From Guyana to Rome, the Synod has proved to be a rich place of encounter

Leah Rose Casimero, an indigenous representative from Guyana, leaves the first session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican on Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Leah Rose Casimero, an indigenous representative from Guyana, leaves the first session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican on Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

An indigenous woman who is the youngest participant at the three-week Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region has characterized the synod as a rich place of encounter, listening and learning about the diversity of the universal church.

Leah Casimero, 26, a member of the Wapichan indigenous group in southern Guyana, also described the presence of women as “very strong, very evident” in her local church, and she said she supports the proposal in the synod to ordain women as permanent deacons.

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“I think that’s very possible,” she said of the proposal in an interview with America on Oct. 23. “Why not? We are already doing so much.”

Ms. Casimero was appointed by Pope Francis as an auditor for the synod, which concludes on Oct. 27 in Rome. Even though she cannot vote in synod deliberations, she was able to participate and make contributions in one of the synod’s small discussion groups and also address the whole synod assembly with a four-minute speech—the same time allotted to voting members.

Among the 80 auditors and experts at the synod, there are 33 women. The 184 voting members are mostly bishops but also include some priests and a religious brother.

The synod process is a place where Catholics with differences are “coming together” and “able to listen to one another” while also “trying to see and understand from the other person’s point of view.”

Ms. Casimero described the synod process as a place where Catholics with differences are “coming together” and “able to listen to one another” while also “trying to see and understand from the other person’s point of view.”

She gave the example of conversations about the priestly ordination of married men and some of the opposition she has heard coming from places like the United States. “But if you were living in these areas where you are Catholic but you don’t get Mass for one whole year, two years,” she said, this experience “would change the way you think” about it.

At first, Ms. Casimero found her small language group “very intimidating,” especially since the first-ever visit by a cardinal to Guyana was only two years ago, but at the synod there are eight cardinals in her small group, she emphasized.

“I really thought it would just be the synod fathers talking,” but each person in the group has been given the “same opportunities” to speak, she said.

“As the week progressed, I really enjoyed the dialogue,” she said. “I learned more about the church in that small room, more than anywhere I’ve been.”

“I really thought it would just be the synod fathers talking,” but each person in the group has been given the “same opportunities” to speak, she said.

A major theme of the Amazon synod has been the inculturation of the faith and becoming a church “with an Amazonian face.” One proposal is for the creation of an Amazonian Indigenous rite that would incorporate more indigenous practices into liturgical celebrations.

Ms. Casimero described the inculturated liturgies that already take place in villages in southern Guyana where, “from beginning to end, the service is in Wapichan,” the local indigenous language.

The New Testament has been translated into Wapichan, she said, and they are hoping to have the Old Testament translated by 2023.

At liturgies on feast days, she added, the community wears traditional clothing, does traditional dances and shares food. The liturgy “is already Wapichan” in those aspects, she said.

Like other communities in the Amazon, she said “the presence of women is very strong, very evident in our church” in southern Guyana. All four extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are women who not only distribute the Eucharist during the service but also go out to the sick or dying, she said. And the catechists “are mainly women.”

“They are very committed,” she said. “The amount of work they put in, voluntarily, is amazing.”

In response to the proposal at the synod to ordain women to the permanent diaconate, Ms. Casimero said, “I think that’s very possible.”

“Why not? We are already doing so much,” she said. “It is something we can do.”

Ms. Casimero also noted the support and accompaniment of Jesuit priests who have worked in Guyana, the presence of Pope Francis who has shown he is “a leader by example” in the synod hall and her specific hopes for what will come from the synod.

Ms. Casimero said she was invited to the synod as the academic coordinator of the Quality Bilingual Education Program for Wapichan children. She said the most important thing she wanted to include in her speech to the assembly was about her experience of studying in the city as a young indigenous person. There she learned the importance of having an “integral education” that ensures that young indigenous people learn their language and culture from a very early age.

Reflecting on the synod during its final week, she said, “The action part comes next.”

After all the work and rich encounters, “what will come out of it?” she wondered. “That is what I want to know.”

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Nora Bolcon
3 weeks 5 days ago

And this is how misogyny works in our church: only ask the question that gives a limited possible answer. Don't ask this person would she prefer to see women ordained priests, in order to ensure there are necessary priests, even without ordaining married priests in the Amazon, but instead ask only what our synod leaders asked - "In response to the proposal at the synod to ordain women to the permanent diaconate, Ms. Casimero said, “I think that’s very possible.” This woman is pushed into answer and given opportunity to only support women being placed in another far lesser role than men. However, when it comes to men and asking about optional celibacy, for only male priests, she is allowed to take all restrictions off of her answer, and give the requesters running the synod, the sexist ridden answers they want from her. Yes, we need priests so yes we should allow for married priests since you will only allow me to answer yes to women being made deacons and won't offer me the place to state I want women priests too. This is Satan's way of working in the oppression of women. Make it appear that it is the women's fault, at the synod, that has kept women's priestly ordination off the table.

If the Amazon needs priests more than permanent deacons and there are already able and capable women volunteering to provide any sacramental service a priest or a deacon would provide, then the answer should be obvious (except to the misogynistically blinded) - ordain the already available and willing women priests in order to take care of both the needs present: a. make available the sacraments only a priest can provide, and b. answer the need to put women in equal roles and leadership roles . And yet we don't do this or ask this woman if this would be a good idea. hmmmmm.

Unfortunately this proves that this synod, like the last two before it, is only a silly game. Another fun performance, by our Pope, and hierarchy, known as the "Look Were Are Listening To You Now". It is a funny little play and all the best actors are in it. Too bad that is all it is.

When women have equal votes at all synods, and are allowed exact same ordination and opportunities as men in our church, then we can say we are serious about loving and not hating, about wanting to end violence, poverty and oppression in the world, about wanting women to be treated as Christ taught and as exact equals in all things in and out of church and on our altars as men, then we can say we really love kids and really do want to protect them from all forms of assault. BUT NOT UNTIL!

We are not at all serious right now, and this is true even though the Pope claims he believes the survival of the human population depends on our being serious. How sad it is Pope Francis can't see that he is so much a part of the problem still and that he is one of the most primary people on the global stage who desperately needs to convert his heart and amend his ways. Changing ones own heart is often far harder than asking others to change theirs.

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

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