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Gerard O’ConnellOctober 06, 2019
Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)Pope Francis arrives in procession to celebrate the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Oct. 6. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Pope Francis opened the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon today with an inspiring homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, in which he reminded synod participants that “Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth.”

He prayed that the spirit of Jesus “may give us his own daring prudence” and “inspire our synod to renew the paths of the church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.” He continued, “God’s fire burns but does not consume. It is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours.”

“God’s fire burns but does not consume. It is the fire of love that illumines, warms and gives life, not a fire that blazes up and devours.”

Speaking specifically of the church’s mission in the Amazon region, he said, “When peoples and cultures are devoured without love and without respect, it is not God’s fire but that of the world. Yet how many times has God’s gift been imposed, not offered; how many times has there been colonization rather than evangelization!

“May God preserve us from the greed of new forms of colonialism,” he said. “The fire set by interests that destroy, like the fire that recently devastated Amazonia, is not the fire of the Gospel. The fire of God is warmth that attracts and gathers into unity. It is fed by sharing, not by profits. The fire that destroys, on the other hand, blazes up when people want to promote only their own ideas, form their own group, wipe out differences in the attempt to make everyone and everything uniform.”

Pope Francis announced this synod exactly two years ago. He sees it as the first child of the encyclical “Laudato Si’,” a concrete realization of that magisterial text because it touches so many of the key issues that are central to it, including “integral ecology,” economic justice, poverty and evangelization. As Francis has pointed out on several occasions, all these issues are interlinked, and one cannot understand the synod without reading “Laudato Si’.”

The synod comes at a critical time for the 34 million inhabitants (including three million indigenous people) of the Amazon region that stretches across nine countries—Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. The region has been called one of the “lungs of the world,” and it provides some 20 percent of the world’s fresh water.

As Francis has pointed out on several occasions, one cannot understand the synod without reading “Laudato Si’.”

Pope Francis opened the synod by concelebrating Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica this Sunday morning with the 184 synod fathers (the bishops and some clerics who have the right to vote in it) and the 13 new cardinals that he created yesterday. The pope and concelebrants wore green vestments, the color of the liturgical season, but it could also be said to reflect the “green” issues that are central to this important gathering. The Sistine choir led the singing in Latin, and readings and prayers and were said in many languages, including Chinese, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Lithuanian. Women and men representatives of the Amazon’s indigenous peoples who are participating in the synod brought offertory gifts to the pope.

In his homily, Francis told the synod’s participants (who include 35 women, 20 of whom are women religious) that the Apostle Paul, “the greatest missionary in the church’s history, helps us to make this ‘synod’, this journey together” and “reminds us ‘to rekindle’ the gift that God has given us [as bishops].”

He reminded them: “We are bishops because we have received a gift of God. We did not sign an agreement; we were not handed an employment contract. Rather, hands were laid on our heads so that we in turn might be hands raised to intercede before the Father, helping hands extended to our brothers and sisters. We received a gift so that we might become a gift.

Pope Francis: “Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community.”

Gifts are not bought, traded or sold; they are received and given away. If we hold on to them, if we make ourselves the center and not the gift we have received. We become bureaucrats, not shepherds. We turn the gift into a job and its gratuitousness vanishes. We end up serving ourselves and using the church.” He told them that “thanks to the gift we have received, our lives are directed to service.”

Pope Francis told the synod fathers “to be faithful to our calling, our mission. Saint Paul reminds us that our gift has to be rekindled,” and “the image he uses is that of stoking a fire. The gift we have received is a fire, a burning love for God and for our brothers and sisters.”

Then in words that resonated in the context of the synod’s work, he told them, “A fire does not burn by itself; it has to be fed or else it dies; it turns into ashes. If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”

He told them in the words of Benedict XVI that “in no way can the church restrict her pastoral work to the ‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel of Christ. Missionary outreach is a clear sign of the maturity of an ecclesial community.” Francis said this is so “because the church is always on the move, always going out.” He then declared, “Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth.”

Francis praises ‘prudence,’ not ‘timidity’

There has been much discussion about what decisions the synod might take, especially in reference to ordaining as priests mature married men from indigenous communities and giving new ecclesial roles to women, Francis is well aware of this and seemed to allude to it when he reminded the synod fathers, in the words of St. Paul, that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and prudence.” He repeated, “Not a spirit of timidity, but of prudence. Not a spirit of fear that blocks everything” and recalled that “Paul places prudence in opposition to timidity.”

He explained what this “prudence of the spirit” means by quoting from the Catechism of the church approved by St. John Paul II, which states that prudence “is not to be confused with timidity or fear”; rather, it is “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it” (No. 1806). Pope Francis elaborated on this, saying, “prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude. It is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit.”

He told the synod fathers, “rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything. Fidelity to the newness of the Spirit is a grace that we must ask for in prayer. May the Spirit, who makes all things new, give us his own daring prudence; may he inspire our synod to renew the paths of the church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.”

Pope Francis, citing St Paul, called on the synod fathers (among them 113 bishops from the Amazon region) “to bear witness to the Gospel, to suffer for the Gospel, in a word, to live for the Gospel.” He reminded them that “the proclamation of the Gospel is the chief criterion of the church’s life. It is its identity, its mission” and said “to preach the Gospel is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people, to love even to the point of martyrdom.”

Then departing from his written text, Francis thanked God that “there are some in the College of Cardinals who have carried the cross of martyrdom.” One of them is the Lithuanian Jesuit, Sigitas Tamkevicius, who suffered many years of imprisonment and whom he made cardinal yesterday. Francis also recalled that Cardinal Hummes of Brazil had recently visited the graves of missionaries who had died as martyrs in the Brazilian area of the Amazon and suggested that they be declared saints. Francis reminded everyone that St. Paul “makes it quite clear that the Gospel is not served by worldly power, but by the power of God alone: by persevering in humble love, by believing that the only real way to possess life is to lose it through love.”

Pope Francis concluded his homily by urging the synod participants to “look to the crucified Jesus, to his heart pierced for our salvation” and recalling that “so many of our brothers and sisters in Amazonia are bearing heavy crosses and awaiting the liberating consolation of the Gospel, the church’s caress of love. For them, and with them, let us journey together.”

He will join them again tomorrow morning, when the synod begins its work.

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Christopher Lochner
4 years 9 months ago

The difference is whether, as I believe, the Gospel is a call to individual action or a call to political action. One must begin by treating ALL people with respect and decency and not individual "cause of the day" groups and individuals. Many people simply do not take this action and is likely due to the self promotional aspect of public calls for justice. A call for social justice which is implemented on the level of the individual IS the call. To preach the Gospel as a call for social order of one type or another and instituted by secular authority, and this includes the secular nature of church officials, is worldly politics from which, as we recall, Our Lord refrained. The use of the Gospel to promote a personal agenda negates the meaning contained within and relegates the Gospel to nothing more than a tool to be used by the individual. We witness this most glaringly in the prosperity Gospel concept where Jesus is removed and replaced with and validated by the desire for earthly riches and power. Anyone calling for evangelization in order to promote these earthly causes is guilty of worldliness. ( And in no way at all am I accusing Pope Francis of this belief.) I am not at all advocating for a rejection of involvement in our affairs of the world but am stating that equating world order and the Gospel as one and the same is dangerous and likely invalid as a realization of the Gospel. Dorothy Day suffered from this lack of understanding. The assistance she gave to others by way of soup kitchens was most definitely Christian in nature while to promote her brand of social order was completely unrelated to the Gospel and solely individualistic in scope and the two were in reality unrelated. Yet to this day in the minds of some the two are intertwined.

Douglas Fang
4 years 9 months ago

It’s shockingly stunning to see this kind of critics and attacks on Pope Francis from many commenters here. The Pope was chosen by the Holy Spirit in the Conclave with the prayers of 1+ billions of Catholics worldwide. If Francis is heretic as described by many commenters here, then either there is no God or God has abandoned the Catholic Church and pretty much the whole humanity as nothing is truthful or sacred anymore! Sigh…..

4 years 9 months ago

I too am stunned by the attacks on our Church.

Nora Bolcon
4 years 9 months ago

Blah Blah Blah - To seem at all sincere our pope needs to give those 35 women votes! Sexism is directly linked to poverty, and the abuse of our world. It is time for Pope Francis to let go of his innate fear, distrust and dislike of women and ordain them priests. End the hate you are able to end today, or why should we watch the silly fashion show?! What's that dance called? Its the Hypocrisy Swag! and it is all the rage in the Amazon in October!

Get serious Pope Francis or don't expect us to take you seriously.

Christopher Scott
4 years 9 months ago

I saw the movie the Joker over the weekend, it’s about how crazy angry mothers turn the their sons into crazy angry maniacs... it’s pretty realistic, lol

Alyce Dodge
4 years 9 months ago

Pope Francis’ love of Jesus Christ, love for God’s Creation, and love of the gospel shine through in his words and actions. His is one of the few prayerful and clear voices among the leaders of the world today. He is truly a shepherd to the young, the poor, the persecuted, and the voiceless. Like Christ, Pope Francis may be martyred by the Pharisees of our times, for doing God’s will. He is showing the path of love, which is contrary to the forces of greed and power-grabbing and fear of change that are causing so much suffering at present. God bless Pope Francis! May the Holy Spirit continue to guide and protect him and this Amazon Synod. I love Yeshua, who though wounded by our sins, still loves us. I love Pope Francis.

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