UPDATES FROM THE SYNOD: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15

Another long read but one that gives, once again, an idea of what participants are saying in the General Congregations. Interestingly enough, we never have the identity of the speakers, as was once the modus operandi of General Congregations. You’ll find some fascinating proposals made by some of the participants regarding ministries, Canon Law and a few other things.

UPDATES FROM THE SYNOD: TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15

Synod participants are now meeting in small language groups. Their work will be presented to the assembly on Thursday afternoon, 17 October. The 11th and 12th General Congregations were held, respectively, on Tuesday morning and afternoon. Vatican News English-language reports on those sessions follows.

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 morning in the presence of 180 Synod Fathers and 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 that 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.

Pope Francis attended the 12th and final General Congregation of the Synod of Bishops on Tuesday afternoon. There were 173 Synod Fathers present.

The Amazonian world wants a Church that is allied to it. The Synod participants were reminded that the Church cannot speak of the poor while forgetting that the people are being crucified. That would be committing the sin of indifference, of omission. The Church is called to take up the cry of the people and of the earth, with the Gospel as her point of departure. This is the only way that she will assume the countenance of the Good Samaritan, will become missionary, capable of defending the least, without being afraid of the possibility of martyrdom. “It is better to die fighting for life, than to live for death,” as one person boldly stated. Thus the Synod continued its journey with a reminder that came up in several interventions to leave space for the abundant outpouring of the Holy Spirit rather than remaining closed in by functional solutions.

No to victimization, more co-responsibility
The populations in several of the more vulnerable regions of Amazon see themselves as having often been abandoned. One example are street children. The Church is called to help them to boost their self-esteem, to prevent them from becoming victims. In the end, this too is a risk because it is not solving the underlying problems. The region itself is undeniably a victim of abuse. What is truly necessary, it was noted, is to help the people themselves feel co-responsible for the construction of their own destiny. Believers, therefore, should be at the forefront of reclaiming their rights and assuming the obligation of living simply and hopefully as they journey toward the Kingdom promised by God to His children.

Fundamental contribution of science for the care of creation
The cry for help arising both from the people and from the earth involves a response from everyone. Believers are called to recognize the value of every creature. In fact, care for our Common Home is rooted in the Christian vocation. Action is a must on the part of individuals, communities and the world. A disinterested response is not possible. The future of entire generations is at stake. Protecting the Amazon from man-made destruction is a responsibility that touches all of humanity. Thus arose the appeal for a global response to climate change through the creation of an entity that would coordinate scientists and academics on the international level with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The hope was also expressed that greater work be undertaken in the field of education to sensitize the public regarding the care of our Common Home. It was even proposed that a new Canon – an ecological canon – be added to the Code of Canon Law that would treat the duties of Christians regarding the environment.

Putting out into the deep for a profound ecological conversion
The Church’s appeal is that of putting out into the deep, assuming the call for a profound ecological, synodal, and complete conversion to Christ and His Gospel. Walking together as a universal family is the invitation now being extended, within the conviction that the Amazon region does not belong to either the States or those who govern them. They are, rather, administrators and they must be accountability of what they are doing.

Through the daily gift of self made by the laity – consecrated or married – the Church as “sacrament” will be truly be formed in Amazonia, and will manifest the presence of Christ in that region. The need was expressed for a spirituality and a sacramental theology capable of allowing itself to be challenged by the lived experience of the communities and the gifts which they have already received. In this regard, the work already undertaken to coordinate efforts at the level of the local church (such as REPAM) was encouraged.

Symmetry of relations
An intercultural dialogue inspired by the Spirit of Pentecost was also highlighted. The invitation is to let go of the habit of imposing or of appropriating in order to embrace, what was termed a “symmetry of relations.” Humility was named as the attitude necessary for such a dialogue, founded on the common conviction of being co-responsible in the care of the Common Home. What is not possible alone can be done together. This requires the urgent construction of an inclusive “we” in which every person, although each is different, is necessary precisely because each is different. Thus the proposal for the creation of formative processes in intercultural dialogue in which theory can be tested by praxis.

The drama of priestless communities
Once again, the Synod participants were reminded about the realistic drama of the many communities, an estimated 70% in the Amazon region, that are visited by a priest only once or twice each year. They are deprived of the sacraments, of the Word of God, of those celebrations so central to the Christian life, such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. Some choose to frequent other Christian denominations so as not to remain in the condition of “sheep without a shepherd.” The universal Church cannot remain indifferent to this situation. Courageous choices, open to the voice of the Spirit, need to be made. It was also pointed out how fundamental it is to pray to the “Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest.” The pastoral care of the people of God is “first and foremost the concern of the Lord,” one Synod Father stated. Thus we must ask Him for the solutions.

Mission: in the footsteps of Jesus
It seems to some that the passion for mission has faded in the most remote areas. Some areas are heavily affected by the consequences provoked by large, unsustainable mining projects: illness (some of which are non-curable), drug trafficking, loss of identity. The international community needs to be exhorted not to invest in industrial projects that provoke harm and illness to the surrounding populations. In addition, the Amazon needs missionaries, for they are the only ones that the local populations still trust.

One such missionary effort that was spoken of is the precious contribution of itinerant missionary teams inspired by Jesus who visited village after village without stopping, without even having a place to stay. This provides a model for the Church always “on the move,” leaving behind a pastoral ministry meant to preserve the past to one that is creative. Certain structures, it was noted, are already obsolete and are in desperate need of updating. We can no longer be “obsolete” while the rest of the world moves ahead. The Gospel, in fact, always has something new to say. This too is a part of the ecological conversion. Openness to new forms of ministry means the incorporation of women and young people.

Migrants in the cities, torn from their territories
The Church is called to enter into the everyday lives of men and women – collegially and synodally. Once again, the topic of migrants – those uprooted and transplanted in the cities – was brought to the attention of those in the hall. There in the cities, they are forced to confront strong contrasting situations: political, social, economic, the existential void, exasperated individualism. Making the Gospel present there is a duty, and in this way, the city becomes a place for mission and sanctification.

It was therefore recommended that a specific pastoral ministry be promoted in this context which considers the indigenous migrants as the protagonist. The connection of the land with a particular people as expressed in the Bible helps understand the gravity of tearing a people away from their own territory. Defending their territory is of utmost importance both for the Amazonian biome and for the way of life of the local populations. In this sense, an “intransigent defense” of the indigenous peoples was recommended. This includes the right to their own culture, their own theology, their own religion – these are riches that need to be safeguarded in the interest of all humanity.
Finally, the problem of food was brought up. With its fresh water, the Amazon could contribute in reducing hunger in the world. In fact, 26% of the world’s fresh water comes from this region. Due to this fact, one person suggested that sustainable projects should be encouraged.

At the end of the 12th General Congregation, just before the part dedicated to spontaneous interventions, Pope Francis asked to speak. When he had finished, those in the hall watched a film about the floating hospital named after Pope Francis which was inaugurated this past August. This hospital serves two purposes: bringing the Gospel and health care to hundreds of thousands living in the Brazilian State of Parà along the Amazon River who can only be reached by river.