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Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM)

Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM)

Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM) emerged in 1955 as an initial step toward modernizing the structures of Latin American Catholicism. The major function of its various departments has been to promote communication across national lines by means of conferences, training institutes, and publications. The General Conferences of CELAM held at Medellín, Colombia (1968), and Puebla, Mexico (1979), are important milestones in the recent history of the Latin American church.

The Medellín conference, the agenda of which was heavily influenced by a small group of progressive Latin American clergy and by the modernizing tendencies of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), began an effort to apply the principles of Vatican II to Latin America. Medellín established the importance of the church's addressing contemporary socioeconomic realities, endorsed new pastoral practices, and marked the emergence of the new, distinctly Latin American "theology of liberation." These changing perspectives had a great impact on the religious and political life of Latin America. First, they reoriented a significant part of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy away from its former preoccupation with the needs of the elite and the preservation of the status quo. Second, they promoted the power and participation of the lay Catholic masses in both religious and political affairs.

The 1979 Puebla conference reflected the influence of more conservative forces, which had assumed control of CELAM in 1972. While there was some slowing of the process of change associated with Medellín, the bishops nevertheless reaffirmed their earlier positions and stressed their commitment to a "preferential option for the poor."

The fifth General Conference, held in 2007 at the Basilica of Aparecida in São Paulo, Brazil, generally reaffirmed the positions taken at Medellín, Puebla, and Santo Domingo. The bishops emphasized the "preferential option for the poor" and reaffirmed support for Base Christian Communities (CEBs). In addition to addressing the continuing expansion of fundamentalist Protestantism in Latin America, they also focused on new concerns, including human rights violations, migrant issues, and globalization. The clergy also upheld the institution of marriage and condemned abortion.

See alsoCatholic Church: The Modern Period; Liberation Theology.


No single book is devoted to CELAM. Edward L. Cleary, Crisis and Change: The Church in Latin America Today (1985), and Phillip Berryman, Liberation Theology (1987), both do an excellent job of presenting CELAM and its work.

CELAM. Globalización y nueva evangelización en América Latina y el Caribe: Reflexiones del CELAM, 1999–2003. Bogota: Publicaciones CELAM, 2003.

Hennelly, Alfred T., ed. Santo Domingo and Beyond: Documents and Commentaries from the Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1993.

                                          Bruce Calder

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