In the Amazon, Pope Francis is setting the agenda for a new kind of synod

Shanenawa people dance Sept. 1, 2019, during a festival to celebrate nature and ask for an end to the burning of the Amazon, in the indigenous village of Morada Nova near Feijo, Brazil. The Brazilian Catholic bishops are pressuring the government to guarantee the safety of several Amazonian indigenous peoples. (CNS photo/Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters) 

Catholic bishops, indigenous leaders and experts are preparing to gather in Rome from Oct. 6 to Oct. 27 for the special Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian Region. While other special synods have addressed particular geographical regions like Africa, Asia and Europe, this is the first one organized around a distinct ecological territory. (See infographic below this story.)

“The synod is a son, a daughter, of ‘Laudato Si’,’” the social encyclical published by Pope Francis in 2015, said Mauricio López in an interview with America. Mr. López is the executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, or Repam, and one of two non-bishops on the 18-member pre-synod council, the group responsible for preparing for the synod. (The other layperson on the council is Sister María Irene Lopes de los Santos, S.C.M.S.T.B.G.)

Advertisement

“The synod is not the end of the road,” Mr. López said, “but the beginning of a new stage for the church in the Amazon, planting the seeds of metanoia, of radical conversion, from within, at this kairos moment.”

In recent weeks, the Amazon rainforest has received increased attention as devastating fires burn at the highest rate since 2010.

The international community needs to “take serious measures to save the lungs of the world,” said the executive council of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference on Aug. 22. “What happens to the Amazon is not just a local issue, but is of global reach. If the Amazon suffers, the world suffers.”

“Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” the working document for the synod that convenes next month, follows the “see, judge, act” method and identifies three conversions to which Pope Francis invites the whole church: the pastoral conversion of “Evangelii Gaudium” (to see and listen to the reality of the territory and its peoples), the ecological conversion of “Laudato Si’” (an invitation to embrace an integral ecology) and the ecclesiological conversion of Episcopalis Communio, the apostolic constitution of the Synod of Bishops that calls for a church of encounter, listening and dialogue.

This is the first one organized around a distinct ecological territory.

The working document (instrumentum laboris), which is 147 paragraphs, reflects Amazonian approaches to theology and ways of thinking, frequently expressing the interconnectedness of all life and the indigenous peoples’ quest for buen vivir (“good living”), or life in abundance.

The importance of the region’s ecological richness and diversity is matched by its level of vulnerability to climate change caused by humans, according to the working document. The territory suffers from high levels of environmental destruction and exploitation, and the people who inhabit the land experience systemic human rights violations.

The Pan-Amazonian region includes nine different countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana) and about 34 million inhabitants, including three million indigenous people from 390 ethnic groups.

Key themes in the working document are life, territory and kairos; migration and urbanization; challenges to families; and inculturation, interculturality and evangelization. The document, which is critical of old and new forms of colonialism in the region, calls for a prophetic church rooted in indigenous and Amazonian reality that can effectively respond to the pastoral needs of its communities in the proclamation of the Gospel.

The Amazon rainforest has received increased attention as devastating fires burn at the highest rate since 2010.

The instrumentum laboris draws from a rich variety of sources, including Scripture (40 citations), the Second Vatican Council, letters from Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the magisterium of Pope Francis and reports from each region of Amazonia. The document cites “Laudato Si’” 50 times and the apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” 42 times.

Mr. López, who explained that he is “Mexican by birth, Ecuadoran by choice and Amazonian by vocation,” told America that next month’s synod marks an important moment in a substantial process of consultation directly involving about 87,000 people from the Pan-Amazonian region over the course of two years.

Repam coordinated and conducted about 300 listening sessions throughout the region, involving all nine countries in the Amazon. About 22,000 people were directly involved in the territorial assemblies and smaller dialogue groups, and another 65,000 people participated in parish groups. In other places, like Washington D.C., Rome and Bogotá, Colombia, various experts joined representatives of Amazon communities to reflect on issues that were being raised in the consultation process.

Half of the members of the commissions that prepared the preparatory document (lineamenta) and working document are from the territory of the Amazon, Mr. López explained.

Two cardinals, both outspoken opponents of Pope Francis, have voiced strong criticisms of the working document for claiming that the Amazonian territory is a “theological place” and a “particular source of God’s revelation” and for suggesting that the church, in response to pastoral challenges in the region, might ordain older married men as priests or confer an “official ministry” on women.

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, 90, of Germany, has written that the document “contradicts the binding teaching of the church in decisive points and thus has to be qualified as heretical.” Cardinal Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis and former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, says he is in agreement with Cardinal Brandmüller that some “disturbing propositions” of the working document “portend an apostasy from the Catholic faith.”

In response to these criticisms, Mr. López emphasized the number of people who “actively participated in the discernment and shared their insights, their hopes, their fears and their cries. Many are pastoral leaders, indigenous leaders and organizations on the ground.” He added that 90 percent of the bishops of the Amazon region (about 107) also participated in those sessions.

The pre-synod council integrates bishops from the Amazonian territory, bishops from other regions who are specialists in issues related to the synod and those who serve in various dicasteries in Rome.

The working document “has been discussed and approved by a very significant collegial structure that cannot be undermined by the criticism of a very few who have not been here,” said Mr. López.

The pre-synod council integrates bishops from the Amazonian territory, bishops from other regions who are specialists in issues related to the synod and those who serve in various dicasteries in Rome.

“The voice of the people of God is there,” said Mr. López. “Even though there might be some complex issues at stake, these documents are coming from the voice of the people, not some experts writing down their own ideas.”

“We listened to the people who have devoted their lives—day in and day out—in the Amazonian region,” Mr. López said. “I invite anyone who feels that this document does not express reality to come here and serve in one community for a few months, for a year, in a very isolated place, and to receive the gift of encounter. I am pretty sure that their ideas would change.”

In the preparatory process for the synod, Mr. López said, the pope emphasized bringing the periphery to the center, to bring different voices and perspectives.

“The pope has asked us to be courageous, to bring courageous proposals and to be truthful to what we hear from the people,” said Mr. López.

The third part of the working document, which conveys the challenges and hopes of becoming a prophetic church with an “Amazon and missionary face,” contains the boldest proposals related to church organization.

The document asks that the Eucharistic ritual be adapted to local cultures.

The document asks that the Eucharistic ritual be adapted to local cultures, calls for a change in the criteria “for selecting and preparing ministers authorized to celebrate the Eucharist,” to “reconsider the notion that exercise of jurisdiction (power of government) must be linked in all areas (sacramental, judicial, administrative) and in a permanent way to the sacrament of Holy Orders” and for “new ministries to respond more effectively to the needs of the peoples of the Amazon.”

In this section, Acts 6:1-7 and 1 Timothy 3:1-13 are referenced as examples of the early church responding to needs “by creating appropriate ministries.” In Acts 6, seven men are chosen and appointed, through the laying on of hands, to ensure that widows are not neglected in daily ministry. This is traditionally interpreted as the beginning of the ministry of the diaconate. In 1 Timothy 3, the author lists the qualifications of bishops, male deacons and female deacons.

The synod’s working document then calls upon the church to “promote vocations among indigenous men and women in order to respond to the need for pastoral and sacramental care,” to study “the possibility of priestly ordination...for older people, preferably indigenous, respected and accepted by their community, even if they have an existing and stable family” and to “identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role they play today in the Church in the Amazon.”

In an interview with Crux published on Sept. 9, Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino of the Territorial Prelature of São Félix in Brazil said that he believes the working document is “timid” about the role of women in the Amazon, which he characterizes as “already diaconal” in many of the communities.

“Women are already doing the work of ordained deacons in many places, so I don’t see why such a reality can’t be acknowledged. I believe this is only a matter of power,” Bishop Vasino said in the interview.

Mauricio López, who years ago lived in the United States for about 18 months and more recently represented Repam at preparatory events for the synod in the United States, said he has learned a lot from Americans’ consciousness of ecological issues and sensitivity toward creation and spirituality.

“We can see how serious the American public takes this commitment, how much solidarity they express toward indigenous communities and what is happening in the global South,” he said. “Americans understand how the Amazon is crucial to the future of the planet. The peripheries—the Amazon and the indigenous—can bring light to the North, but at the same time, the Amazon region can only have a future if things change in the North. We need one another.”

 

Infographic sources: Population data from the United Nations (2017) and the Annuarium Statsticum Ecclesiae (2017), via the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; French Guiana and Suriname data from synod working document; Amazon Basin definition from “Land Use Status and Trends in Amazonia,” Amazonia Security Agenda Project (2013); poverty rates (2007 -2018) from the 2019 Global Multidimensional Poverty Index, United Nations Development Program.

Note: Other sources suggest significantly lower Catholic populations in the Pan-Amazonian region, as Protestant denominations make gains. For example, in 2013 the Pew Research Center estimated the Catholic population in Brazil to be only 123 million and 65 percent of the country’s total population.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Todd Witherell
2 months 3 weeks ago

Ruth Be (Laudato Si’)

Ruth was a sojourner
A Sojourner in Truth

In the Amazon Basin
Threatened rainforest and youth

Abraham Lincoln
Killed by John Wilkes Booth

I read Things Not Seen
Hints and guesses, not proof

- Todd Witherell

Nora Bolcon
2 months 3 weeks ago

If women are already serving as deacons and the same way married men are serving the church then there is no reason to keep women or all married people from same ordination and priestly ordination. Why are we seeking to confer different ministries on women except for the sake of misogyny based exclusionary tactics. This is utterly anti-Christian.

If the Amazon needs priests, then it needs to ordain willing celibate women first and then willing married people as a matter of human dignity and human justice. If we allow married men only to be ordained then we create greater sexism and misogyny despite whatever no-authority non-sacramental ministry we confer on women. This is evil and should be fought by all. There is no such thing as equal but different - there is only different, and one greater than the other. Even in mathematics we prove this 12 -4 = 8 and 8 is less than 12- always - it is never equal. Difference means inequality by definition, and there is only one reason to give sexes different titles, for same works, and that is to make one group appear of lesser value and their works of lesser value than the other.

The Devil is the greatest misogynist of all and no genuine Christian can support misogyny and claim to be a lover of Christ. We must pick one master or the other - Misogyny, the hater of women, or Christianity - the Lover of all humanity, equally.

Michael Reilly
2 months 3 weeks ago

Concerning “pastoral and sacramental care,” excellent ideas about opening ministries and the priesthood to others than celibate males in the Amazon. But what about rest of us? Where I live in eastern Maine, one priest offers pastoral care to six churches in two small cities, two towns, and on two Native American reservations. The environmental challenges of the Amazon are serious, but the cultural and moral challenges to Christianity in today’s secular societies are even more so.

My best hope is that the Amazon synod might be an incubator for the rest of the Church. My fear is that it is a kind of reparation to native people whose ancestors were treated so violently and unjustly by Europeans including churchmen 500 years ago.

Will Nier
2 months 3 weeks ago

I just do not relate to this part of our Church.

Tim O'Leary
2 months 3 weeks ago

There is a lot of heated rhetoric going on here, possibly increasing because of atmospheric carbon. The Church is about saving people from the fires of hell, not the few degrees temperature increase projected over the next century. All the rest could be done by Governments or NGOs. As the Holy Father has said before, the Church that doesn't evangelize becomes just another NGO. Pope Francis has made a commitment there will be no change in Church doctrine or discipline. Despite this, there are many parties trying to get their agenda inserted in place of Catholicism. The souls of the 30+ Million people are at stake and the test of success will be their successful evangelization.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Why we need legislation to clarify the scope of executive privilege and to establish a streamlined legal process to resolve such claims.
The EditorsDecember 06, 2019
Waves is a film with strong film with a moving story, dynamic themes, and complex characters. But plot holes married with production missteps left me asking many questions.
Ciaran FreemanDecember 06, 2019
A candlelit vigil against the death penalty, held outside the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville on Dec. 16, 2016. (CNS photo/James Ramos, Texas Catholic Herald)
A federal judge has placed federal executions on hold. Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and Bishop Frank J. Dewane write that we should turn back permanently from the path of death.
The Teutonic cemetery at the Vatican is seen in this 2015 file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
In 2015, Francis had Tomasito laid to rest in the Teutonic cemetery in the Vatican, close to the place where St. Peter was executed.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 06, 2019