The publication of the Documento de Puebla (Puebla Document), containing the renderings of the Third General Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM III) in Puebla de Los Angeles, Mexico, January 27 to February 12, may be regarded as a theological event in Latin America. This 300-page book whose title (La Evangelización en el presente y en el futuro de América Latina) reminds us of the central theme of the conference, is primarily meant to provide pastoral guidelines for Roman Catholic bishops in a continent where traditional Roman Catholicism manages to survive side by side with liberation theology. Within a few months after publication it is proving to be equally useful to “traditionalists” and “progressives.”

The liberation theologians (some of whom were present in Puebla, wisely keeping “a very low profile,” according to Harvey Cox) find encouragement in the document’s condemnation of repressive governments and their ideology of “national security,” its support of human rights, its critical attitude toward international capitalism, its ratification of comunidades de base (the grass roots congregations that often provide the social basis for liberation theology) and, above all, its insistence on viewing the poor as occupying a central place in the history of salvation. They notice that if in Medellín CELAM II saw the church as the church for the poor, in Puebla CELAM III went beyond and saw the church as summoned by the poor to conversion to the gospel “for many of the poor actualize in their lives the evangelical values of solidarity, service, simplicity and readiness to receive God’s gift.” They also notice that if in Medellín ...

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