The 11th General Congregation of the Special Synod for the Amazon Region on the theme “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology” took place in the Vatican on Tuesday 15 October, involving 180 Synod Fathers and in the presence of Pope Francis.
The need to urgently create a permanent and representative episcopal structure, coordinated by REPAM (Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network), to promote synodality in the Amazon: this was one of the suggestions that emerged from the morning congregation. Integrated with CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Council), the proposed structure should help implement the face of the Amazon Church, aimed at a more effective, shared pastoral care – also giving concrete form to any indications that Pope Francis may wish to provide after the Synod – and working for the defense of the rights of indigenous peoples, the integral formation of pastoral agents and the creation of Amazonian seminaries. This joint pastoral action, elaborated synodally by all the Pan-Amazonian dioceses would be useful to face common problems, such as the exploitation of the territory, crime, drug trafficking, human trafficking and prostitution.
An Observatory for Human Rights and Protection of the Amazon
Participants at the morning congregation then turned their attention to the indigenous peoples, focusing on the problems that stem from colonisation, internal migration and the advancement of predatory and colonialist economic models, which often kill. This entails the expropriation and eviction of communities from their territories, forcing them to migrate against their will. The nomadic indigenous peoples must be understood through a specific pastoral care, so that their human and environmental rights are always guaranteed. This includes their right to be consulted and informed before any action takes place in their respective territories. In this regard, a permanent observatory for human rights and the protection of the Amazon was suggested. The cry of the earth and of the Amazonian peoples must be heard, giving voice, above all, to young people, because it is a question of inter-generational justice.
Inculturation and education
The theme of inculturation was also discussed: the need for the Church to open up and discover new paths in the rich diversity of Amazonian cultures in order to be more like a disciple and sister than a Teacher and Mother, with an attitude of listening, service, solidarity, respect, justice and reconciliation. Linked to the theme of inculturation, the education of indigenous Amazonian peoples was brought up again, an education which is, unfortunately, characterised by poor quality and discontinuity. What can the Church do as one of the most qualified and powerful institutions in the field of formation? It was suggested that structures coordinate better with one another in order to offer improved services to indigenous peoples. For example, Catholic universities could introduce a preferential option for the education of indigenous peoples, or generate solidarity strategies to economically support indigenous universities, such as Nopoki, in Peru. The aim of this would be to protect the right to cultural identity and safeguard the ancestral wisdom of the original Amazonian peoples, in the name of dialogue and exchange of cultures, sensitivity, languages and visions.
Missionary commitment and the witness of the martyrs
The Synod Fathers then reflected on the theme of violence: it was stressed that the Amazon is like a woman who has been raped and whose cry needs to be heard, because only in this way can evangelisation be reawakened. The effective proclamation of the Gospel takes place only when it is in contact with the pain of the world that is waiting to be redeemed by the love of Christ, thanks to a theology of life. Strong reference was made to the precious example of the martyred missionaries of the region, such as Bishop Alejandro Labaka, the Capuchin tertiary nun Inés Arango, and Sister Dorothy Stang, who gave their lives in the name of the cause of the defenceless Amazon peoples and for the protection of the territory. It was reiterated in the Synod Hall that missionary work in the Amazon must be supported more. For this reason there were ideas about creating a financial fund, both national and international, to strengthen the mission in the region, especially to cover transportation costs and to train the missionaries themselves.
The ecumenical challenge
Missionary commitment must also be carried out from an ecumenical perspective because a missionary Church is also an ecumenical Church. This challenge also concerns the Amazon: far from any kind of proselytism or intra-Christian colonialism, Christian evangelisation is the free invitation, regarding the freedom of others, to enter into communication and engage in life-giving dialogue. An attractive evangelisation will, therefore, be the proof of credible ecumenism. Another point for reflection was offered by music, a common language understood by all that leads one to reflect on the communication of faith. It must not contradict doctrine – explained the Synod Fathers – but must make it understood through human sensitivity. In this way, the Good News will be attractive to all, journeying towards that rebirth of the sacred that is lived even in the far-flung areas of the Amazon.
The response of the Eucharist
Faced with the difficult situations that are experienced in the Amazon, important answers come from the Eucharist, through which God’s grace passes, and from a widespread ministry, which also begins with women, who are undisputed protagonists when it comes to transmitting the radical meaning of life. It was mentioned in the Synod Hall that we must ask ourselves if it might be necessary to re-think ministry. Many communities have difficulty celebrating the Eucharist because of the lack of priests. It was suggested that the criteria for selecting and preparing ministers authorised to administer the Eucharist be changed, so as not to limit this ministry to only a few.
Women in ministry, following the example of antiquity
New paths to ancient traditions are needed, reaffirmed the Synod Fathers. Some of the interventions during the Congregation recalled the ancient practices that saw ministries linked to women. The Synod Fathers reflected on the possibility of restoring similar ministries, particularly for the ministry of Lector and Acolyte. Another intervention mentioned the possibility of dispensing with celibacy, in order to ordain married men as “ministers” who, under the supervision of a responsible local priest, could minister in far flung ecclesial communities. At the same time, it was suggested that a fund be set up to finance the formation of the laity in the biblical, theological and pastoral spheres, so that they can better contribute to the evangelising mission of the Church. A final reflection regarded the importance of base communities and consecrated life, which offers a prophetic message to the ends of the earth.
With thanks to Vatican News, where this article originally appeared.
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region will be held in the Vatican from 6 to 27 October. For more information, click here.