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Pope Francis greeted people during the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 8.
Pope Francis greeted people during the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 8.
Photo Credit: Vatican Media

Seeking new pathways for the Church

First synod talks looked at climate, priests, inculturation

VATICAN CITY — Climate change, water resources, inculturation and indigenous practices were among the topics discussed during the first afternoon session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

Pope Francis walked in a procession at the start of the first session of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 7. The procession to the synod hall followed a prayer service in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Photo Credits: Paul Haring | Catholic News Service
A few presentations also focused on the question of ordaining married “viri probati,” or men of proven virtue, as one possible way to help Catholics access the sacraments in very remote locations.

During the general sessions of the Oct. 6-27 synod, bishops have a maximum of four minutes to talk about one topic treated by the synod’s working document. The Vatican press office published a general summary of the different topics discussed during the closed-door session Oct. 7.

A few speeches touched on the role of “viri probati,” the press office summary said, adding that offering more frequent access to the sacraments where there was a lack of priests was a legitimate need. However, the summary said, such a provision could not be part of changing the essential nature of the priesthood and celibacy.

A different suggestion was to have vocational programs for young indigenous men in order to promote evangelization in remote areas so that there would not be “first-class Catholics” who have easy access to the Eucharist and “second-class Catholics” who go without the sacrament, sometimes even for two years at a time.

Another topic was the need to avoid the forms of “colonialism” that had characterized early missionary efforts, it said.

Cultural identities in the Amazon should be preserved since every culture makes its contribution to the “catholicity” of the Church, which is built on respect and complementarity, the summary said.

Synod fathers recalled St. John Paul II’s teachings that Christ is able to reach and “animate” the heart of every culture; some described the church as being like a complex ecosystem with “wonderful spiritual biodiversity” expressed in so many different communities, cultures, forms of religious life and ministries.

Other presentations focused on indigenous practices, which, when they are not tied to superstitious beliefs, are looked upon with “benevolence” so long as they may become in tune with “the true liturgical spirit,” the Vatican summary said.

A synod member, it said, suggested collecting and sharing the different “inculturated celebrations” indigenous communities use with the sacraments of baptism, marriage and priestly ordination. Perhaps there might even be a way to establish on an experimental basis — and after appropriate theological, liturgical and pastoral study — an Amazonian Catholic rite for living and celebrating faith in Christ, someone suggested.

Don’t fear what is new, Cardinal Hummes says

With its mandate to seek “new pathways for the Church and for an integral ecology,” the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon follows Pope Francis’ call for the church to move forward without fear, Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes told participants.

Speaking at the synod’s opening session Oct. 7, Cardinal Hummes identified key issues for the synod based on consultations held in Church jurisdictions in the nine Amazonian countries over the past year and a half.

Near the end of this speech, he added a comment not in the prepared text, reminding participants that “ecclesial communion is constructed and preserved with Peter and under Peter, with the pope and under the guidance of the pope. That is what the Catholic faith says.”

Introducing the themes of the synod, the cardinal said that the Church must turn outward and seek new pathways, as well as ways of inserting itself into Amazonian cultures. Synod participants also must consider new ways of providing pastoral care, possibly developing new ministries, in a place with too few Church workers.

“The Church needs to throw open her doors, knock down the walls surrounding her and build bridges, going out into the world and setting out on the path of history,” Cardinal Hummes said, underscoring the pope’s emphasis on a missionary Church.

The Church remains loyal to its tradition not by remaining “linked to the past,” but by recognizing its “living history,” in which each generation “enriches this tradition … with their own experience and understanding of faith in Jesus Christ,” Cardinal Hummes said.

Cardinal Hummes invited the synod participants “to be guided by the Holy Spirit during these days.” Invoking Mary, Queen of Amazonia, he called for prayer, meditation, ecclesial communion and a synodal spirit.

Echoing the theme of service from the opening Mass Oct. 6, he said, “This synod is like a table that God has prepared for his poor, and He is asking us to serve at that table.”

Pope: Synod is a time to listen, discern, not despise

The Synod of Bishops for the Amazon is a time of reflection, dialogue and listening to the needs and sufferings of indigenous people, Pope Francis said.

“The Holy Spirit is the primary actor in the synod. Please, do not kick Him out of the room,” the pope said, opening the gathering’s first working session Oct. 7.

Speaking off-the-cuff, the pope said he was saddened to hear a “sarcastic” remark from a synod participant about an indigenous man wearing a feathered headdress who presented the offertory gifts at the synod’s opening Mass Oct. 6.

Instead of becoming a series of reductive discussions that only undermine “the poetry” of indigenous people and their cultures, he said, the synod is a way for the Church to walk with them “under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

In his speech, the pope said it was important that the Church stand with the people of the Amazon and steer clear of ideologies and “ready-made programs that attempt to ‘discipline’ the Amazonian peoples, discipline their history and their culture.”

Ideologies, he said, are a “dangerous weapon” that can lead the Church toward a pretentious attitude that reduces the understanding of indigenous people and their cultures to “categories of ‘isms’” and prejudiced name-calling.

Carol Glatz, Barbara Fraser and Junno Arocho Esteves contributed to this report.


Pope at Synod Mass: Fear, status quo smother fire of God’s love

By Junno Arocho Esteves | Catholic News Service

Pope Francis celebrated the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Oct. 6.
Photo Credits: Cristian Gennari | pool
VATICAN CITY — The Catholic Church’s mission in the world is to spread the fire of God’s love and must not be limited to the “‘ordinary maintenance’ of those who already know the Gospel,” Pope Francis said.

Celebrating the opening Mass of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon Oct. 6, the pope said, “Jesus did not come to bring a gentle evening breeze, but to light a fire on the earth.”

“If everything continues as it was, if we spend our days content that ‘this is the way things have always been done,’ then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo,” he said.

Among the thousands filling St. Peter’s Basilica were members of various indigenous communities from the Amazon region. Some wore traditional headpieces while others painted their faces with ornate designs, proudly displaying the artistry of their cultures.

Several were chosen to present the offertory gifts during the Mass, solemnly walking up to the altar, some barefoot, and reverently bowing after presenting the gifts of bread and wine to the pope.

Jair Reis, one of about 1,200 Maragua Indians living in Brazil’s Amazonas state, attended the Mass. He told Catholic News Service he has received threats from miners who have entered his people’s lands illegally.

“We want our voices to be heard,” he said. “Not for me, but for all the indigenous people of Brazil.”

Jeremias Oliveira dos Santos, a Mura Indian also from Amazonas, said, “We need the support of the synod.” A large mining company has invaded the Mura lands. He hopes the synod will help call attention especially to the need to demarcate indigenous territories. His people’s demarcation is still in process, but Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his government will not give another centimeter to indigenous peoples.

“We are living peoples” who depend on the forest and rivers for survival, he said. “People living along the entire course of the Amazon are threatened.”

In the homily, the pope reflected on the day’s second reading from St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy.

The Holy Spirit, which “is not a spirit of timidity, but of prudence,” stokes the flames of God’s gift, he said.

“Some believe that prudence is a ‘customs control’ virtue that stops everything so as not to not make mistakes,” the pope said departing from his prepared remarks. “No. Prudence is a Christian virtue, a virtue of life. It is the virtue of governance. And he has given us this spirit of prudence.”

Citing the catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis said that prudence should not be confused with fear; it is a “virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”

“Prudence is not indecision; it is not a defensive attitude,” he said. “It 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.”

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