October 14, Rome—The second week of the Pan-Amazonian Synod opened with continued stress on now familiar themes: ordination of married men (viri probati, men of proven virtue), defense of the regional ecology, and inculturation of indigenous spirituality.
The Synod opened on October 6th and will conclude on October 27th. The 185 participants, most of whom are from Central and South America, spent the first week offering their responses to the Intstumentum Laboris, (IL) the Synod’s working document.
Monday’s press briefing followed the morning session of the general assembly of the Synod. Selected members of the Synod brief journalists on the morning sessions, after which press correspondents may ask questions.
Among the issues explored in the morning general session, said Msgr. Carlo Verzeletti of Brazil, was an urgent need to lift the Church’s discipline on celibate priesthood:
In the synod I support and continue to support the importance of being able to ordain married men for the priesthood, so the Eucharist may become a reality that is closer to people and communities, so that these married men can, in fact, accompany the lives of the peoples, the lives of their communities.
Msgr. Verzeletti has served in the Amazonian region for twenty years. Despite the work of heroic early missionaries, Verzeletti believes the region as suffered from “400 years of colonization” and continues to be oppressed by globalization. He told journalists, “I asked in the session that the pope look with affection on this idea, ordained married men. Look at the Eastern Church model.”
In contrast to this proposal for married priests, Synod participant Fr. Martín Lasarte Topolanski offers a different experience. Fr. Lasarte is an Uruguayan priest invited by Pope Francis to the Synod; he opposes proposals for married priests, the “viri probati” advanced in the IL. Months before the Synod opened, Fr. Lasarte wrote against clericalizing of the laity. He pointed to the 16th-century work of St. Francis Xavier in Japan. Priests were martyred and expelled, yet 200 years later “hidden churches” deprived of priests were still baptizing and catechizing children. The community awaited the return of priests who would recognized by their celibacy, a statue of Mary, and a greeting from the Papa in Rome.
Fr. Lasarte served in Angola where he witnessed remarkable Catholic communities that had not seen a priest in years, yet, they faithfully prayed, catechized, and served the poor. The same is true in remote areas of India and the Congo. The solution to the problem of few priests, he said, was identified by Pope Francis in Evangelii gaudium: “Many places are experiencing a dearth of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. This is often due to a lack of contagious apostolic fervour in communities which results in a cooling of enthusiasm and attractiveness. Wherever there is life, fervour and a desire to bring Christ to others, genuine vocations will arise” (par 107).
During the briefing Msgr. Verzeletti also noted a point raised last week regarding the success of Pentecostalism in the Amazon region. He defended the Church’s lack of comparative progress, “Pentecostals settle a pastor in their committees to live with the people, to know them” while a priest might visit their village four times a year. But it was not noted that Pentecostals do not offer the indigenous an inculturated spirituality.
The subject of inculturation is prickly. Last week there was discussion of the necessity to avoid “imposing” or “colonizing” the people whose own eco-spirituality has something to offer Catholicism. A creeping syncretism has been decried by some bishops whose concerns are also not found in the Instrumentum laboris. A press bulletin of the Synod session on October 7th reported that the idea of an “Amazon Catholic rite” had been floated. The movement toward an ecologically-sensitive spirituality is seen by some Catholics as pantheistic in nature.
Approximately 10% of the Pan-Amazon are indigenous tribes that collectively speak 200 different languages. There are no clear figures on what portion of the indigenous are Catholic. During the briefing press members asked if there had been a comprehensive study to determine how many Catholics live in the Amazon territory. “It would be important to know,” said one member of the press. Thus far the only statistics are about general religious involvement in various denominations. The two replies from the panel insisted it wasn’t about Catholic numbers but about integral ecology, and not about statistics but how the Church relates to the region.
A Spanish correspondent asked the panel, “What is Pope Francis’ main concern for the Synod?” He was told that the panel could not disclose that, but that there had been interventions both for and against married priests.
Panel member Josianne Gauthier, Secretary General Of CIDSE, an alliance of Catholic social justice organizations, gave an impassioned explanation of ecological injustice, another theme for the Synod. “We in North America and Europe,” she said, “must realize our comforts come at a very high cost. It’s an uncomfortable truth and we bear a heavy responsibility to act with urgency.” Guathier believes that the North enjoys safety and prosperity at the cost of insecurity and exploitation of the Amazon areas. CIDSE is an influential international NGO that opposes “systemic injustice, inequity, destruction of nature and promoting just and environmentally sustainable alternatives.”
The CIDSE hopes to implement Laudato si, for which, Gauthier said, she is “very thankful.” In that 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis calls for an “integral ecology” as part of the “care for our common home.” Gauthier admitted that while her concern for “extractive”development projects had not been discussed in the Synod’s general session today, in some the break-out periods the English and French groups discussed divestment to be coherent with Laudato Si.
A member of the Brazilian press questioned if Brazil is actually violating human rights by developing improvements in the region. Previous sessions had criticized the development of hydroelectric power and other infrastructure work. Msgr. Verzeletti said “the Church knows Brazil has sovereignty” but that the Church offered guidelines. “To solve problems you must open up new paths,” he said, “my region was destroyed.” There are reports that in sessions some participants have seen a balance, with recognition there are good effects that come with development, electricity, clean water and modern clinics and hospitals. Yet in official press briefings these points have not been reported.
Venezuelan José Gregorio Díaz Mirabal, President of the Congress of Organizations of Indigenous of the Amazon (COICA), added that his people and organizations needed “alliances to protect our people, this is why we are at the synod.” Six million people have fled Venezuela due to extreme inflation and poverty in recent years.
A press member from Peru asked, “What suggestion do you give to bishops? Should the Church change?” The panel responded that they do not make decisions, but instead share with Pope Francis their experiences in the form of a final document. Members of the panel reminded the press that it is after the Synod’s conclusion that the world will see what the Pontiff thinks of their recommendations.
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