The Amazon synod is halfway over. Here’s what we know so far.

Marta Nicanor Alfredo, pictured April 7, 2019, is a Tikuna indigenous woman in Manaus, Brazil. (CNS Photo/Paul Jeffrey)

As the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon reaches its halfway point, leaders of indigenous communities who are participating in the synod as auditors are speaking with passion about what is at stake for their communities and their hopes for this synod.

“The church is the only institution that is crying out so the whole world awakens,” said José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, the president of the Ecuador-based Congress of Amazonian Indigenous Organizations, at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 14. “If we don’t do anything for the planet, we will all disappear.”

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Mr. Mirabal, a member of the Curripaco indigenous group in Venezuela, said the people want “a say over our lands” and to “stop the great invasion of foreign companies” involved in extraction and the pollution of the air and water. “We cry against” this land grabbing, and “our cry is heated because so many of us are put in prison,” he said.

Amazon indigenous leaders and religious men and women who are present in the synod hall see “a sign of hope” that this synod is “at the center of the church’s attention” at this moment, said Bishop Eugenio Coter of Pando, Bolivia, at a press briefing on Oct. 15.

“The church is the only institution that is crying out so the whole world awakens. If we don’t do anything for the planet, we will all disappear.”

Josianne Gauthier, the Canadian general secretary of CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic solidarity organizations, said at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 14 that her role at the synod is “to be in a listening position, to listen to voices we don’t have direct access to all the time” and to consider how to support indigenous communities after the synod through “political pressure” in international political instruments.

People who live in Europe and North America, she said, have a “heightened responsibility” for this political action since “we live from the benefits of this tragic exploitation in most parts of the world.” Ms. Gauthier, a “special invitee” to the synod, said that her small language group, which consists of English and French-speaking bishops and other social actors from various parts of the world, is discussing divestment as a way for the church to think about “coherence between words and actions” in light of “Laudato Si’.”

In plenary sessions on Oct. 14 and Oct. 15, according to summaries published by Vatican News, synod participants have raised a broad range of issues: inculturation and liturgy, youth ministry and lay collaboration, forming effective communicators, the economy, migration, the protection and safeguarding of water, human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children.

What is emerging in the synod “is a picture in which everything is connected,” said Giacomo Costa, S.J., the synod’s secretary for information, at a press briefing on Oct. 14. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” “is not just a source of inspiration but something lived out completely” in the Amazon region, he said.

What is emerging in the synod “is a picture in which everything is connected,” said Giacomo Costa, S.J., the synod’s secretary for information.

Synod participants have also put forth several specific proposals, including the establishment of a “permanent observatory of human rights and protection of the Amazon,” a new church law “relating to the duties of Christians toward the environment” and for Catholic universities to make a “preferential option” for the education of indigenous people.

One key proposal that has emerged is the creation of a “permanent and representative episcopal organization,” coordinated by the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (Repam), to promote synodality in the Amazon, to implement the synod, defend indigenous rights, assist the formation of ministers and address common problems like land exploitation, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

On the much-discussed questions of married priests and the role of women in the Amazonian church, some synod members have shown themselves ready for bold action, while others have expressed caution.

“I support the importance of being able to ordain married men for priesthood so that the Eucharist may become a reality that is closer to people and communities,” said Bishop Carlo Verzeletti of Castanhal, Brazil, at a Vatican briefing on Oct. 14.

“If the pope would decide” in favor of married priests, the bishop said he already knows candidates in his local church who “would do an extraordinary job.”

“If the pope would decide” in favor of married priests, the bishop said he already knows candidates in his local church who “would do an extraordinary job.”

According to Vatican News summaries, a view expressed in the synod is that “under the action of the Spirit, cum Petrus andsub Petrus,” the church is “spurred to a conversion in an Amazonian perspective and to undertake without fear a discernment and a reflection on the theme of the priesthood,” mindful of the infrequency of the celebration of the Eucharist in the region. One proposal is that “the criteria for selecting and preparing the ministers authorized to administer this sacrament [of the Eucharist] be changed so that it is not destined to only a few.”

One intervention in the synod hall, however, suggested that the questions of married priests and female ministries should be dealt with in an ordinary synodal assembly since these themes have a “universal scope.” Another intervention advised that having married permanent deacons “can represent a real laboratory” before committing to married priests.

The precise support or opposition to specific proposals among synod members is not known because synod discussions are kept under wraps, except for daily press briefings and Vatican News summaries provided after each plenary session. But one bishop said at a briefing on Oct. 9 that he thinks “two-thirds” of bishops in the Amazon region “are in favor” of married priests. Another participant told Religion News Service that in the first week of the synod only a couple of the 185 synod fathers spoke against the proposal.

One bishop said at a briefing on Oct. 9 that he thinks “two-thirds” of bishops in the Amazon region “are in favor” of married priests.

“Of course, there are many contributions with different answers” to the question of married priests, said Father Costa at the press briefing on Oct. 14. It is “the desire of the pope that all arguments are placed on the floor so we may consider all of them and then discern.”

Paolo Ruffini, the head of Vatican communications, added that the Synod of Bishops does not make decisions but rather “entrusts to the Holy Father something that is in process.”

In the morning plenary on Oct. 14, a “possible updating” of Paul VI’s “Ministeria Quaedam” was suggested. This apostolic letter, published in 1972, promulgated several new norms concerning liturgical ministries like that of lector and acolyte. Lay men but not lay women can be instituted into these ministries.

In 2008, the Synod of Bishops on “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” proposed that “the ministry of lector can be opened also to women, so that their role as announcers of the Word may be recognized in the Christian community,” but no such change has yet taken place.

 

On Oct. 15, according to a Vatican News summary, it was suggested in the synod that “new paths are needed for ancient traditions,” like those “practices of antiquity that saw ministries related to women,” so the synod reflected on “the possibility of restoring similar ministries” for women today, in particular those of “lector and acolyte.” Other interventions “suggested that non-ordained ministries be established for lay women,” including those of “the celebration of the Word or of social or charitable activities.”

Also proposed in the synod hall, once again, was the introduction of male and female indigenous permanent deacons (diaconi e diacone) “who through the ministry of the Word help the local people to better understand the sacred texts.”

At the end of the afternoon plenary on Oct. 14, Pope Francis reflected on some of the issues that emerged in the contributions and also highlighted “some ideas that struck him most,” but Vatican News—as is customary—did not provide any details of the pope’s remarks.

Small language groups reconvene on Oct. 16 and will present reports the following afternoon.

Additional Observations

  • Pope Francis opened the morning plenary on Oct. 14 with a prayer for Ecuador.

    In his Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square a day earlier, the pope said he is “following with concern what has been happening in recent weeks” in Ecuador and that he joins “in the grief for the dead” and “for those who are injured and missing.” He continued, “I encourage the seeking of social peace, with particular attention to the most vulnerable populations, to the poor and to human rights.”
     
  • On Oct. 14, the synod discussed the protection of minors and vulnerable adults in the Amazonian region, emphasizing that “the terrible scourge of pedophilia and sexual abuse” requires that the church “is always vigilant and courageous.”
     
  • A deep commitment to inculturation will help the church to become “more disciple and sister” than “Teacher and Mother,” with a disposition of “listening, service, solidarity, respect, justice and reconciliation,” according to a Vatican New summary of what was shared in the synod hall during the morning plenary on Oct. 15.

    At the briefing that day, Bishop Eugenio Coter of Pando, Bolivia, said that the topic of liturgy and inculturation and the possibility of an Amazonian indigenous rite is being “highly debated” in the synod. “Some commissions will work specifically on the idea of giving an Amazonian face to the liturgy,” he said.
     
  • A journalist asked about the “not always easy” relationship between the Amazon church and the Vatican and whether this synod constitutes a “new moment.”

    “The ease of communication with Pope Francis is very important,” Bishop Coter responded. “We understand each other...not only conceptually but from the heart.” The bishop also explained that a change has taken place not only in Latin America but in the whole church, and it started when Pope John XXIII “threw away the council agenda” at the Second Vatican Council and said “let us hear from the bishops.”
     
  • A film was shown in the synod hall on Oct. 15 about the recent founding of the Pope Francis Hospital in the Brazilian state of Parà. The mission of the hospital is to bring “the Gospel and health care to the hundreds of thousands of inhabitants” in Parà who “can only be reached by river.”
     
  • The membership of the commission for the drafting of the final document has been finalized. Of the president and the 12 members of the writing team, four are cardinals and one is not a bishop. The four members elected by the synod assembly are from four different countries in the Pan-Amazonian region, while the papal appointees include an Austrian, Argentine, Italian and Paraguayan.

    President
    Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, O.F.M., of Brazil, general relator of the Amazon synod

    Ex officio members
    1. Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri of Italy, general secretary of the Synod of Bishops
    2. Bishop Mario Grech of Malta, pro-secretary general of the Synod of Bishops
    3. Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.J., of Canada, special secretary of the Amazon synod
    4. Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea, O.P., of Peru, special secretary of the Amazon synod

    Members elected by the synod on Oct. 7
    5. Bishop Mário Antônio da Silva of Roraima, Brazil
    6. Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, O.F.M., of Trujillo, Peru
    7. Bishop Nelson Jair Cardona Ramírez of San José del Guaviare, Colombia
    8. Archbishop Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

    Members appointed by Pope Francis on Oct. 15
    9. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria
    10. Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of Argentina, is the chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (Vatican City)
    11. Archbishop Edmundo Ponciano Valenzuela Mellid, S.D.B, of Asunción, Paraguay
    12. Father Rossano Sala, S.D.B., of Italy, is a professor of youth ministry at the Pontifical Salesian University in Rome
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Christopher Scott
1 month ago

Did anyone notice at last nights democrat debate (the party of Al Gore and the Green New Deal) that dragged on for 3 long hours, that there was not 1 questions asked by any of the moderators to any of the candidates about climate change or the environment? Why is that ??? Seriously, if it’s so cataclysmicly urgent and real why didn’t they ask any questions in that regard? I think we all know the answer to that...lol

Jim Smith
1 month ago

Enlighten me, Christopher. Are you suggesting that Democrats and Greens have given up trying to fool the world about climate and environments or that both are such settled issues via propaganda that mentioning them is unnecessary?

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

Why don’t you tell me why you think they didn’t ask any questions ? Cat got your tongue? Even Andrew Yang noticed and said so. So please tell me o enlightened one why no questions were asked?!?

Jim Smith
1 month ago

I am not American, have never been to America and never intend to do so but as the actions and attitudes of the people who project the US power into the rest of the world are sometimes gravely threatening to our detriment and it is a good idea to keep one eye on just where the dragon is lurking and what might be getting up its nose.

Your churlish posts do you no credit, don't bother to address me again particularly as you are quite a way off topic.

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

Maybe someone from America Media knows why they didn’t ask !?!

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

Maybe LaBron knows !?!

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

Maybe Greta Thunberg knows !?!

Christopher Scott
1 month ago

...

Steven Faludi
1 month ago

Words that do not appear in this article: Christ, Jesus, Convert, and Evangelize.

On the other hand, we have "conversion" - not to the Catholic Faith by pagans - but to the "Amazonian perspective" by the Church.

Luis Gutierrez
1 month ago

The ecological crisis is rooted in the patriarchal culture of male headship (Genesis 3:16, Ephesians 5:21-33). As long as the church remains a patriarchal institution, calls for "ecological conversion" are not compelling. Given that the "impedimentum sexus" is not dogmatic, and is no longer credible, why ordain more married men?  Why not ordain celibate women?

Craig B. Mckee
1 month ago

"So two possibilities remain open. Either the ministry of deacon should be given a completely new content which corresponds in a more appropriate way to what pastoral workers in fact do as those who inspire a community of believers; or there should be a fourth ministry, alongside the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate, bestowed BY THE COMMUNITY of the church and its leaders on pastoral workers: by LAYING ON OF HANDS and an APPROPRIATE EPICLESIS, a prayer in which the task of these pastoral workers is precisely described...

OR do all these pastoral problems emerge simply as a result of the fact that the PRESBYTERATE is not open to married as well as unmarried believers?"

cf. Edward SCHILLEBEECKX, The Church with a HUMAN FACE: A New and Expanded Theology of Ministry (NY, 1990) p. 266.

JOHN GRONDELSKI
1 month ago

What we know at the mid-point of the Synod is that, while St. John Paul II was criticized for the conduct of synods during his pontificate, it's quite clear that the current Pontiff knows how to orchestrate synods for preferred outcomes. Guess that's his "unclerical" clericalism.

John Walton
1 month ago

Why not just allow the indigenous peoples their property rights? They can sort it out having survived without kerosene and penicillin for the past several millenia.
Send the men in skirts back home, all they want to do is remain grandees over their inferiors.

Terry Kane
1 month ago

On October 4, Pope Francis observed as an Amazonian woman led a ritual in the Vatican gardens as part of a tree-planting ceremony. The woman, bedecked with a traditional feather headdress, prostrated herself before the tree and a pair of statues of naked pregnant women. The indigenous woman also shook a rattle in an apparent blessing or incantation over the group at the ceremony, who included a Franciscan friar. Some members of the group prostrated themselves or knelt during the ceremony, while the pope stood by.

LifeSite launched a petition after the ceremony urging the Vatican to remove the pagan statues and any other allegedly pagan symbolism at the Synod that was then being displayed at Santa Maria in Traspontina Church near St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

On Monday at least two devout Catholics entered Santa Maria in Transpontina Church and removed the pagan statues and symbols.
The Christians then proceeded to the Castel Sant’Angelo and chucked the statues into the Tiber River.

Here is the video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=CngoabjurIo

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of Pope Francis.]

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