October 23, Rome: The Pan-Amazonian Synod is in the final stretch after three intense weeks. The Synod intends to give the Church an “Amazonian face” with “a universal dimension.” The phrase isn’t clearly defined but roughly suggests that Catholics the world over will profit from cultural lessons on the care of nature from the Indigenous communities in the Amazon. A Church with an Amazonian face rejects a clericalism and Colonial tradition (see Instrumentum Laboris, 109-110).
The “Amazonian Face” is further understood as an instance of living out an integral ecology as outlined in chapter four of Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment. Pope Francis wrote, “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live… We are part of nature” (Laudato Si, 139).
For the Amazonian indigenous people, however, the “Amazonian face” isn’t about the Church universal. Instead, for them, it’s about inculturation—how the Church can accept their native spirituality, to allow their own “face” to shape their practice of Catholicism.
Ribelino Ricopa, belongs to Kukama people. He works in Santa Rita da Cascia parish in the Loreto region of Peru. Ricopa had some advice for the Synod:
I suggest in the view of the Synod – as the Pope says – that the Church must look for new ways to reach the Amazonian peoples and their cultures. This is possible by respecting their traditions and their indigenous cosmovisions…what I would like to underline is that our beliefs, such as the purahua (a great water snake that shoots magnetic rays from its eyes by which it is able to attract anything coming from above and can transform itself into boats of various shapes), are something real to us, something that we feel deeply. It might seem an imaginary world, but we, the indigenous people, are strictly connected with it, because to us it is a world which is inhabited by other beings.
For instance when a person of our communities feels sad, they get connected with the spiritual world through dreams or a ‘medicine man’ and so they can talk to the spirits who reassure and calm them and say that they protect them…That is why I’m saying that our beliefs are connected with reality, with our everyday life…This is the path to follow if we want to build a Church with an Amazonian face. Christian priests and pastoral agents must learn that things or animals are not just things or animals to us the Kukama people, but they are parts of our being, of ourselves…
We the Kukama people are extremely connected with animals and plants and this makes us feel strong and safe. We also feel connected with the world of spirituality, which is not the spirituality of the Church. Our spirituality is considered by the western world as superstition, while to us it is something real, it is life, and it helps us to survive…
I believe that after the Pope’s message, the Church and its pastors have been wondering how a Church with an Amazonian face can be built. I think that the Amazonian face of the Church is already shaped, and that the Church shows its Amazonian face every time it accepts indigenous peoples’ traditional spirituality. (Emphasis added) .
It’s this blended Amazonian/Catholic spirituality that set off strenuous criticism of the ceremony in the Vatican Garden on October 4th. Videos recorded indigenous persons bowing down before carved statues of a naked pregnant woman. This week, the same naked pregnant women statues were spirited out of Santa Maria Traspontina and flung into the Tiber River to “sleep with the fishes” (a phrase from The Godfather that’s making the rounds in Rome).
Critics claim an “Amazonian Face” (as the indigenous understand it) and an “Amazonian Rite” that has been proposed during the Synod are examples of a dangerous syncretism. Cardinal Müller, emeritus Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, denounced this syncretism in the Synod’s working document as “pantheistic eco-spirituality.”
Some spiritualities such as those described by Ribelino Ricopa are pagan and cannot be assimilated into Catholicism. However, the forty bishops who signed the new Pact of the Catacombs had no discomfort with indigenous spiritualities. The Pact insists on a “respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.”
Today, at the press briefing on the Synod, Gilberto Alfredo Vizcarra Mori, S.J., of Peru recounted his visit with peoples in the Amazon forests, but said “I did not go there to teach them.” His comment reflects a milder version of Bp. Erwin Kräutler, who proudly claimed he had not baptized an indigenous person in 20 years, but had left them to their own spiritualities out of respect for their traditions. Under whatever guise—dialogue, respect for traditions or inculturation—this approach to evangelization hasn’t shown success when measured against the numbers of conversions to Pentecostalism among the indigenous peoples.
Conversely, in those Amazonian areas where bishops insure proper catechesis, parishes are thriving—something not reported by the Vatican Press office:
While the bishops want to create an “Amazonian rite” for us who live in the Amazon, we want the return of the Tridentine Mass to all our parishes. Below is a photo of the Tridentine Mass that is celebrated every Sunday here in Belém (Brazil). Crowded (and most are young)! pic.twitter.com/YCq93GOH6i
— Gabriel Klautau Miléo (@gabrielklautau1) October 22, 2019
Today at the Vatican Press Office journalists heard brief reports from Communications officers. Each repeated the importance of the Synod’s work and the integrity of the process. The Relatio (the Synod document) is in its final stage but is essentially complete. Synod members are still able to suggest small tweaks.
Fr. Giacomo Costa, S.J., Secretary of Information, advised press that the document produced by the bishops and now in its final stages is not the purpose of the Synod. “It’s a tool,” he said, to move everyone forward, the stones to pave this new pathway are the individual contributions made by participants
Sr. Roselei Bertoldo, I.C.M of a Brazil briefed reporters on the scourge of human trafficking. Trafficking in Brazil encompasses sex trafficking of young girls and women as well as child labor.
Cardinal Gracias of Bombay, India, noted that the problems of the Amazon were shared by Indians. Others covered the daily discussion of women’s value and roles in the Church. Bishop Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva of Brazil stated that it was “time to make a change” on the role of women, though not “necessarily as a consequence of this synod.”
Finally, overheard in the halls: The final document will contain both a proposal for married older priests (viri probati) and an enhanced role for women. Also , Bishop Erwin Kräutler, who serves on the Synod planning council, denies knowledge of who has actually written the final document. Synod Secretaries, the drafting committee and the Rapporteur have helped, as if placing pieces of a puzzle, but the final author of the anticipated document remains shrouded.
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