October 21, Rome: The Pan-Amazonian Synod entered its third and final week today. The draft document, a compilation of proposals from 12 small discussion groups (known as circoli minori), will be kneaded into shape this week and presented as a final document to 184 bishops.
Immediately before the daily Vatican press briefing, assembled journalists learned that the controversial, naked fertility “Pachamama” statues (seen throughout Vatican precincts during the Synod) had been thrown into the Tiber. Two unidentified men entered the church early in the morning, removed what some have identified as idols, walked a block to the Ponte Sant’ Angelo, and tossed the statues into the Tiber River. Before questions could be asked about the wooden figures, the briefing followed its normal format with opening statements from the panel.
Dr. Paolo Ruffini, chief of Vatican communications, opened the presser with a notation that Cardinal Hummes, relator general of the Synod, presented to the Synod assembly the draft of the final document. Cardinal Hummes stressed to participants that the process of listening was not over. The draft of the Relatio (official document to present to the Pope) was now presented to them; however, throughout the week, there would be further discussion of content that could find its way into the final Relatio. On Friday afternoon, during the 15th general congregation of the Synod, the final draft will be read. After a day to pray and reflect, the Synod Fathers gather again on Saturday afternoon and their votes on the Relatio will be recorded.
Dr. Ruffini also said that members heard presentation in Synod hHall today by climate expert Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. In June 2015, Schellnhuber gave an address at the same location at the launch of Laudato si’, concluding with the statement, “The care for our planet therefore does not have to evolve into a tragedy of the commons. It may well turn into a story of a great transformation in which the opportunity was seized to overcome the profound inequalities.” An atheist and advocate of population control, Schellnhuber was made a ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the summer of 2015 by Pope Francis.
The first member of the briefing panel to be introduced was Ms. Marcivanna Rodrigues Paiva, who is a representative of a Brazilian ethnic group that migrated into urban centers from their Amazon villages after an earthquake. Her ethnic group speaks sixteen different languages and resettlement is difficult; they suffer discrimination in the cities. Paiva described the importance of women’s contribution, the necessity reconstruction of their lands using only sustainable methods, and how pleased she is to be in Rome at the Synod where her people’s voices are respected.
Journalists heard more in this vein from Bishop Domenico Pompili and Fr. Dario Bondi, the latter a missionary priest in Colombia. Large corporations, they stated, particularly companies engaged in extraction of gold and other minerals have destroyed territories and polluted land and river alike. Indigenous people have suffered from mercury poisoning and other contaminants. Each described efforts their organizations have made, as part of the universal Church, to combat Amazonian degradation.
The press was most interested in the comments of Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria. On the testy topic of the ordination of viri probati (virtuous married men) as a remedy for the dearth of priests in the Pan-Amazonian region, the Cardinal described his satisfaction with the success of the permanent diaconate in his diocese. “I am in favor of this” he said. “I am here to listen” he added, in reference to the pastoral challenges in the Amazon territories where he “spent two weeks” via listening. Of the Amazon, he noted, “we mustn’t say it’s the lungs of the world, but it is important.” In contrast to earlier panelists, Schoenborn did not elaborate on viri probati terminology. Instead he was careful to use the phrase “permanent diaconate.” Later, during the question segment of the briefing Schoenborn underscored the need for indigenous vocations.
The Cardinal further stated, “Giving voice to these people is a special focus for Pope Francis.” The Synod, he said, has given bishops an opportunity to think about the pastoral challenges in the Amazon region.
As soon as s the panel completed their statements, journalists pressed Dr. Ruffini for the Vatican’s response to the video of the now infamous-wooden statues dunked in the Tiber. Ruffini said he had only now heard the report as he entered the Sala Stampa (Vatican Press Office). “It’s too soon to expect us to have a statement,” he said. “I can say that stealing… it’s a gesture of bravado. It’s not in the spirit of dialogue.”
Two other interesting exchanges closed out the briefing. First, an Australian inquired of Cardinal Schoenborn about the level of criticism leveled at Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II during the Synods on the Family “Why do you think there is so much animosity toward Pope Benedict XVI?” A Reuters correspondent followed with the charge that, in fact, there was much criticism of a Pope Francis by “young people on the internet.” These “unqualified” critics “even called the pope the Anti-Pope!”
Cardinal Schonboern, in reply, observed that he had lived through many pontificates. Criticism, he noted, is not unusual. But, he assured the room, he had “never seen the slightest” criticism from Francis of his predecessors. “Every Pope has his own story… it’s very clear to me to be loyal to the pope, full stop.”
The second exchange concerned the extraction of gold in sections of the Amazon. Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., asked the panel if the Church, in this synod, had considered renouncing gold. Would the Church, he asked, cease using golden vessels in churches and decline to marry couples with golden rings? It would send a message that the Church opposes mineral extraction which destroyed the lands of indigenous people of the Amazon. Two members of the panel mumbled a mild agreement, yes, it would send a message.
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