October 22, Rome: There was a discernible change in mood at the Sala Stampa today. Journalists are briefed on the daily progress by Vatican communications officers, plus selected Synod participants who make opening statements before entertaining questions from the press. Today there was a Stepford Wives shadow over the briefing.
At the opening, Rev. Giacomo Costa, S.J., the Communications Secretary, gave a short status update on the Synod document. Today is the last day for the circoli minori (small circles) to react to the draft of the final document, the Relatio, to make any new contributions, suggestions, exchanges. The draft now moves to the special secretaries and the rapporteur who produce the final document. Their work will be read to the Synod on Friday afternoon. The document comes to a vote on Saturday afternoon. Only bishops may vote. In prior synods the document required a 2/3 majority to confirm.
Selected Synod clergy and “expert” visitors were introduced by veteran Brazilian journalist Cristiane Murray, who has been Vice-Director of the Press Office since July. Murray introduced each speaker by title, then she told them what they were going to tell the press. Thus, each introduction today indicated a coordinated, managed information exercise. And the themes presented by today’s speakers repeated the themes emphasized by yesterday’s speakers.
Ms. Judith de Rocha of Brazil spoke of her advocacy for the suffering indigenous people, decrying forest destruction because of hydroelectric power plants in her region. Pollution and deforestation have displaced indigenous people and even caused death from contamination in rivers. “I invite you to stop thinking of clean power,” she said.”Energy produced like this means killing lives… we need other means of power,” she explained. Ms. de Rocha repeated a familiar phrase, “The Church invites us to cast our gaze on our Common Home…”, so much so that the term “gaze phrase” takes on a life of its own. This is an unfortunate effect because the problems that follow mismanaged development are serious and require real solutions.
Archbishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, O.F.M. of Peru was introduced by Ms. Murray who reminded him (and us?) of the urgency of an integral ecology, asking, “What do you propose, Archbishop?”
Vidarte offered a meditation on Saint Francis of Assisi, who has “given rise to this approach, this love for nature…he thanks God for nature, creatures, which the pope mentions this in Laudato si, he referees to Canticle [ of the Sun]. This synod is dedicated to Saint Francis…Human beings must get back to nature, and to God…we must find a brother sun, sister moon…we must be more daring…not only in the Amazonian regions…beyond national borders to fraternity, a universal fraternity…something linked to indigenous but not purely Amazon only…but at a world level.”
Bishop Karel Martinus Choennie of Suriname expressed his conviction that unless the Paris Climate accords are enacted, “we have only ten years left.” His alarm may be due to information outlined during yesterday’s general congregation when the Synod was addressed by Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Schellnhuber is a Research Fellow at the Stockholm Resilience Centre and a Member of the German Advisory Council on Global Change. Though he is an atheist, Schellnhuber was appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 2015. Bishop Choennie concluded, “This is a special synod with universal consequences.”
He also told reporters that the prevailing economic model is unjust. “Riches only come to the West…,” he stated, “the natural resources that leave our country do not help us.” When asked about his economic theme, the bishop responded, “We need a new economy of solidarity.” A reporter later inquired about solutions that would have a rapid impact. “It’s a matter of education,” replied Bishop Choennie, “Europe and the United States don’t realize the urgency. When they do realize, they don’t want to give up their luxuries.” Nor, he said, do Westerners want to live simply like forest people. “Europe and China and US want to eat meat. They want cheaper meat which leads to greater deforestation. The Church and everybody has obligation to take ecological change very seriously.”
Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, O.F.M. Cap., is the archbishop of Kinshasa, Congo. His presence at the Synod as a non-Amazonian bishop is to underscore the global scope of the climate disasters ahead. “I’m here in the name of the Synod,” he stated, “but the Amazon is similar to Congo basin. I’ve learned at this synod that it’s endangered because of misuse of land. People also run risk of becoming extinct; pygmies, and others…all the countries that share the equatorial forests… In the Synod [I learned] that we are all responsible for our common home, which is burning.” Western countries and China exploit the Congo via extraction. Yet, Cardinal Besungu said, “there is hope” because the Church has taken its responsibility to call humanity to “protect our common home so we are not burned….we must be daring.”
During the question and answer period there were more calls for new ecclesial structures, a special transnational network of bishops in the Amazon areas to monitor events and engage international institutions. An emerging theme is that transnational solutions may be discomforting for nations but an integral ecology can’t be bound by borders. Much of the discussion about a borderless world monitored by NGOs as a global solution to the perceived climate crisis could fill whole chapters in a political conspiracy novel.
Unspoken and unheard in the Sala Stampa today was any concern for the souls of the Amazonian or Equatorial people. There was no proposal for evangelization, no calls for innovative catechetical projects. Pastoral care is conceived as socio-political advocacy. For anyone possessing even a passing familiarity with liberation theology, the discussion today was clearly animated by leftist political philosophies. The “Catacomb Pact” signed by forty bishops on Sunday was no spiritual gesture. It was an aggressive announcement of their political exploitation of Catholicism.
The Pan-Amazonian Synod is an exercise in desolation. It’s a wasteland of years of preparation and expense in time and money. Very little, if anything, proposed by the Synod is a solution for the shocking truth: Catholicism is perishing in South America. The five hundred of “colonization” denounced by Synod bishops and the Instrumentum Laboris was, in truth, centuries of effective missionary work.
Pentecostals are today successfully evangelizing millions of South American Catholics. From a 2014 Pew report:
Much of the movement away from Catholicism and toward Protestantism in Latin America has occurred in the span of a single lifetime. Indeed, in most of the countries surveyed, at least a third of current Protestants were raised in the Catholic Church, and half or more say they were baptized as Catholics. For example, nearly three-quarters of current Protestants in Colombia were raised Catholic, and 84% say they were baptized as Catholics.
All the rehearsed mantras of “care for our common home” ignore the true cry of the people: “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:16).
(Editor’s note: Cristiane Murray was originally identified as Vice-Director of Vatican Communications. She is actually Vice-Director of the Press Office.)
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