October 15, Rome — The Pan-Amazon Synod approaches the midpoint of its work. Numerous opinions and proposals have been submitted to the full assembly. Synod Fathers now break into groups known as circoli minori (small circles) to discuss which proposals take priority.
Groups, divided by language, are also tackling the question of how to implement the major themes. An example of how implementation is translated from an idea into a concrete practice is: “What would an inculturated liturgy look like in actual practice?”
Paolo Ruffini, chief of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, opened Tuesday’s press briefing with a comment that the discussion of ecumenism expanded. An emphasis on education in general, not only a religious education, as well as bilingual education, enables full participation for the Amazonian people in the future. Ruffini explained that education is required for integral ecology, the inculturation of Christianity, and the wisdom of “reciprocity between humans and the earth.”
This reciprocity necessitates new ecologically friendly economic models “before it is too late.” The same ecological crisis is found, he said, in Meso-America, the Congo, and the forests of Asia as well as in the Amazonian territory. “It’s global,” said Ruffini.
Rev. Giacomo Costa, SJ detailed an evolution of synodality in the past 10 days of the Synod. He spoke of a “new relationality,” a “new style” of Church that can be achieved with ministerial teams and the promotion of interculturality. All these are a vision to connect dioceses.
A formal ecclesial structure for the Amazon area was discussed. Such a structure could unite Amazonian dioceses in a permanent episcopal organization to implement the post-synod stage. Rev. Costa’s comments seem to presume that Pope Francis’ post-synodal exhortation will baptize this new ecclesial structure. Ideas for working together for integral theological human learning are needed, he said.
Another suggestion outlined by Costa was to canonize Amazonian martyrs. No list of names was given—other religions and other spiritualities have their own martyrs, thus the Church, it was said, needs to canonize Amazon martyrs to “help fertilize” the Faith in the Amazon region.
Dr. Marcia Maria Oliveira is a specialist on Amazonian culture and an expert in the history of the Church in the Amazon. Oliveira spoke of the connection between migration and human smuggling, particularly of women for sexual exploitation. The need to address migration and trafficking is “essential to our pastoral mission.”
Responding to questions from the press about migration, Olivera said, “We cannot understand the Amazon” without knowledge of various migrant conditions. She referred to paragraphs 63-79 of the Instrumentum Laboris, which describe migratory flows from country to country and displacement within countries. Some migrants are simply passing through the Amazon region, others look for homes and work in the Amazon territories. Olivera made note of “great powers” who once received migrants but now have immigrant restrictions. This puts pressure on some Amazon regions where migrants move south rather than north. And some indigenous people move to cities, “pushed (out) by economic projects” in their home territory.
Oliveira connected the pastoral concerns for migrants to women in ministry. Traditionally, Amazonian cultures place great value on welcoming and attending to basic needs, work done by women. Such women do concrete work but have no title in ministry. “It’s not a fight for power” she said, “women are already an important part of the Church in Latin America.” An interesting cultural feature mentioned by Dr. Oliveira was that “women are custodians of seed” for new planting, a critical role for sustaining life.
Bishop Eugenio Coter responded to the—now daily—questions from the press regarding the synod’s evolving discussion of the ordination of married men, under the tent of scarce vocations and access to the sacraments in remote communities. Bishop Coter serves as apostolic vicar of Pando (Bolivia). He admitted that access to the Eucharist is an “important theme” and that it is a “common feeling of the entire synod that we address the question to the Pope.” He told the press, “It’s part of the solutions were are working on, more of a topic in the minor groups.” Bishop Coter reminded his audience that the pope did mention the concern on the flight to Rome from Panama in January.
The elephant in the room, the unasked question, is whether or not ordination of married men is regarded as necessary for the purposes of wide availability of the sacraments. Andrea Gagliarducci is a Vatican analyst who also writes The Monday Vatican. His most recent essay raises several crucial points:
If the Eucharist must be made available at all cost, then consideration must be given to married priests[’] ordination and women[’s] ordination, to have more people to consecrate and deliver communion.
But if the Eucharist is instead considered a gift that Jesus gives via consecrated people, there is a need for a sacred order with its rules, and before that, a specific vocation to the priesthood.
Bishop Raphael Alfonso Escudero Lopez-Brea touched gently on the question of married priests and associated ministers. He is a Spanish bishop appointed to the Andes region, in the middle of the Amazon. He praised the synod’s brotherly manner of “walking together and listening to the people of the Amazon.” But he also stressed that the Church must insure “announcement of Jesus, son of God, our Savior, [and] to make Him known so they [people of the Amazon] can be impregnated” [with the Faith].
Thomas Reese, S.J. asked the panel how an inculturated Mass would differ from the Roman Rite. Bishop Escudero responded that the synod has been discussing this question. He explained that it couldn’t be much different because the “Church has received from the Lord what is essential.” The different rites through the history of the Church “do not have an impact on what is essential…but to enrich with symbols, ornaments.”
An uncomfortable question was posed near the end of the briefing. What of the indigenous practices of infanticide and the euthanasia of elderly persons who are no longer self-sufficient? What is the Church’s response? The questioner remarked that the indigenous people wonder why white people are so cruel as to “chain their spirits in their bodies.”
Dr. Maria Olivera admitted the issue is “complex.” That when speaking “about cultural aspects, it is sensitive—what is exactly happening…what is sacred, and how that takes dimension.” On the question of infanticide, “It’s the dynamic of the survival of the whole group, resources…are elderly capable of following the tribe, migration? … I’ve not studied specifically these issues” she replied.
The synod meets in small circles for the next two days.
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