While 2008 has been memorable for the Catholic Church so far, with the 150th anniversary of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI's trips to the United States and Australia, and the opening of the Year of St. Paul, Church leaders hope that the year will also mark the beginning of the re-evangelization of Latin America.

A "great continental mission" is being launched in Quito, Ecuador, at the Third American Missionary Congress (CAM3), which is concurrently the Eighth Latin American Missionary Congress (COMLA8). Three thousand missionaries were scheduled to attend the congress Aug. 12-17.

Plans for the continental mission, which is expected to last for 10 to 15 years, took shape at the Fifth General Conference of the Latin American bishops' council in Brazil in May 2007.

'Unite with enthusiasm'

Addressing the bishops as they assembled in Aparecida, Brazil, Pope Benedict spoke at length on every Christian's calling to be a disciple and a missionary. "Discipleship and mission are like two sides of a single coin," he said. "When the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him do we find salvation."

The bishops called upon all Latin American Catholics "to unite with enthusiasm to take part in the great continental mission." One targeted area was better parish outreach to the faithful.

"I would imagine that what the bishops of the Americas mean by 'continental mission' is that they themselves have to be more involved in 'new evangelization' -- that is, a renewal of evangelization efforts in locales throughout the Americas where the Gospel had been preached and the Church established, which are now losing the faith for various reasons, " said Maryknoll Father Kevin Hanlon. "These locales are not necessarily places, but also strata of society, like disaffected youth [and] alienated boomers."

Although the mission does not directly affect the Catholics of the United States, it "will also be invigorating for our own U.S. Church's missionary activity," said Teresita González of the lay missionary group Amor en Acción.

J.J. Ziegler writes from North Carolina.