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The Amazon synod, by the numbers

There are 185 synod fathers participating in the Amazon synod. More than 145 of the members of the 2019 synod come from, or serve in, places in South and Central America.

Pope Francis meets an indigenous man during a prayer service at the start of the first session Synod of Bishops for the Amazon at the Vatican Oct. 7, 2019. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Vatican City, Oct 11, 2019 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- The Vatican’s Amazon synod began this week. Over 200 people are gathered in the Vatican to discuss the life and ministry of the Church in the Pan-Amazonian region, an area surrounding the Amazon River which spans nine countries.

Here are a few facts about the Amazon synod, as told by the numbers:

2, 260, 87,000

Pope Francis announced a meeting of the Synod of Bishops to discuss matters of importance to the Pan-Amazonian Region in 2017. The two years since that have been spent planning for this month’s gathering.

According to the head of the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, around 260 events were held in the Amazon to prepare for the synod. Most of those events were listening and consultation sessions, attended by approximately 87,000 people.

147, 22, 2/3

The synod’s working document, or Instrumentum laboris, guides the process. The document is 147 paragraphs long. According to Baldisseri, it is the product of listening to the thoughts, questions, and concerns of people in the Amazon. He said it is a starting point for discussion.

The document is controversial, and some Church leaders have criticized its theological approach. Pope Francis himself, at the synod’s opening session, called the document a “martyr text destined to be destroyed.”

How much of the Instrumentum laboris gets incorporated into the final document depends on the work of the assembly, which will produce a final document of recommendations to give to Pope Francis.

The actual synod assembly is taking place in Vatican City over 22 days. The synod began with an opening Mass said by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica Oct. 6 and continues through Oct. 27, concluding with a closing Mass.

During those 22 days, the synod’s bishops, experts, observers, and other advisers are meeting inside the Vatican’s Synod Hall to hear presentations, and to work in small groups that discuss aspects of the assembly’s Instrumentum laboris.

The synod’s final document, essentially a set of recommendations to Pope Francis, is approved by the synod fathers toward the end the synod. It will require a 2/3 majority to pass.

185, 145, 34, 20

There are 185 synod fathers participating in the Amazon synod. A synod father is the name given to the bishops, or in some cases, priests and religious brothers, who make up the voting members of a synod assembly. More than 145 of the members of the 2019 synod come from, or serve in, places in South and Central America.

Women are also participating in the synod in the capacity of auditors or experts. Baldisseri said last week that the 34 women is a record number to participate in a synod. Of  the 34 women, 20 are members of religious orders.

50, 438,373, 134,435, 10,000, Zero

Baldisseri has proposed to make a “symbolic gesture” of commitment to ecological friendliness by buying bonds that would reforest 50 hectares (nearly 124 acres) of land in the Amazon basin.

This purchase would be, he said, to offset the CO2 emissions caused by the synod, of which it is calculated that 438,373kg is caused by the air travel of participants in the assembly, and 134,435kg by other emission-causing activities, such as the use of energy, water, and transportation in Rome.

The cost of the 50 hectares is “very low,” Baldisseri said – just 10,000 euros.

This and other initiatives, including the use of glass and metal water bottles, along with biodegradable cups instead of plastic, are intended to make it a “synod at ‘Impact Zero,’” Baldisseri said.

2,400,000, 34,000,000, 79+26+3

The Amazon River basin, most of which is covered by the Amazon rainforest, encompasses 2.4 million square miles, mostly in Brazil, but also in the countries of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, and Suriname.

According to statistics provided by the Vatican, due to large migration from forest villages, now an estimated 70 to 80% of the Pan-Amazonian population, around 34 million people, live in cities. Because of this, many cities in the Amazon face urban crowding and lack of infrastructure and resources, making urban poverty one of the major issues facing the region, and one of the many topics to be addressed over the next three weeks.

There are 79 Catholic dioceses, 26 apostolic vicariates, and three prelatures in the Amazon basin. The apostolic vicariates and prelatures are supported financially by the Pontifical Mission Societies, which is under the jurisdiction of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.


As with any major international event, the synod takes a sum of money to prepare for and to conduct. Expenses include international and domestic transportation, lodging, food, personnel, and interpreters, among many others. Information about how much money has been spent has not been made public. Both the Vatican press office and the office of the Synod of Bishops declined to provide that information to CNA.

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  1. It was pointed out by Robert Royal that statistics as shown here place the vast majority of Amazonians in cities and towns. Few truly atavistic indigenous are worshiping Pachamama. Rather I’ll wager that it’s the enlightened clergy and Laity taken, agog with high flown social anthropological musing who have incited worship of the transgender god goddess of the Amazon. We wonder those of us who hold fast to Apostolic Tradition and the heroic missionary past [although real missionaries do exist as has been my experience in Malawi and Tanzania] whether a deadening apocalypse of faith is occurring. Although events show there is no longer room for wonder. Editor Olson perhaps in visionary moment referred to like Zombies in his Sunday liturgical commentary.

    • My reference to Editor Olson’s Zombies wasn’t accurate since the editor referred to Lepers considered the living dead while I had “the enlightened clergy and Laity taken, agog with high flown social anthropological musing” who suffer a “deadening apocalypse of faith”. Not that they are believers of the occult rather patronizing cognoscenti. What they seem to favor is actually a demythologizing of Catholicism explaining everything away to natural causes as in Naturalism. The obvious religious interest then would be a turn toward green issues like plastic straws floating on the high seas or the plight of the Noble Savage who possesses a treasure of knowledge in the how to of harmonious encounter with Nature.

  2. As for just one of the numbers, four points:

    First, purchase of bonds to reforest 124 acres of (likely non-threatened and therefore, only, very “low-cost”?) real estate in the Amazon basin (1/20,000th of the Amazon’s total acreage) replicates the “triple bottom-line policy” in at least a few corporations and, equally important, yes, is SYMBOLIC: as a possible reminder not of Rousseau’s noble savage, but of early Christians (!) who refused to surrender an equally-trivial pinch of ash at a statue of the deified Roman Emperor.

    Second, regarding corporate policy, the final synod message should give fair CREDIT to examples of corporate/private responsibility where these exist, e.g. environmental policy acts, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the public/private/global Nature Conservancy, etc., (all however inadequate), rather than still proclaiming that the world is a “giant landfill” awaiting neo-Marxist disdain in a red hat.

    Third, contamination of ecological science with a THROWBACK into nature worship should be explicitly rejected (Pope Francis says “destroyed”) by the synod, not implicitly set aside to possibly rise Phoenix-like (another myth!) from the ashes, as a pivotal footnote to future documents.

    Fourth, rather than only looking nostalgically back to the time of primeval nature, the synod fathers should look fully forward, teaching (!) that with the Incarnation we have entered SACRED TIME; that because Christ is the center and Lord of History (not merely the “center of the universe”) we are invited to a sanctified appreciation for each other and all of Creation—and (therefore!) that the dominant mythology of inevitable Progress/Technocracy is accountable to moral criteria (not what we CAN do, but what we OUGHT to do).

    Speaking of which, as recently as 1993 we were still taught that “THE RIGHT OF THE FAITHFUL [italics in the original] to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity [!] must always be respected”—by St. John Paul II, whoever that is (Veritatis Splendor, 113).

    • Footnotes to the above: (1) as a corporate “triple-bottom line,” Baldiserri’s original suggestion to offset synod of air travel CO2 emissions by tree planting is already the business model of Rick Steve’s global air travel empire; (2) the National Environmental Policy Act in bad-guy United States marks its 50th anniversary this year (1969-2019), and (3) the office of the United Nations Environmental Program is deliberately located in Nairobi rather than some more likely First World country, and (4) the Nature Conservancy calculates that 1/3 of needed CO2 offsets worldwide can be achieved by reforestation.

    • As you may well know Maximilien François Marie Isidore de Robespierre [wonderful those very Catholic names of old] as a lawyer had a sterling record in defending France’s poor underclass and apparently held in good stead by the pinnacle of upperclass Louis XVI. Biographers say Robespierre idolized Jacques Rousseau and slept with The Emile under his pillow. His efforts in politics initially noble until his inner Noble Savage once gained power Revolution faced with threat real and imaginary became the Savage purveyor of Terror. Historically men and their revolutions with noble intention become ignoble in power except for America and Ireland although neither were true revolutions rather wars for independence that retained tradition. Insofar as the Amazonia Synod it seems headed more toward internal revolution rather than independence from internal external iniquity.

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