposition to gun violence and support for gun control. He has also helped launch several employment and social services programs for youth, the elderly and the homeless.

At times he has voiced support for the ordination of women as Catholic priests, a position which the Church has held to be incompatible with the Catholic understanding of the priesthood.

Pfleger has often been a source of controversy. In 2019 he invited controversial preacher Louis Farrakhan to speak at his parish after Farrakhan was banned from Facebook for violating its hate speech policies. Farrakhan is the founder of the Chicago-based group Nation of Islam and has a history of anti-Semitic preaching.

During the controversial 2008 Democratic presidential primary, the late Cardinal Francis George publicly responded to comments Pfleger made deriding Sen. Hillary Clinton and advocating the candidacy of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

In addition, in 2011 George suspended Pfleger from his ministry at St. Sabina and barred him from celebrating the sacraments because of public statements Pfleger had made threatening to leave the Church if he were reassigned from his current parish. George reinstated Pfleger after the priest apologized.

Father Thulani Magwaza is serving as temporary parish administrator during Pfleger’s current absence. Magwaza stood in as parish administrator during the priest’s 2011 suspension as well.

Appeals court rules on California churches that challenged Covid restrictions

CNA Staff, Jan 25, 2021 / 02:01 pm (CNA).- An appeals court last week ruled for a second time against a California church which challenged the state’s rules barring in-person worship services for much of the state, deciding that a total ban on indoor worship services in most areas of the state is justified to block the spread of coronavirus.

The same court ruled Jan. 25 to prevent the state from enforcing fixed numerical attendance limits in areas where indoor worship is allowed, in favor of limits based on percentage of the house of worship’s capacity.

South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista had brought a legal challenge on First Amendment grounds against California’s COVID-19 restrictions, which currently prohibit indoor worship in most areas, while allowing unlimited attendance at outdoor services.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 22 ruled against the church, affirming a district court’s previous ruling and concluding that “California’s restrictions on indoor worship are narrowly tailored to meet its compelling—and immediate—state interest in stopping the community spread of the deadly coronavirus.”

Under current California rules, indoor worship services are banned in all “purple-tiered” counties; counties deemed to have “widespread” transmission risk based on the number of cases per 100,000 and the average positivity rate.

All but four of the state’s counties are currently classified in the purple tier, and as of Jan. 19, the “purple” tier covered 99.9% of California’s population.

California is the only state in the country with an indoor worship services ban. In the second-highest tier, red, indoor services are allowed but only with 25% capacity or— until the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling— 100 people, whichever is fewer.

In the 9th Circuit’s Monday ruling, the court wrote in a case brought by Harvest Rock Church that in light of the South Bay decision, the court would not strike down the total ban on indoor worship, but would enjoin the state from enforcing its numerical restrictions in lower tiers.

Instead, the state may only enforce the attendance limitations based on the percentage of total capacity, the court said.

Harvest Rock had alleged that Governor Gavin Newsom applied a double-standard during the nine months of the pandemic, curbing religious services while allowing comparable non-religious gatherings and mass protests to continue “without numerical restriction.”

The Supreme Court had in December 2020 vacated the district court ruling against South Bay and sent the case back to the circuit court for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in a November case brought by the Diocese of Brooklyn.

New York state in October had limited indoor religious gatherings in certain areas to only 10 people, with other areas limited to 25 people, due to the spread of the virus in those areas, while allowing other venues to open and operate under far less restrictions.

The federal Second Circuit court ordered that the 10 and 25-person caps to worship had to be suspended while the case is pending.

In another recent and influential case, the Supreme Court in December 2020 vacated a district court decision, granting a church’s requested injunction on the state’s order that limited indoor worship to 50 people in certain areas where the virus was spreading. The court then sent the case back to the lower courts for reconsideration in light of the Brooklyn diocese case.

Supreme Court rules favorably toward inmate requesting priest at execution

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 12:55 pm (CNA).- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled favorably toward a Catholic death row inmate requesting the presence of a priest at his execution.

In a set of orders released on Monday morning, the court vacated a ruling of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court against Ruben Gutierrez, a Catholic death row inmate in Texas challenging the state’s prohibition of chaplains at executions.

 

In addition to vacating the Fifth Circuit Court ruling, the Supreme Court also sent Gutierrez’s case back to lower courts for reconsideration, in light of findings by a district court that a chaplain inside the state execution chamber wouldn’t present security concerns.

 

One attorney at the religious freedom legal group Becket said the decision was a win for religious freedom, and called on the state of Texas to stop fighting Gutierrez’s case in court and provide him with a priest at his execution.

 

Eric Rassbach, attorney at Becket, called the ruling an “important” victory for religious freedom and called on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice “to take the hint and reinstate the centuries-old practice of affording comfort of clergy to the condemned.”

 

Gutierrez was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of Escolastica Harrison, an 85-year-old woman, during an attempted robbery. He has maintained his innocence, saying he was part of the robbery but did not commit the murder of Harrison.

 

He had requested that his prison’s Catholic chaplain be present in the execution chamber at his death. Gutierrez’s request was denied due to a 2019 state execution protocol prohibiting chaplains in the execution chamber.

 

He challenged the policy in court, alleging that it violated his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

 

The Supreme Court ultimately stayed his execution, which had been scheduled for June 16, 2020, instructing the district court to consider the security concerns of a chaplain being present in the execution chamber. The district court later found that “no serious security problems would result” from a chaplain being present in the execution chamber.

 

Last summer, the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops had called the state’s denial of a chaplain for Gutierrez “an egregious rejection of the possibility of forgiveness and redemption while the state commits the violence of an execution.”

 

Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, said the state’s decision was “cruel and inhuman.”

 

 

Cardinals offer funeral Mass for homeless man in Rome

Rome, Italy, Jan 25, 2021 / 12:19 pm (CNA).- Papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski offered a funeral Mass Monday for a 64-year-old homeless man who died in Rome.

Roberto Mantovani died in a homeless shelter near Rome’s Termini train station after contracting pneumonia.

Cardinal George Pell concelebrated the funeral Mass Jan. 25 at the parish of St. Pius X with Archbishop Arthur Roche, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and a dozen priests, according to Vatican News.

Cardinal Krajewski, who knew Mantovani, said that he chose the reading from the Gospel of Luke in which Christ recounts the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, for the funeral Mass because "Robert always slept in front of a closed door."

"He was a cheerful, sunny person, at the lunches we had he made everyone laugh," Cardinal Krajewski said.

Mantovani will be buried next to his parents in his hometown of Oppeano in northern Italy. He had formerly been a professional soccer player with Hellas Verona F.C. but an injury ended his career.

His funeral took place one day after Pope Francis prayed for another homeless man, a 46-year-old Nigerian man named Edwin, who was found dead near St. Peter’s Square last week.

“Last Jan. 20, a few meters from St. Peter’s Square, a 46-year-old Nigerian homeless man named Edwin was found dead because of the cold,” the pope said Jan. 24.

“His story was added to that of many other homeless people who recently died in Rome in the same dramatic circumstances. Let us pray for Edwin.”

According to the news website RomaToday, Edwin was the fourth homeless person to die this year in Rome, where there are an estimated 8,000 homeless people. Many sleep in tents along the edge of Bernini’s colonnade, the semi-circular columns enclosing St. Peter’s Square.

“Let us think about Edwin,” Pope Francis said. “Let us think of how this man, 46 years old, felt in the cold, ignored by all, abandoned, even by us. Let us pray for him.”

Pro-lifers pleasantly surprised at Kentucky’s enactment of ‘Born-Alive’ bill

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:45 am (CNA).- A Kentucky bill requiring appropriate medical care for babies surviving attempted abortions became law on Friday.

 

Gov. Andy Bashear (D) neither signed nor vetoed the “Born-Alive” bill that passed the state legislature. The bill, SB9, requires that infants who are born alive after an attempted abortion be given appropriate medical care. 

 

Kentucky’s legislature passed the bill on Jan. 9, and sent it to Bashear later that day. After nearly two weeks had passed without either a veto or signature, the bill automatically became law on Jan. 22, the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. 

 

The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List declared it an “Unexpected #ProLife victory,” as Beshear had vetoed six other bills that had been sent to him.

 

The bill had received support from members of both political parties and was passed overwhelmingly by votes of 76-18 in the state house and 32-4 in the state senate. 

 

The text of the bill reads “Any born-alive infant, including one (1) born in the course of an abortion procedure, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of this Commonwealth, with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment.”

 

Violation of the law results in the suspension of a medical license; it also parents to file civil cases against the medical professionals complicit violating the law. 

 

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Whitney Westerfield (R-Crofton), tweeted on January 22 that he believed the bill was now law and that the veto window had passed. 

 

“Working to confirm, but it seems SB9, Kentucky’s Born Alive Infant Protection Act, has become law without the Governor’s signature,” said Westerfield. “Yesterday was the deadline for a veto. I’ll take it.” 

 

Westerfield later confirmed that the bill was indeed law, and that it was “a good day!”. He noted that the bill became law on the 48th anniversary “of the tragic Roe v Wade decision.”  

 

“I have hope that there are still victories for life ahead,” said Westerfield.

 

Beshear received support from pro-abortion groups during his campaign, and he has vetoed similar pro-life legislation during his time as governor. This is the first piece of pro-life legislation to become law during his time as governor. 

 

Federal “Born-Alive” legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Congress, but did not receive a vote in the 116th Congress. In the House, 205 members signed a “discharge petition” to bring the bill to the House Floor for full consideration, but the effort fell short of the necessary 218 signatures for action.

 

 

Pope Francis: May the Holy Trinity make Christians grow in unity

Rome, Italy, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:39 am (CNA).- The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity concluded Monday with Vespers at the tomb of St. Paul.

Pope Francis was unable to attend the evening prayer Jan. 25 at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls due to a resurgence of sciatic nerve pain, but the pope’s prepared homily for the occasion was read by Cardinal Kurt Koch, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

“Dear brothers and sisters, may we remain united in Christ. May the Holy Spirit, poured into our hearts, make us feel like children of the Father, brothers and sisters of one another, brothers and sisters in our one human family. May the Holy Trinity, communion of love, make us grow in unity,” Koch said.

On the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, the cardinal venerated St. Paul’s relics alongside the vicar archbishop of the Romanian Orthodox diocese of Italy, Atanasie Rusnac, and Anglican Archbishop Ian Ernest, the director of the Anglican Centre in Rome.

The Church dedicates one week each January to prayer for unity among all Christians. The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was “abide in my love and you shall bear much fruit.”

In his prepared homily, the pope wrote that “we can grow and bear fruit only if we remain united to Jesus.”

“In today’s fast-paced and complex world, it is easy to lose our compass,  pulled as we are from every side. Many people feel internally fragmented, unable to find a fixed point, a stable footing, amid life’s changes. Jesus tells us that the secret of stability is to abide in him,” Cardinal Koch read.

“Jesus also showed us how to abide in him. He left us his  own example: each day he withdrew to pray in deserted places. We need prayer, as we need water,  to live. Personal prayer, spending time with Jesus, adoration, these are essential if we are to abide  in him. In this way, we can place our worries, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows in the Lord’s  heart. Most of all, centred on Jesus in prayer, we can experience his love.”
Pope Francis’ homily stated that the Holy Spirit desires to restore unity and inspires “gratuitousness, to love even those who do not love us in return.”

He wrote: “The Spirit blows where he wills, and everywhere he wants to restore unity. He impels us  to love not only those who love us and think as we do, but to love everyone, even as Jesus taught  us.”

“He enables us to forgive our enemies and the wrongs we have endured. He inspires us to be  active and creative in love. He reminds us that our neighbors are not only those who share our  own values and ideas, and that we are called to be neighbours to all, good Samaritans to a humanity that is frail, poor and, in our own time, suffering so greatly.”

Pope Francis asked all Christians to pray for “the gift of unity” during his general audience livestream last Wednesday.

“During this time of serious hardship, this prayer is even more necessary so that unity might prevail over conflicts. It is urgent that we set aside preferences to promote the common good, and so our good example is fundamental: it is essential that Christians pursue the path toward full visible unity,” the pope said Jan. 20.

“The world will not believe because we will have convinced it with good arguments, but because we will have borne witness to that love that unites us and draws us near to everyone,” he said.

Biden reverses military ban on gender transitioning

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2021 / 11:00 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden on Monday revoked a ban on gender transitioning in the military, allowing troops to serve on the basis of their gender identity.

The White House on Monday announced that President Biden signed an executive order reversing certain Trump-era orders on transgender service in the military.

 

The previous orders had prohibited gender-transitioning by servicemembers while in the military, and barred acceptance of recruits with a current diagnosis of gender dysphoria.

 

“President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” a fact-sheet released by the White House stated on Monday.

 

Biden’s order prohibits certain military actions taken against servicemembers because of gender-transitioning, such as “involuntary separations, discharges, and denials of reenlistment or continuation of service.” The new order allows troops to “serve in their gender when transition is complete.”

 

Trump first announced the transgender military ban in 2017. In Jan., 2019, the Supreme Court upheld the ban, but in the next month the Defense Department announced a new policy allowing for people identifying as transgender to serve in the military, under certain exceptions.

 

Under the revised policy, soldiers identifying as transgender could not have already transitioned from their biological sex. Further, they could not undergo gender-transition surgery while serving, and could not have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. They had to serve under their biological sex.

 

In addition, military recruits with a history of gender dysphoria had to prove they had identified with their biological sex for three years and had not transitioned their gender.

 

A 2016 assessment by the RAND Corporation estimated around 2,450 transgender active military personnel out of approximately 1.3 million members.

 

In 2017, when former President Trump first announced the administration’s decision to ban gender transitioning in the military, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, said the decision was correct but did not fully address “the dignity of the human person” in emphasizing the practical consequences of the policy, such as military readiness, over the spiritual consequences.

 

The Church teaches that human beings are created “in the image and likeness of God,” Archbishop Timothy Broglio stated, emphasizing that “personal choices in life, whether regarding the protection of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage and the family, or the acceptance of a person’s God-created biology, should be made not solely for a penultimate reality on this earth but in anticipation of the ultimate reality of sharing in the very life of God in heaven.”

 

Biden has ‘developed’ approach to abortion, Sister Simone Campbell says

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 10:35 am (CNA).- President Joe Biden has a “very developed approach” to abortion, Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, said during a recent panel discussion hosted by the National Catholic Reporter.

 

Campbell, who also offered a prayer at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, said at the Jan. 21 discussion that the “political obsession” with the “criminialization of abortion” has broken the Church apart. 

 

Campbell said she hopes someone interviews Biden “about what he thinks” on the issue. 

 

“He has a very--I know from a conversation with him--he has a very developed approach to it [abortion],” Campbell said. “And for him, it hinges on religious liberty, and that he will not force his religious belief on the whole nation.” 

 

She added that many conservatives are concerned over religious freedom, and implied that Biden’s “religious liberty” case for legal abortion could serve as a bridge to those citizens.

 

“And the far-right is glomming onto this religious liberty argument,” she added. “Maybe there’s a way forward there, where we could find some understanding. So that would be my hope.” 

 



 

Montserrat Alvarado, vice president and executive director of Becket, told CNA that Biden’s treatment of the Little Sisters of the Poor will reveal how serious he is on respecting religious freedom. 

 

"The litmus test for whether President Biden is taking the intersection of abortion and religious liberty seriously is how he treats the Little Sisters of the Poor,” Alvarado told CNA.

 

“He will either give them an exemption or he will fight them in court, knowing full well that an exemption is the protection our laws and the Supreme Court have given Catholic nuns in this country,” Alvarado said. “We should know soon.” 

 

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden said he would remove religious exemptions to the HHS contraceptive mandate that were granted by the Trump administration to objecting religious groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor. If Biden follows through on that promise, it is expected that the sisters would once again have to return to court to push for a religious exemption.

 

Biden also supported taxpayer-funded abortion during his presidential campaign, pledging to reverse various prohibitions on federal funding of abortions, abortion providers, and groups promoting abortion. These policies include the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy, and the Protect Life Rule. The Biden administration is expected to repeal the Mexico City Policy later this week.

 

Campbell offered a prayer at the Democratic National Convention last year. Asked by CNA in August whether or not her social justice organization opposes legal abortion, Campbell replied, “That is not our issue. That is not it. It is above my pay grade.” 

 

“It’s not the issue that we work on. I’m a lawyer. I would have to study it more intensely than I have,” Campbell said at the time.

Vatican Secretary of State calls for synergy in fight against poverty and climate change

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2021 / 08:30 am (CNA).- The Vatican Secretary of State has called for a new model of development built on “the synergistic bond” between the fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty.

In a video message to the Climate Adaptation Summit taking place online Jan. 25-26, Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that climate change is “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

“This is a moral and humanitarian imperative, especially since the greatest negative consequences of climate change often affect the most vulnerable: the poor and future generations,” the cardinal said.

“While the poor are the least responsible for global warming, they are the most likely to be affected, since they have the least adaptive capacity and often live in geographical areas which are particularly at risk.”

The Climate Adaptation Summit is a virtual international summit organized by the Netherlands aimed at outlining practical solutions for confronting climate change.

The summit’s list of speakers include French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry.

“On behalf of Pope Francis, I … wish to assure you of his closeness, support and encouragement in these days of intense effort for a fruitful outcome to this Climate Adaptation Summit,” Cardinal Parolin said in his video message.

The Vatican Secretary of State called for “stronger international cooperation committed to a low-carbon sustainable development” and an investment in “strengthening technologies and resilience and transferring them under fair conditions, particularly to the most vulnerable countries.”

“Complementarity mitigation and adaptation activities require coming up with a global and shared long-term strategy based on precise commitments, capable of defining and promoting a new model of development and built on the synergistic bond between the fight against climate change and  the struggle against poverty,” the cardinal said.

Parolin urged that there is “no alternative but to make every effort to implement a responsible, unprecedented collective response, intended to work together to build our common home.”

“May we make the response to climate change an opportunity for improving overall living conditions, health, transport, energy and security, and for creating new job opportunities,” he said.

“This task is difficult and complex, but we know that we have the freedom, intelligence and capacity to lead and direct technology and to put it at the service of another type of progress: one that is more human, social and integral.”

Pope Francis tells Latin American Ecclesial Assembly not to be elitist 

Vatican City, Jan 25, 2021 / 05:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis sent a video message Sunday to Latin American Church leaders organizing a “synodal” regional assembly, in which he asked them not to be ideological elites, but to remain close to the people of God.

“We have much to learn,” Pope Francis said in the video sent to the organizers of the first Ecclesial Assembly of the Church in Latin American and the Caribbean Jan. 24.

“This [will be] a meeting of the people of God: lay men and women, religious men and women, priests, bishops. All the people of God walking together: praying, speaking, thinking, discussing, and seeking the will of God,” the pope said.

The regional Ecclesial Assembly is scheduled to take place in Mexico City Nov. 21-28 with the theme: “We are all missionary disciples on the move.”

In his video message, Pope Francis said: “I want to accompany you with my prayers” ahead of the Ecclesial Assembly. He added that this assembly will be something distinctive from the previous regional meeting of the Latin American bishops’ conference (CELAM) in Aparecida, Brazil -- a conference in which he played a role as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“May this Assembly not be an elite group separated from the holy, faithful people of God,” the pope said. “Together with the people. Do not forget it. We are all part of the people of God.”

“Out of the people of God an elite group crops up, an elite illumined by one ideology or another, but this is not the Church. The Church is found in the breaking of the bread. The Church gives herself to all, without exclusion.”

According to a press release from the Latin American bishops’ conference, the goal of the Ecclesial Assembly is to “contemplate the reality of our peoples and the deepening challenges of the continent” while “reviving pastoral commitment and seeking new paths with a synodal key.”

Archbishop Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte of Trujillo, Peru and president of the Latin American bishops’ conference took part in the launch of the Ecclesial Assembly, together with the president of the Brazilian bishops’ conference Bishop Walmor Oliveira de Azevedo and Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera López of Monterrey, the president of the Mexican bishops’ conference.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, also participated in the virtual event. The launch culminated with a Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe presided over by the archbishop of Mexico City, Cardinal Carlos Aguiar Retes.

Pope Francis said that prayer is essential in preparation for this assembly. He added: “The Lord is among us. May the Lord make himself heard.”