The 13th General Congregation took place on Thursday afternoon, October 17, and was devoted to the presentation of reports prepared in the small working groups. 177 Synod Fathers were present, as well as Pope Francis.
The contributions, submitted to the General Secretariat of the Synod, do not constitute an official document of the Synod. Rather, they are a summary of the discussions that took place among the Synod participants.
The Synod is a precious gift of the Spirit for the Amazon and for the whole Church, both from the theological and pastoral point of view, and for the inescapable task of caring for our common home. It is a Kairos, a time of grace, a favourable opportunity for the Church to reconcile with the Amazon. This is the common thread that unites the twelve reports of the small working groups that was presented in the Synod Hall on Thursday afternoon.
A universal Synod
All the publicly read texts express the hope that in the Amazon a new synodal path will develop and that from the assembly of bishops in the Vatican a new start will be made with an ardent missionary passion typical of a true outward looking Church. The hope is that the Amazonian “good life” will meet with the experience of the Beatitudes: in fact, in the light of the Word of God, it reaches its full realisation. There are many and varied concrete proposals from the various groups that need clarification: the current one is not only a regional Synod, but universal, what happens in the Amazon affects the whole world.
A Church for the poor and against all forms of violence
An imperative for the Church is to listen to the cry of the people and of the earth; not to be silent, to stand on the side of the poor and say “no to violence.” The latter in the Amazon has several faces: violence in overcrowded prisons; sexual abuse and exploitation; violation of the rights of indigenous peoples; the murder of defenders of the territories; drug trafficking and narco-business; extermination of the youth population; trafficking in human beings; feminicide and macho culture; genocide, biopiracy, ethnocide: all evils to be fought because they kill both culture and spirit. The condemnation of the systematic extractivist violation and deforestation is clear. Someone highlighted the link between abuse of the weakest and abuse of nature. Among the various emergencies highlighted, ample space was given to the theme of the climate crisis.
Proposed International Ecclesial Observatory on Human Rights
It is the indigenous people who pay the highest price with their lives, because they are not assisted, they are not protected in their territories. This is why more than one Small Group called for the establishment of an International Observatory of Human Rights, in the conviction that the defence of peoples and nature must be the prerogative of ecclesial and pastoral action. It was also suggested that parishes should create safe spaces for children, adolescents and vulnerable people. The right to life of all from conception to natural death was reaffirmed.
Church not an NGO. More ecumenical dialogue
The Church – one of the reports advises – has the task of accompanying the work of the defenders of human rights often criminalised by public authorities. At the same time, however, it must avoid resembling an NGO. This risk, together with the risk of presenting oneself in a purely ritualistic capacity, often causes the loss of many faithful who seek answers to their thirst for spirituality from religious sects or other confessions. From the Small Groups comes the request to pursue ecumenical and interreligious dialogue with greater energy with the proposal of two centres of comparison, one in the Amazon and one in Rome, between the theologians of RELEP (Network of Latin American Pentecostal Studies) and Catholic theologians.
Ministries, laity and rejection of clericalism
A ministry of presence is called for to avoid clericalism. In this regard, a greater role must be given to the laity. Almost all the Small Groups asked for a deeper understanding of the meaning of the “ministerial Church,” that is, a Church where the co-responsibility and commitment of the laity coexist. The “Spanish A” Circle asked, for example, that men and women be given ministries in an equitable manner, while avoiding the risk of clericalising the laity.
Woman and the diaconate
The theme of women is present in more than one relation with the request to recognise, even in roles of greater responsibility and leadership, the great value offered by the presence of women in their specific service to the Church in the Amazon. For example, in the workplace, we are asked to guarantee respect for women’s rights and the overcoming of any kind of stereotype. Most Small Groups called for attention to be paid to the issue of the diaconate for women from the perspective of Vatican II, bearing in mind that many functions of this ministry are already performed by women in the region. However, it has been suggested that more than one address should be devoted to the subject in another assembly of bishops, where perhaps women should be given the power to vote.
Priesthood and viri probati
Suggested is an ad hoc Universal Synod also on the theme of the viri probati. On this subject, the perspectives differ from one working group to the next. It was pointed out that the value of celibacy, a gift to be offered to indigenous communities, is not in question. Italian Circle A warned against the risk that this value will be weakened or that the introduction of viri probati could lose the missionary impetus of the universal Church in the service of the most distant communities. Most of the reports, mainly those in Spanish and Portuguese, aimed at a Church “of presence” rather than “of visit,” and are in favour of a way of conferring the priesthood on married men, of good reputation, preferably indigenous chosen by the communities of origin, but under specific conditions. It was also stressed that these priests should not be considered second or third category, but true priestly vocations. We should not forget the drama of many populations currently receiving the sacraments once or twice a year in the Amazon, we have also been asked to strengthen in local communities the awareness that not only the Eucharist, but also the Word of God represents a spiritual nourishment for the faithful.
Vocational crisis and priestly formation
Considering the size of the pan-Amazonic territory and the scarcity of ministers, the creation of a regional fund for the sustainability of evangelisation has been hypothesised. In addition, the Italian Circle A expressed “perplexity” about “the lack of reflection on the causes that led to the proposal to overcome in some form priestly celibacy as expressed by the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent Magisterium. At the same time, it is hoped that there will be ongoing formation in ministry aimed at configuring the priest to Christ, and it is urged that missionaries who currently exercise their priestly ministry in the north of the world be sent to the Amazon. In the face of the vocational crisis, the Small Circles note a substantial decrease in the presence of religious in the Amazon and hope for a renewal of religious life, which, at the instigation of the Latin American Confederation of Religious, CLAR, will be promoted with renewed ardour, especially as regards the contemplative life. Eyes are also being focused on the formation of the laity: let it be integral and not only doctrinal, but also Kerigmatic, founded on the social doctrine of the Church and leads to an experience and encounter with the Risen One. At the same time strengthening the formation of priests is being proposed: it should not only be academic, it should take place in the Amazon territories and provide concrete experiences of the Church looking outwards, alongside the people who suffer, in prisons or hospitals. The establishment of indigenous seminaries where local theology could be studied and deepened has also been proposed.
Intercultural dialogue and inculturation
The Small Circles are also asking for the consolidation of a theology and pastoral care with an indigenous face. Intercultural dialogue and inculturation should not be understood as antithetical. The task of the Church is not to decide for the Amazonian people or to take a position of conquest, but to accompany, to walk together in a synodal perspective of dialogue and listening. For example, the proposal to introduce an “Amazonian Rite” has been advanced, which would allow the spiritual, theological, liturgical and disciplinary development of the singular richness of the Catholic Church in the region. As explained in one of the reports, “symbols and gestures of local cultures can be valued in the liturgy of the Church in the Amazon, preserving the substantial unity of the Roman rite, since the Church does not want to impose a rigid uniformity in that which does not affect the faith.” The promotion of knowledge of the Bible is also suggested, encouraging its translation into local languages. In this perspective the creation of an Ecclesial Council of the Pan-Amazonic Church was proposed, an ecclesiastical structure linked to CELAM, and connected with REPAM, and with the Episcopal Conferences of the Amazonian countries. “The Amazonian cosmovision” – it is stated in one of the reports – has so much to teach the western world dominated by technology, very often at the service of the “idolatry of money.” The Amazonian peoples consider their territory sacred: a reflection on the spiritual value of the biome, of biodiversity and of the right to land should therefore be encouraged. On the other hand, the proclamation of the Gospel and the originality of Christ’s victory over death, while respecting the culture of peoples, must be considered an essential element for embracing and understanding the Amazonian cosmovision.
Mission and martyrdom
The missionary is called to strip him/herself of the colonialist mentality, overcome ethnic preconceptions, respect customs, rites and beliefs. The manifestations with which peoples express their faith – the Small Circles state – should be appreciated, accompanied and promoted. The creation of a Pan-Amazonic socio-pastoral Observatory in coordination with CELAM, the diocesan justice and peace commissions, the CLAR and REPAM was also suggested. Lights and shadows must be recognised in the history of the Church in the Amazon. A distinction must be made between the “indigenous” Church, which considers indigenous people as passive recipients of pastoral care, and the “indigenous” Church, which understands them as protagonists of its own experience of faith, according to the principle “Save the Amazon with the Amazon.” It is also important to value the shining example given by many missionaries and martyrs who in the Amazon gave their lives for the love of the Gospel. The Spanish Circle A proposes to encourage the processes of beatification of the Amazon martyrs.
Migration, youth and cities
In the texts read in the hall we do not forget the populations in voluntary isolation and we ask that they be accompanied by the work of itinerant missionary teams. There is also room for the theme of immigration, especially among young people. Today, 80% of the population of the Amazon is in the cities. This is a phenomenon that often has as its negative effects the loss of cultural identity, social exclusion, disintegration or family destabilisation. The evangelisation of urban centres is therefore becoming increasingly urgent, but pastoral work must adapt to circumstances without forgetting the favelas, the suburbs, as well as rural realities. There is also an urgent need for renewed youth ministry. On the pedagogical front, the Church is asked to decisively promote bilingual intercultural education and to encourage an alliance of university networks specialising in the science of the Amazon and intercultural higher education for indigenous peoples.
Protection of Creation and the Ecological Dimension
The ecological dimension is central in the relations of the Small Circles where it is reaffirmed that Creation is a masterpiece of God, that all creation is related. It must not be forgotten that “a true ecological conversion begins in the family and passes through a personal conversion, through the encounter with Jesus.” From this premise it is imperative to address the most practical issues such as raising temperatures or combating CO2 emissions. It encourages a more sober lifestyle and the protection of unique precious goods such as water, a fundamental human right, which, if privatised or contaminated, risks compromising the lives of entire communities. The value of medicinal plants should also be highlighted, as should the development of sustainable projects, through courses that lead to the knowledge of the secrets and sacredness of nature according to the Amazonian vision. Some circles propose to develop reforestation projects within training schools in agricultural techniques.
Ecological sin and the promotion of an economy of solidarity
In this context, there is a double proposal; to include the theme of integral ecology in the directives of the Episcopal Conferences and to include in Moral Theology respect for our Common Home and ecological sins, also through a revision of the manuals and rituals of the Sacrament of Penance. Humanity – recognise some Synod Fathers – is moving towards the recognition of nature as a subject of law. “The utilitarian anthropocentric vision is obsolete and man can no longer subject the resources of nature to unlimited exploitation that endangers humanity itself.” It is necessary to contemplate the immense set of forms of life on the planet in relation to each other, also promoting a model of solidarity economy and establishing a ministry for the care of our Common Home, as proposed by the Portuguese Circle B.
Synod on the Amazon and Communication
Finally, a number of reports have given space to the subject of the media. Catholic communication networks are encouraged to place the Amazon at the centre of their attention, to spread the good news and denounce all kinds of aggression against Mother Earth, and to announce the truth. Also proposed is the use of social networks for web radio, web TV and radio communication in order to disseminate the conclusions of this Synod. The hope is that the river of the Synod, with the strength of the “Amazonian river,” overflows with many gifts and ideas being reflected on by the fathers who have spoken in the Hall and that from this experience of walking together new paths for evangelisation and integral ecology can spring up.
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.