The Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian region’s final document “should be very strong” on ecological issues, Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, told America on Oct. 18. “I hope so because people expect it. Also, outside the Catholic Church there are expectations in that sense. If our planet is destroyed, we can shout as much as we want about married priests or women priests, but there will be no priests needed anymore. So it’s the most important problem and it’s a problem with the greatest urgency.”
He came to this conclusion after listening to some 200 four-minute interventions from cardinals, bishops, priests, and women and men religious, as well as women and men representing the indigenous peoples of the Pan-Amazonian region, during the first two weeks of the special synod of bishops that began on Oct. 6 and ends Oct. 27.
The polyglot Jesuit said he was struck most by “the violence the indigenous people have to experience.”
The polyglot Jesuit, whom Francis made a cardinal on the eve of the synod, said he was struck most by “the violence the indigenous people have to experience. It’s violence against the rainforest and at the same time violence against the ethnic groups, violence against people.” He said he was deeply impressed that “there are so many martyrs for justice in these countries, but they do not lose hope. They are fighters, and I admire that very much.”
He said he also hopes the synod’s final document will include “something about the ordination of married men, and new ministries for women.”
Cardinal Hollerich was one of the European bishops nominated by Pope Francis to participate in the synod. He is president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, which is the organization of 28 member states of the European Union that engages with the E.U. Parliament and E.U. Commission on questions of justice, peace and many of the issues on the synod’s agenda.
“If companies only look for profit at whatever cost,” then both the environment and the people are in danger.
Well aware that many European companies are active in the Amazon region, alongside their North American and Chinese counterparts, he is concerned to try to ensure that they operate in a friendly way vis-à-vis the local inhabitants and the environment. He believes the church can push hard for this “through dialogue with politics, to see how we can get ethics more into the economy and business world”; he also said, “if companies only look for profit at whatever cost,” then both the environment and the people are in danger. He thinks “structures should be created” not only at the local but also at international levels, including the United Nations, “because we cannot continue having wild capitalism,” as is the case today when “nation-states cannot control big companies, or the flow of money anymore.”
At the same time, he emphasized the need for “ecological conversion” on the part of everyone, starting with bishops, as Pope Francis called for in “Laudato Si.’” “We bishops have to change our lifestyle, and if we older people succeed in doing it, then the younger ones can do it too,” he said. “But if I cannot change my own lifestyle, how can I say to young people to do so?” He has already begun this personal conversion by no longer using plastic bottles, by opting for fair-trade coffee instead of Nespresso and by changing his diesel car for a hybrid one.
This is the 61-year-old cardinal’s second synod. He was working in Japan for over 20 years when Pope Benedict XVI surprised him by appointing him as archbishop of Luxembourg in 2011, and then Francis called him first to participate in the synod on young people and now the Pan-Amazonian synod. He has been particularly struck by “how freely people speak” at this synod and said, “I think it’s a blessing that they express everything without fear. And they see the pope not as an intimidating figure of authority but as a friend, a brother. So they are happy to speak, and that does a lot of good.” He contrasted the synod’s atmosphere to that in the church in Europe, where “people are still very much aware of what they say, how it gets interpreted, with whom are you speaking, and so you should pay attention to your words. But at the Amazon synod, there’s absolute freedom thanks to this process of ‘synodality.’ I think it’s wonderful.”
“It’s nice to see the bishops at the synod are close to the people and feel the pulse of people.”
He is impressed especially by the fact that “most of the bishops and all the faithful at the synod have the same kind of language.” He contrasted that, too, to church meetings in Europe where, for the most part, “the bishops would have a very theological, high-flying language, and grass-roots people would be saying different things.” Moreover, he said, “it’s nice to see the bishops at the synod are close to the people and feel the pulse of people, and the concerns people voice are also the concerns of their bishop.”
He acknowledged, however, what has been widely reported: that there is “a small group” at the synod, including many—though not all—from the Roman Curia, who “look at things in a different way,” who have “a different vision and a different mentality.” He feels this may be due to clericalism and a fear of new things, a reluctance “to listen at [what] the pope has called us to do, to listen with empathy to what people say in order to get a grasp of reality and to see how the Holy Spirit is working in the world.”
At the synod, “differences of mentality and vision” have emerged, especially in regard to the ordination as priests of mature married men from the indigenous faith communities, often referred to as “viri probati,” so as to provide the Eucharist to communities that can now have it only on rare occasions. Like Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno, Cardinal Hollerich thinks “a majority” of synod participants are in favor of this ordination.
“Differences of mentality and vision” have emerged, especially in regard to the ordination as priests of mature married men from the indigenous faith communities.
He recalled that Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India, a member of his English/French language group who “proceeds with great pragmatism,” told the plenary assembly that a solution can be found based on existing canon law, according to which the pope could grant permission to the local bishops’ conferences for the ordination of married men, if they request it. The archbishop of Luxembourg said he supported the Indian cardinal’s “compromise” proposal, while at the same time recognizing that “of course, if you give many exceptions then the rules change.”
Another issue that has brought out “a different vision, a different mentality” at the synod relates to the question of the role of women in the church and what new ministries might be assigned to them in the Pan-Amazonian region. Cardinal Hollerich revealed a great openness on this question. He began by noting that “more women than ever before” are participating in this synod. He believes the women should be able to vote in the synod and said, “I do not understand why women cannot have a vote, especially if they are women religious, given that religious brothers can do so.” He hopes they will have the vote at the next synod and declared, “I am completely in favor of it.”
Cardinal Hollerich declared, “if women do not feel that they are welcome in the church, in the whole sense which ‘welcome’ implies, then they will leave the church.”
“If women do not feel that they are welcome in the church...then they will leave the church.”
Many participants at the synod highlighted the wide-ranging work women are doing in the Amazonian church: catechetical work, baptizing, conducting the liturgy of the word, preaching, distributing communion, presiding at weddings and even hearing confessions of dying persons (even though they cannot give absolution). Some bishops have described all this as a diakonia—the service of a deacon. Many call for some form of institutional recognition for their work, so as to give them authority in the ecclesial community. Cardinal Hollerich commented: “Women are doing so many of these things already, and I do not know why some are saying no, no” to recognizing this. In his view, some are only “thinking in theological terms” and are opposed to the diaconate for women. “If the diaconate is open to women, then you could have women cardinals, if cardinals do not have to be ordained bishops,” but “that’s future music,” he said.
Cardinal Hollerich said that Pope Francis sees the church as a polyhedron, and by taking positions from the periphery, “he is opening up new ways, but he wants us to find them out. He could take the decisions by himself, but he wants synodality because it’s the essence of the church and he wants us to be conscious of how the Spirit is working in it.” Indeed, he remarked, “I think the Holy Spirit is working so that women should have a greater say in the church.”
Before becoming bishop in 2011, Cardinal Hollerich lived for more than 20 years in Japan.
In Luxembourg, he said, “I have some women at the top in my diocese who are episcopal delegates for social-pastoral work, for new spiritualities, for religious life and so on. They are top women. They have a deeper spirituality than most of the priests.”
Before becoming bishop in 2011, Cardinal Hollerich lived for more than 20 years in Japan as a member of the Japanese province of the Jesuits. He studied there for a time and became professor of German, French and European studies (1994-2011) and vice-rector for General and Student Affairs at the Jesuit-run Sophia University in Tokyo. Because of his Japanese experience he finds the process of synodality congenial. He told America: “I think the process of ‘synodality’ to get to a consensus is very Japanese, because in Japan the highest value is harmony. Even the Chinese sign for harmony is ‘yamato,’ which is the old name for Japan. And here [in the synod], you want to establish a new harmony through the process, so I think that is very Japanese and people in Japan and in Asia would understand this.” Furthermore, “Asian people are much more pragmatic, whereas European bishops are very theoretical.” He said he had attended the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in Sri Lanka and found there “a refreshing pragmatism in their ways of speaking.”
He recognizes that some are opposed to the synodal church, but attributes this to “the fear of change, a fear that I have to change myself.” He admits, “of course, that gets more difficult the older you are.” Moreover, he said, “it frightens people to think that things we thought are essential to the Catholic faith can be seen differently.” In this context, he revealed that he had received a message from people at the Fatima Center that said “they had come to Rome to pray the rosary against the heretical synod.
Cardinal Hollerich said he is impressed by Pope Francis because “notwithstanding all the enmities he [faces], he is always smiling. And that shows that he’s really a man of God, a man of prayer. He’s rooted in God and so he’s tranquil, he’s at peace, even when the situation in human terms could be described as quite desperate.”
He said, “For Europe, Pope Francis is a fresh wind, and we need it. I think the pope from outside Europe does a lot of good to Europe, so we’re really lucky.”