October 16—The general congregation of the Pan-Amazonian Synod was suspended for a day to permit participants to work in circoli minori, small groups divided by language. Following 10 days of statements, interventions, and presentations by invited experts, the Synod Fathers now assemble in groups of 7 to 12 people. It’s in this format that differences are aired and discussed.
The circoli minori grapple with varying positions, poking and prodding one another to find points of agreement and resistance. Their work is added to a draft document, which will be further refined in the third week when a final document is presented to Pope Francis. This process deflects any prediction of an exact outcome.
The daily press briefing by Synod Fathers and Vatican communication officers began with a declaration of fraternity. The panel of communications personnel and invited briefers assured the journalists that “people were very much engaged” and “willing to go beyond personal positions.” The description of compatibility within the synod included an easy familiarity with Pope Francis who “drinks coffee with us, who listens to us.”
Dr. Paolo Ruffini began the session with a listing of familiar major themes for discussion: “Our Common home” as a paradigm; the importance of the Amazon for all believers; the prophetic mission of the Church; the problem of access to sacraments and to education; social issues of migration and multinational engagements.
Ruffini said synod members have realized they must have a spiritual, apostolic approach, not one of canon law; a “new approach” that “looks at the tree, not the individual branches.” In this spirit, the “vision is not lost.”
Giacomo Costa, SJ, the Vatican’s communications secretary, was similarly poetic. Synod Fathers share a “qualitative leap…this isn’t a parliament and a vote; there are spiritual dynamics,” he said. To illustrate this dimension, Father Costa recalled the biblical blind man who threw off his cloak to follow Jesus. “Throw away your safety for trust and faith. Leave space for the Spirit.” He continued with a warning, “If we fall into in conflicts and details we are trapped, we lose sight of the deeper reality.”
Invited briefers made opening statements, and questions from the press were held until all had spoken.
Ms. Yesica Patiachi Tayori is a bilingual teacher and a member of the indigenous pastoral ministry of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Maldonado (Peru).
“I want to share with you what I told the synod: Indigenous people are guardians of the forest,” Ms. Tayori said. “Taking care of our common home is everyone’s responsibility.” She detailed the particular distress of her people, including loss of language, discrimination, the feeling of becoming “objects in a showcase.” Migration and human trafficking also afflict their region and “no one, no journalists” want to tell their story. She traveled to the synod because “we want the Holy Father to help us…let us live in self-determination.”
Ms. Tayori related a poignant story from her grandmother’s era. Thousands of Harakbut Indians were killed and their corpses polluted the river; hundreds of people downstream died from the contaminated water. A Dominican missionary knew of their plight, “He had known about the situation and came to fight for and with us, without him I would not be here today,” she said. “We want this synod to have results on human consciences,” she said.
Bishop Wellington Tadeu de Queiroz Vieira of Brazil carefully stressed the fraternal nature of a synod. “As you know the synod is an arena for dealing with different opinions: From the outside it may look as though we are fighting, but it’s brotherly environment of brotherly affection.” Bishop Vieira continued, “I’m not a spokesperson, but many share my position…on the topic of a reduction of [numbers] ordained ministers…so our reflection considers the Amazon but of course it pertains to the whole Church.”
The soft-spoken bishop told the press, “I don’t see celibacy as a main problem, the problem is we need more ordained. There is a lack of holiness and scandals which prevent people from following the path [to vocation].”
Bishop Vieira noted the necessity of living with people, to grow close to them, but that often “we don’t portray the beauty of Christ, we drive people away…we need new paths, but paths cannot go beyond the path of holiness and conversion…I am convinced that if I lead a holy life young people looking for real values will cling to us…I mean by holiness, not a wrong idea of only looking at heaven, rather, living a simple life, of holiness, announcing gospel, we cannot lose sight of the power of transcendence.” His comments introduced a heretofore unreported perspective.
Bishop Vieira also addressed the unequal distribution of priests in the region which could be mitigated by better allocation. The reality, he observed, is a loss of missionary spirit. Fewer men today are willing to into these remote areas.
Other statements from the panel were similar to those outlined yesterday, primarily the role of women, extractive developments, and the urgency of ecological conversion.
Questions from the press became lively when Diane Montagna of LifeSiteNews asked Dr. Ruffini for information about the controversial statue that was the center of the ceremony last week in the Vatican Gardens. Montagna referred to a press briefing in which the naked pregnant statue was identified as the Virgin Mary, but an indigenous representative identified it as a pagan statue. “Can we settle the matter?” Montagna asked.
Dr. Ruffini replied, “Yes, we can get more information…I can tell you that some things in history are interpreted in different ways, it’s a statue that represents life, looking for paganism is looking for evil where there is none…I can let you know, we can get more information from REPAM [Red Ecclesial Panamazonia], one of the organizers.”
A member of the Spanish press inquired of the bishops on the panel, “What is a ministry appropriate to women? Do you approve of women [in the] diaconate?”
Bishop Vieira took her question. “Our communities couldn’t exist without women…in some cultures their value isn’t recognized. The issue of diaconate has been studied…in my experience, women do their work purely for love of Jesus, most women I know aren’t interested in this type of recognition.”
Pressed further by another correspondent, Bishop Pedro Jose Conti of Brazil said, “Things happen little by little, we find new paths, increasingly more spaces will be opened for women.”
Several journalists pondered Bishop Conti’s reply. Could his comment signal that a female diaconate should not be expected from this synod?