Determined to bring back Catholics who have left the church and win new faithful, Pope John Paul II on Sunday appealed to bishops from the Americas to work with fresh missionary zeal.
John Paul, his voice still strained from a cold that forced him to cancel a public appearance a few days earlier, celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica to open a monthlong special meeting, or synod, of churchmen from North and South America.
The nearly 300 representatives will discuss concerns close to the pope’s heart, particularly how to reach out to Catholics who have left the church.
Many of those erstwhile Catholics, especially in North America, have been alienated by the pope’s refusal to ease the Vatican’s prohibition of artificial birth control, abortion and divorce. Others, particularly in South America, have been attracted by the vibrancy of evangelical sects.
Addressing the bishops, John Paul noted that it was the first such synod of the Americas since Columbus’ voyage to the “New World” opened the way for legions of missionaries on both continents.