SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 6, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12 – SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 7, MONDAY, OCTOBER 14

Depending on the time of day you read this, you might want a second cup of coffee or perhaps a glass of prosecco!

Synod participants in coming days will meet in the circuli minores, the smaller language groups, where they will discuss the themes heard in recent days in the synod hall as well as make comments, reflections and suggestions. Under Popes John Paul and Benedict, the names of the participants in each language group and the names of the moderators of each group were published. That is not currently happening in this synod.

SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 6, SATURDAY, OCTOBER 12

The first week of the three-week Special Synod for the Pan-Amazon region concluded on Saturday evening, 12 October. Along with the Pope, there were 166 Synod Fathers in the hall, along with others participating in the Synod.

Vatican News – Vatican City

One of the themes put forward in the eighth General Congregation of the Special Synod for the Pan-Amazon region on Saturday afternoon was the centrality of Christ in the Church’s mission. “How many know the Gospel?”, one of the Synod participants asked. In addition, it was affirmed that the Good News must be announced not only in the Amazon, but in the entire world. Since evangelization is never undertaken alone, the creation of a team was proposed. The hope is that this team would be able to both respond adequately to the multiple pastoral challenges facing the region and witness to the joy of evangelization.

A Reflection on celibacy and the priesthood
Once again, the proposal for viri probati returned in more than one intervention. Some contributions highlighted that the lack of vocations is not particular to the Amazon. This led to the question, “Why make an exception exclusively for that region?” Taking up this theme in a future Synod was also suggested. Another observed that it is precisely because of celibacy that priests are welcomed by some indigenous populations. Furthermore, it was also stated that today’s world sees celibacy as the last rampart to be demolished using the pressure of a hedonistic and secular culture. It is, therefore, necessary to carry out an attentive reflection on the value of a celibate priesthood.

Others pointed out that a discussion regarding new models of priesthood is both inevitable and desirable. If on the one hand, sending priests to other dioceses and regions is encouraged, then on the other hand, ordaining wise men of proven faith should also be recommended. This hypothesis would not wound communion in the Church, nor would it undermine the value of celibacy. Rather, it might represent a decisive step toward achieving an ordained ministry that does not just visit a territory, but comes from and remains present in it. Another argument is that this response is not being put forward to solve the lack of vocations, but that the Church might have an identity that is truly Amazonian. It was also suggested that the Synod could lay the foundation for this new step forward in faith in the Holy Spirit that must be stronger than the fear of making a mistake.

Involving women: an antidote to clericalism
The theme of women in the Church was also brought up again in the afternoon, with the request that they be given more pastoral responsibility and effective participation, even at decision-making levels. Discerning the institution of women deacons in the region was also requested. Women today have already acquired greater roles in the life of the Christian community, not only as catechists or mothers, but also as persons capable of taking on new ministries. In addition, it was proposed that the inclusion of women, under the sign of reconciliation of the covenant, could lay the foundation for a less clerical Church. Clericalism is still present in the Church today, one Synod participant emphatically stated, and is an obstacle to service, fraternity and solidarity.

Listening to the Holy Spirit
A Synod exists to listen constantly to the Holy Spirit. This attitude of listening was proposed as the attitude that might guide and inspire an ecological conversion necessary to counteract the environmental destruction that threatens our planet. The Synod participants were reminded that the Creator entrusted the Amazon to our care. It is the most beautiful and vital garden on the planet. But unfortunately, we risk transforming this “terrestrial paradise” into a “hell” because of the fires raging which could deprive certain indigenous peoples of their indispensable heritage. Walking together means listening to “the agony of Mother Earth” and becoming aware of the “violence behind extractive ethnocide.” The appeal made by indigenous Amazonian organizations is that of reversing the tide so as not to fall into greater danger.

Everything is connected
We are all connected to each other. “Good living” (“buen vivir”) does not mean living “the good life”. Rather, it means that we are connected to each other and to the earth. The fragmentation of human existence that leads to disparity in terms of social condition needs to be rejected and condemned. Even though globalization has brought undeniable benefits to our lives, it has also opened the door to “wild capitalism” and a materialism that has created an extremely harmful form of consumerism. While the developed world demands cheap products, the indigenous populations who make them often pay the price in blood. From this reality emerged the appeal for a more simple style of life and for an ecological conversion that embraces fairer trade in the name of justice and peace.

Toward a Church with an indigenous face
Once again the request was heard in the Synod hall to be constantly aware of the suffering of the indigenous population who have a sovereign right to exist in the Amazon. Discovering the seeds of the word of God in the cultures and traditions of the region means recognizing that Christ already lives in the peoples who have not yet heard the Gospel. The Gospel, in fact, is not the exclusive patrimony of any one culture. It is this approach that favours the existence of an indigenous and Amazonian Church, one person said. One proposal is that an a new regional structure be instituted which would continue the momentum created by the positive experience of the networks created in the pre-Synod process and the inspirations of the Spirit received during the Synod.

Gift of religious life in the Amazon
Those at the Synod also heard a precious example of an indigenous person whose life has been offered to God through the religious life, thus helping the Church assume an indigenous face. Men and women religious struggle together for the rights of the people. They also feel called to pursue in their own ongoing formation the discovery of connections between their own indigenous heritage and Christian spirituality. In this way they hope to contribute to an integral ecology leading to the protection of both humankind and nature.

SYNOD UPDATE: DAY 7, MONDAY, OCTOBER 14

Following is a Vatican News summary of the content of the 10th general congregation on Monday afternoon, October 14. Following that is the Vatican News summary of the early afternoon October 14 press briefing.

Vatican News – Vatican City

During the 10th General Congregation that took place on the afternoon of 14 October, the participants in the Special Amazon Synod continued their work. In addition to Pope Francis, there were 177 Synod Fathers present, as well as other auditors, experts and invited guests.

Rethinking ministry in the Church in the light of the parameters of synodality so that the Church might be more and more formed by the Word of God was defined as one of the challenges of the Church in the Amazon region. Several interventions given this afternoon in the Synod Hall highlighted this.

The Word of God
The Word of God is an active and merciful presence; it is educative and prophetic, formative and performative. It underpins that challenge of integral ecology and can be a means for social, economic, cultural and political development and a new humanism. New ministers of the Word, including women, are needed to provide new responses to contemporary challenges. The Church must, therefore, invest in the formation of a well-prepared laity who, in a missionary spirit, will know how to proclaim the Gospel in every part of the Amazon. Providing an adequate formation for committed laity, it was noted, is also fundamental for promoting indigenous vocations to the religious life and ordained ministries.

The role of the laity and women
It was also said in the Hall that the gifts of the laity need to be better expressed and appreciated in a ministerial Church. Thanks to the laity, the Church is manifesting itself as a Church moving outward, distancing itself from clericalism. One intervention in particular suggested that the question of the so-called viri probati and the discussion regarding ministries open to women should be treated in an Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops since this theme affects the universal Church. Others suggested that women could be included in non-ordained ministries, ministries intended as service, so as to guarantee the dignity and equality of women in the entire Pan-Amazonian territory. Such ministries could be, for example, that of presiding over celebrations of the Word, or leading the activity of a social-charitable nature.

Viri probati
Another intervention counselled that prior to having viri probati priests, it would be necessary to think of viri probati deacons—that is, that the viri probati priests would come from the ranks of permanent deacons. The Permanent Deaconate can, therefore, be an appropriate “laboratory” for the possible future inclusion of married men to the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Care for minors and vulnerable adults
Regarding the care of minors and vulnerable adults in the Amazon, the terrible scourge of pedophilia and other forms of sexual abuse requires that the Church be ever vigilant and courageous. It was emphasized that the greatest challenge is that of transparency and responsibility so that these crimes can be prevented and combated.

Sexual exploitation of the young was a recurring theme. One person said that criminal networks rob children of their infancy, making them also victims of the trafficking of organs. One statistic alone suffices to illustrate how dramatic the situation is: in 2018 in Brazil alone, 62,000 rapes were recorded. This is one of the highest numbers in the Amazon region.

At the bottom of all of this are grave economic inequality and the lack of government intervention capable of combating such horrendous crimes both at the local and international levels. Thus arose the appeal for an increased commitment in the area of prevention, including the involvement of the Episcopal Conferences and religious congregations.

The fight against human trafficking, which also heavily involves minors and women, was brought to the attention of those in the Synod hall. They were reminded that the victims of this drama are among the most dehumanized in the world. It was proposed that through the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, large companies be made to comply with international policy regarding human trafficking and that a Special Pastoral Commission be instituted to deal specifically with this crime.

Pastoral work for vocations and youth ministry
From other interventions, there emerged the importance of the pastoral work for vocations that cannot be left out of the work of evangelization. Furthermore, all evangelization must be accompanied by youth ministry which is a call to, and at the same time, a proposal for, a personal encounter with Christ. Those in the Hall were reminded that young people who wish to follow Christ need to be supported by adequate formation through the witness of holy and committed lives. It follows that priests must be capable of understanding completely the specific needs of the Amazon region. Their formation cannot be excessively academic, but most proceed with a missionary spirit and the heart of a shepherd.

Water: a primary resource
Forming catechists toward an integral ecology was underlined again, particularly regarding caring for and safeguarding water, a primary resource and source of life. This theme was also repeated by several auditors and invited guests. One provided the statistic that thousands of children die every day due to water related diseases. Another recalled what Pope Francis has said in the past that the next world war will be connected with water. It is urgent that there be a global awareness of the need to protect our common home, and that we be reconciled with creation. “Later will be too late”, those in the hall were told. An “ecological conversion” consists also in looking at the ethical dimension underpinning contemporary life styles which are often too technocratic, whose ultimate objective is that of turning everything into profit to the detriment of the vision of the human being as an integral human person.

The challenge of communication
A theme from the morning’s 9th General Congregation was repeated in the afternoon: that of communication. It was affirmed that through the mass media we must be open to communicate to every culture and in every language in order to support the Amazonian peoples. Church-sponsored media should, therefore, be a place to consolidate local knowledge that can be done through the formation of indigenous communicators.

Other reflections made by various Synodal Fathers included defending the indigenous peoples, which could also be carried out through education and through other small projects aimed at social development. Because they are often marginalized from society, indigenous populations should not be viewed as “incapable”, but must be empowered, listened to, understood and welcomed. From this theme, emerged the invitation for greater cooperation between the Justice and Peace Commission and that for promoting human rights.

Pope Francis’ reflection
When the Congregation concluded, Pope Francis spoke, reflecting on various themes that had emerged during the afternoon and highlighted a few things that had struck him the most.

OCTOBER 14 – PRESS BRIEFING

Amazon Synod Briefing: New challenges and new solutions
Four participants at the Synod for the Amazon met journalists in the Holy See Press Office on Monday afternoon for an exchange of experiences and impressions regarding the 9th General Congregation.

By Vatican News

The 9th General Congregation, held on Monday morning, was attended by 179 Synod Fathers, together with Pope Francis, who opened the session with a prayer for Ecuador. This was confirmed by the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications, Dr Paolo Ruffini, before he invited Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa, Secretary of the Information Commission, to provide a summary of what was discussed in the Synod Hall.

Summary by Fr Giacomo Costa SJ
Fr Costa began by affirming how Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato sì, is proving to be more than just a text, but truly rooted in the realities discussed at the Synod. This is being demonstrated by the way “everything is connected,” he said.

Amazon Synod: The Church’s commitment against violations of the rights of peoples
Summarizing what was discussed in the Synod Hall on Monday morning, Fr Costa listed several themes: dialogue with indigenous people, and the importance of participating in their lives, protecting local peoples’ rights and safeguarding nature. He said the need to remain rooted in the ground of experience coming from local territory was also mentioned.

The Synod Fathers discussed the challenges to local ministries, he said, how to inculturate the liturgy, and how to respond better to the needs and cultures of the people. The Eucharist, continued Fr Costa, was presented as “a source of unity and light.” Participants at the General Congregation, he said, confirmed we are “custodians of nature,” and stressed the integral and ecological focus of the Synod.

Participants at the morning session, said Fr Costa, affirmed the Church’s role of protecting and promoting the local people, of accompanying those without a voice. A suggestion was put forward to set up an international ecclesiastical observatory on the rights of indigenous people. Some Synod participants confirmed the importance of the Church integrating her perspectives into practices concerning human rights.

Fr Costa continued his summary of the proceedings that included the topic of “circular economic models”: access to food that respects the environment, and has a positive impact on local populations. These models can be achieved through an “integral education” that helps promote an equitable consumption of goods, he reported.

Not just education, but information too, was a topic that came under discussion, said Fr Costa. According to Synod participants, the “communication culture” is growing rapidly in the Amazon Region, and we need to “bridge the communications gap.” This means training local indigenous communicators, and establishing communications networks based on community and solidarity.

Ms Josianne Gauthier, Secretary General CIDSE (Canada)
CIDSE, the “Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité,” an umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America. She began her presentation by saying how CIDSE has spent over 50 years supporting communities, including in the Amazon, promoting integral ecology and defending human rights.

We are here at the Synod, she said, in a “listening position,” to hear stories and to begin work on how to support these messages outside the Synod “in political spaces.” The task of CIDSE, she explained, is to ”take struggles and turn them into political pressure.”

Ms Gauthier said those of us who live “from the benefits of the tragic exploitation” that takes places in that part of the world, have a “heightened responsibility.” We need to recognize that “our well-being and comfort comes at a cost,” she said: human life, security, peace, and ecological justice.

Ms Gauthier concluded saying we need to promote consciousness and concentrate on “doing what we can after the Synod to transmit these messages.”

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti, S.D.B. of Bamaccora (Venezuela)
Bishop Divassòn Cilveti is a Salesian. The Salesians, he said, have been working in the south of Venezuela since 1957. Reflections after the Second Vatican Council led to a new approach that began in 1976, he said: developing new forms of evangelization that support people and help them “take control of their own destinies.” Priests, laypeople, men and women religious, are all involved in this mission and have developed criteria based on participating in people’s live, and respecting communities, educating them, and assisting them with projects, he said.

In order to evangelize effectively, said Bishop Cilveti, we need to be familiar with people’s feelings, to understand what they think. Speaking in terms of his own experience, he said people “want to follow Jesus Christ, they want to change.” The Gospel has brought new concepts like mercy and forgiveness, he said, and these become the keys to solving many problems and conflicts.

The Bishop concluded by describing the Church in his region as a “young Church with different features,” one that helps people to help themselves.

Bishop Carlo Verzeletti of Castanhal (Brazil)
Bishop Carlo Verzeletti comes from Castanhal, in Brazil. His diocese comprises over 1,000 villages beside the mouth of the Amazon River. His priests, he added, “are few and aging.” They are able to meet people only a few times a year when they visit to celebrate Mass. This “running from one place to another,” does not offer the “presence and proximity, the support and comfort,” the people desire, he said.

The priest becomes the “distributor of the sacraments,” he added. This is why Bishop Verzeletti supports the ordination of “viri probati,” approved married men, “so that the Eucharist can become a reality that is closer to people and communities.” These would not be “second-rate priests,” he added, but men who are formed accordingly, “devoting their lives to others.”

Bishop Verzetti said his region has been severely affected by colonization and globalization: the result is secularization, religious indifference, and the influence of the Pentecostal churches. “Popular piety cannot resist the impact,” he said.

As an example, Bishop Verzetti said there are 750 Pentecostal churches in his city alone, and only 50 Catholic churches.

He has ordained 110 Permanent Deacons, he said, and works at empowering laypeople, “but with difficulty.” Were the Pope to consider the reality of “viri probati,” concluded the Bishop, “we have worthy people who could be ordained priests.”

José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal (Venezuela)
Mr José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal is Coordinator of COICA, the Congress of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin. His organization represents 4 million indigenous people spread over 4,500 communities in all six countries of the Amazon Region.

The Catholic Church, he said in his presentation, is the only organization calling for the world “to wake up.” Speaking as an indigenous person, he said, “we will disappear if we don’t do something.”

The presence of COICA at the Synod, said Mr Mirabal, is to support those who are struggling to protect the land, to stop the “violent invasion of development projects,” including hydroelectric schemes, uncontrolled mining, and the agri-food industry. He spoke of those who are imprisoned and murdered for speaking out against land grabbing, or while trying to stop the pollution of the air and water.

Mr Mirabal concluded by inviting the media to help disseminate these messages.

A question about statistics
The first question was addressed to Dr Paolo Ruffini and concerned statistics from the Amazon Region. The Prefect of the Vatican Communications Dicastery responded that, while pre-Synod preparations had produced statistical materials, this is not a study conference that requires statistical data. The Church is reflecting on “how to serve the Amazon though pastoral activities,” he said.

The Synod is not about “percentages,” he added, but about “how the Universal Church relates to a territory.” And a territory is best described by those who live there, said Dr Ruffini.

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti confirmed that studies on the Church in the Amazon Region have been made by REPAM, and that this data was collected and published in preparation for the Synod.

A question about sovereignty
Responding to a question on possible interference in the Synod by local governments in the Amazon Region, Bishop Carlo Verzeletti re-affirmed the Church’s respect for the sovereignty of Brazil, in particular. The Church does not give “technical solutions,” he added, but guidelines so that life and rights in the Amazon Region are respected. Resolving economic problems in Brazil doesn’t mean opening up areas in the Amazon that will improve the lives of the rich, but not “the lives of our people,” he said.

With regard to a meeting in the Vatican between the Vice President of Brazil and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, Dr Ruffini said it had “no influence on the Synod.” The meeting was about “diplomatic relations between States,” he said, and there was “no connection” with the Synod for the Amazon.

A question about future Pan-Amazonian organization
A question was asked about the possibility of setting up a future Pan-Amazonian organization after the Synod. It was confirmed that the topic had been raised in one of the small working groups, but there was a concern about multiplying too many organizations when the REPAM network already exists.

Ms Josianne Gauthier added that any form of collaboration is helpful when it comes to defending human rights. As long as there is “clarity of intention,” she said her organization would work with whatever structure is decided upon.

A question about viri probati
In connection with the ordination of approved married men, or “viri probati,” Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa stressed the desire of the Pope that “all issues” be discussed in order to discern appropriate solutions. Fr Costa confirmed there are “different positions” on this issue, but that “everyone is listening in a respectful way.”

Dr Ruffini added that while some may be in favour and others against, in the end it is not the Synod that decides. The Synod will eventually entrust its reflections to the Holy Father as “something that is still in progress.”

A question about Ecuador
Responding to a question about the ongoing violence in Ecuador, José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal said that what is happening throughout the region, “pains all of us.” There are so many challenges in search of solutions, he said.

Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti added that it is important to be aware of what is happening in these situations. We can only understand if we “look at the overall picture,” he said.

A question about Church investments
A question was asked regarding Church investments in projects in the Amazon Region. Fr Costa responded saying the Church has already disinvested and is disinvesting from certain products and companies.

Ms Josianne Gauthier added that disinvestment is a way by which the Church can show her “coherence with Laudato sì and integral ecology,” the connection between “words and actions.”

A question about the Church’s Amazonian face
The last question was about the kinds of changes that need to be made if the Church in the Amazon Region is truly to have an “Amazonian face.”

José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal responded by repeating that it is not up to the Synod to make decisions. He confirmed, however, that the Church “must reach out” and must be reflected in the realities of the local people. He admitted that the Church needs support, and needs to build greater unity with the indigenous people in some parts of the Amazon Region.
In order to make one another stronger, he concluded, we need to “walk together – even if it means going barefoot.”