Pope Francis opens Synod for the Amazon

8 October 2019
Pope Francis during the Mass for the Opening of the Synod on the Amazon. Image: Vatican News.


Pope Francis has consecrated and opened The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will be held in the Vatican from 6 to 27 October.

During a highly symbolic tree-planting ceremony in the Vatican Gardens on Friday 4 October, Pope Francis places the upcoming Synod for the Amazon under the protection of Saint Francis of Assisi.

4 October is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, which closes the “Season of Creation” that began on 1 September. This year also marks 40 years since Pope Saint John Paul II proclaimed St Francis Patron Saint “of those who promote ecology.”

The Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, the Order of Franciscan Friars Minor, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement organised the event, while various religious congregations and representatives of the indigenous people of the Amazon Region played important roles in providing colour and creativity.

The ceremony culminated with the planting of a holm oak from Assisi. The name of the tree is believed to come from the old Anglo-Saxon word for “holly” – “holy.”

Even the soil in which the tree was planted came steeped in significance. There was soil from the Amazon, celebrating the wealth of the bioregion’s cultures and traditions; earth from India, representing countries most vulnerable to the climate crisis, where droughts and floods leave millions devastated; soil representing refugees and migrants, forced to leave their homes because of war, poverty, and ecological devastation. There was earth from places of human trafficking, and from sustainable development projects around the world. And there was more soil from the Amazon, earth bathed in the blood of those who have died fighting against its destruction.

On Sunday 6 October, Pope Francis celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the Opening of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region. In his homily, the Pope urges the Bishops to take to heart the message of Saint Paul in his Letter to Timothy.

On Sunday, the Pope celebrated Mass for the opening of that Synod, invoking Saint Paul, “the greatest missionary in the Church’s history.” The Apostle “helps us to make this ‘synod’, this ‘journey together’”, he said.

Pope Francis quoted Paul’s words to Timothy, when he writes: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands.”

“Thanks to the gift we have received, our lives are directed to service,” continued Pope Francis. “We do not serve for the sake of personal profit or gain, but because we received freely and want to give freely in return,” he added, insisting that the Bishops “put God’s gift at the centre.”

“Prudence is the virtue of the pastor who, in order to serve with wisdom, is able to discern, to be receptive to the newness of the Spirit,” continued the Pope. “Rekindling our gift in the fire of the Spirit is the opposite of letting things take their course without doing anything.”

Pope Francis prayed that the Spirit may “give us his own daring prudence,” and “inspire our Synod to renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn.”

The Pope concluded by repeating Saint Paul’s request to Timothy “to bear witness to the Gospel.” To preach the Gospel, said Pope Francis “is to live as an offering, to bear witness to the end, to become all things to all people, to love even to the point of martyrdom.” He noted, too, that there are some Cardinals who have themselves experienced “the cross of martyrdom.”

We serve the Gospel, said the Pope, “by persevering in humble love, by believing that the only real way to possess life is to lose it through love.”

Pope Francis’ last words were for our brothers and sisters in Amazonia: they are “bearing heavy crosses and awaiting the liberating consolation of the Gospel, the Church’s caress of love,” he said.

“So many of our brothers and sisters in Amazonia have poured out their life,” the Pope added. He quoted “our beloved Cardinal Hummes,” who, he noted, regularly goes to the cemeteries of the small towns he visits in the Amazon. “And then, with a little shrewdness” the Pope said, the Cardinal told him not to forget them, saying, “They deserve to be canonised.”

“For them,” the Pope concluded, “for these [people] who are giving their life now, for those who have poured out their life, and with them, let us journey together.”

On Monday 7 October, Pope Francis opens discussions at the Synod for the Amazon, reminding participants of the pastoral dimension of the gathering, and the need to focus on understanding and serving the people of the Amazon.

The Synod for the Amazon opened with a procession from St Peter’s Basilica, out into the Square, through the Arch of the Bells, and into the Synod Hall. There, Pope Francis opened the proceedings with a discourse in Spanish in which he spoke of the Synod as having four dimensions: pastoral, cultural, social, and ecological.

The pastoral dimension, he said, is the essential dimension, “the one that embraces everything.” We need to approach this Synod “with a Christian heart and see the reality of Amazonia with the eyes of a disciple.” Only then, said the Pope, can we understand and interpret it.

The pastoral dimension allows us to consider the people of the Amazon “respecting their history, cultures, and way of living.” Because all peoples, continued the Pope, “have their own wisdom, awareness, their way of feeling, of seeing reality.”

Pope Francis also warned of “proposing purely pragmatic measures” when we ought to think “in a paradigmatic way,” a perspective “that is born from the reality of peoples.”

“We have not come here to invent programs of social development,” continued the Pope, aimed at keeping cultures in a museum. We are here, he said, “to contemplate, to understand, to serve the people.”

We do this, continued Pope Francis, in Synod. “A Synod is not a parliament,” he explained, “it is not to demonstrate who has more power” or “who has the majority.” A Synod is “walking together under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the protagonist of the Synod, said the Pope. He needs “to express Himself among us, with us, through us, and despite us.”

Finally, Pope Francis urged participants to “reflect, dialogue, listen with humility… and speak with courage, with parrhesia.” To participate in the Synod is “to enter into a process,” he said, not just “to occupy space in the room.”

We need to be respectful, he added, and to be prudent in the way we communicate, not to spoil the Synod process by creating conflicting messages: “a Synod from the inside and a Synod from the outside.”

“And please,” concluded Pope Francis, “let’s not lose our sense of humour.”


Vatican News – Pope consecrates Synod for the Amazon to Saint Francis of Assisi

Vatican News – Pope opens Synod for the Amazon, calling for fidelity to the newness of the Spirit

Vatican News – Pope opens Synod discussions: urges understanding and service


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.


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