As the Vatican published the highly-anticipated small group reports at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon region on Oct. 18, and a commission prepares to begin drafting the synod’s final document, members of the Vatican communications team emphasized that the synod is a place of discernment and not a battleground of ideas.
The synod is “not a discussion, not a parliament,” but there is “a spiritual dynamic,” said Giacomo Costa, S.J., the synod’s secretary for information, at a Vatican press briefing on Oct. 16. The biblical image, he said, is “the blind man who throws away his cloak to go to God,” and for the synod it means “to leave behind the safety of your arguments.”
“The synod is a path of discernment” that must “leave space for the Spirit,” Father Costa said, adding that no one knows what the synod will bring.
“If we are trapped in conflicts and details, we lose sight of the deeper reality which is calling us,” he said. “We are trying together to go beyond individual positions,” so we can “understand the deep truth of reality that is calling us to take steps.”
“If we are trapped in conflicts and details, we lose sight of the deeper reality which is calling us,” a synod participant said. “We are trying together to go beyond individual positions,” so we can “understand the deep truth of reality that is calling us to take steps.”
At the Vatican press briefing on Oct. 18, one synod participant explained the basis for this discernment and even invited everyone present in the briefing room to observe 30 seconds of silence in order “to contemplate God’s gaze on reality.” The church is called “to place ourselves with the Trinity, contemplating the great diversity of those who are born, die, rejoice, cry, those in peace, others at war,” said Mauricio López, the executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, or REPAM, which helped coordinate the extensive pre-synodal process of consultation with indigenous communities and other groups in the Amazon region.
Mr. López, who called himself “a son of Ignatian spirituality,” was referencing the “Contemplation on the Incarnation” in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.
“God invites us to be part of this project, to take on the gaze of God toward reality, where Jesus invites us to walk with him,” said Mr. López.
In this synod, there is a “new ecclesiological perspective” where the “periphery is at the center.”
“The birth of something new is always painful,” Mr. López said later in the briefing. It is a gradual process unfolding since the Second Vatican Council in which the church places itself “closer to pain.”
“The Amazon can help us to be closer to God’s project for life [and to be] pro-life, from conception to death,” said Mr. López. “Let us think about the daily deaths, the daily murders of so many migrants who are trying to find meaning for life.
“The same is happening in the Congo Basin,” he said, adding that in Europe “there is a need for a greater synodality to give an answer to these daily deaths.” Mr. López said he has also heard about how indigenous peoples in North America are “affected by this dominating system.”
“We must not complain about listening to the word of the prophet” while failing to understand that “the time is now,” to act from a global perspective, Mr. López said.
Also at the briefing, Daniela Adriana Cannavina, S.C.M.R., of Colombia, the general secretary of the Confederation of Latin American and Caribbean Religious, said that men and women in religious life “must respond as mystics and prophetic persons in the context in which we work” and should offer “a new commitment to the urgent needs of renewing and strengthening our presence in the Amazonian context.”
Sister Cannavina, a member of the Capuchin Sisters of Mother Rubatto, added that the voice of male and female religious has increased over the course of the synod.
Reflecting their centuries-long missionary presence in the region, religious orders have a strong presence at the Amazon synod. Among the 185 voting members of the synod, 102 are members of a religious congregation, including 22 Franciscans, 13 Salesians, 10 Jesuits, seven Augustinians and six Redemptorists. Among the 80 experts and auditors at the synod, there are 20 female religious and 15 male religious.
Sister Cannavina said her small group at the synod had a “concern for giving women an increasingly strong presence” and that the “women’s diaconate” came up in discussion. In a synodal church, the role of women “must grow,” taking on greater leadership and pastoral activities, she said.
The various proposals in the synod include “various ministries for women as well as the diaconate for women,” said Bishop Mário Antônio da Silva of Roraima, Brazil. He added, “These are just proposals, not obligations,” and there’s “an opportunity for developing these proposals in the synodal spirit.”
This synod “is an opportunity to get in touch with life, forests, water, animals, minerals,” he said, “but most of all the communities” in Amazonia that are “full of wisdom” and have “answers to the challenges in the region.”
The bishop’s Diocese of Roraima, which is located in the northernmost state in Brazil, has 228,500 Catholics, only 49 priests and covers 86,635 square miles, the combined size of New York State and Pennsylvania.
The synod “is an opportunity to hear the voice of the Amazon and the plea of Amazon peoples,” he said, including both their joys and difficulties, so the church can discern how to “accompany the communities in the best way.”
In response to a question from Gerard O’Connell, America’s Vatican correspondent, about a proposal at the synod for the creation of an Amazonian rite, Italian Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella said this proposal needs to be understood in the context of “the evangelization work carried out by the church.”
“When the Gospel reaches a culture, it becomes inculturated and expresses itself through forms that the culture understands,” said the archbishop, who is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. “Some liturgical books have already been translated into some Amazonian languages, so the theological tradition is not something new.” For decades, there has already been an “Indian theology,” he said.
At this stage, the Amazonian rite is only a proposal, the archbishop added. “We don’t know if it will be approved” or “how this can be implemented.”
In the briefing, Father Costa emphasized the perspectives shared in the reports “are all personal” and “not even remotely” to be considered “a final summary report” or an official proposal of the synod. It is the final document, he said, that is offered to the Holy Father for his consideration and future action.
In the synod’s final week, a draft of the final document will be discussed in plenary sessions and small groups, and amendments can be suggested. On Oct. 26, the 184 voting members of the synod—comprised mostly of bishops, some priests and one religious brother—will vote on each paragraph of the final document. A supermajority of two-thirds is needed for passage.