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Brazilian Cardinal Leonardo Ulrich Steiner of Manaus speaks during a briefing about the assembly of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican Oct. 18, 2023. (CNS photo/Lola Gomez)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As synod participants begin discussions focused on participation in the life of the Catholic Church and its evangelizing mission, the first cardinal from the Amazon region held up his community as a model of synodality.

Cardinal Leonardo Ulrich Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, said Oct. 18 that when the synodal process was launched by Pope Francis in 2021, some 85% of the more than 1,000 communities consulted in his region responded to questions that were sent to them seeking input on the synod. He credited the success of the Amazon’s synodal process to the “long history of synodality that exists” in the church there.

“Synodality helps us a lot because it is the communities that tell us how to be a church, rather than a bishop telling the people how to be church,” he said, noting that when decisions are made in the church meetings in the Amazon region, “everyone votes, except the bishop.”

When deciding “modes of evangelization, or how to be a church, everyone present votes,” he said. “I as a bishop make a point not to vote, because they are church, they represent the communities.”

Synod participants began the fourth and final module of the assembly of the Synod of Bishops Oct. 18, intended to respond to the question, “What processes, structures and institutions in a missionary synodal Church?”

Wyatt Olivas, a U.S. synod delegate who at 19 is the youngest member of the synod assembly, said that although it is “new for everyone” to have such conversations in the church, “this is important, to truly trust the Holy Spirit.”

“It’s going to be uncomfortable for a lot of us, but that’s how we grow,” he said.

Cardinal Steiner said lay men and women, Indigenous representatives, religious brothers and sisters, priests and deacons participate in his region’s diocesan meetings. When space is left open for the participation of all people, no matter their ministries and vocations, people are more engaged in “the mission of the church, which is announcing the Gospel, the kingdom of God.”

As an example, the cardinal said that church communities in the Amazon “are almost all directed by women, and these women insist on having more formation so their ministry and leadership can be better.”

They also “ask for their own ministries,” particularly in rural regions where a priest is not regularly available, he said. “In a community where a eucharistic celebration happens so rarely, they can have a celebration of baptism, and for that a priest and father doesn’t need to be present,” he said. “So communities are increasingly aware that they can celebrate the sacrament as a community.”

Asked about whether suggestions on the blessing of same-sex unions would be made during the synod assembly, the cardinal said the topic was raised in the presentations of the small group reports but said that this synod assembly “is not moving toward determinations or conclusions,” but that more concrete decisions will be taken at the synod assembly in October 2024.

The Vatican said Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, relator general of the synod assembly, told participants Oct. 18 that the synthesis document presented at the end of the assembly will not be a working document for the next synod assembly, but will compile open questions that require greater “canonical, theological and pastoral” reflection to confirm with the people of God.

Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, Philippines, said he generally sees in the Northern Hemisphere a “strong tendency to label people according to gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, all of that.”

“Where I come from, we’re just human beings,” the bishop said, explaining that in Filipino, the word for “man” and “woman” are the same. “I think Jesus looked at people that way,” he said, “as potential sons and daughters of God.”

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