Synod working document seeks 'new paths' of evangelization in Amazon

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

CITY (CNS) — The Catholic Church must discover new ways to provide the
Eucharist and pastoral support to the people of the Amazon, especially
indigenous people threatened by forced displacement and exploitation, a new
document said.

The Vatican released the preparatory document for the
special Synod of Bishops on the Amazon June 8. The synod gathering in October
2019 will reflect on the theme “Amazonia: New paths for the church and for
an integral ecology.”

The connection between care for the environment and the
pastoral care of the people who live in the region is highlighted throughout
the document, because, it said, “protecting indigenous peoples and their
lands represents a fundamental ethical imperative and a basic commitment to
human rights.”

“Moreover,” it continued, “it is a moral
imperative for the church, consistent with the approach to integral ecology
called for by ‘Laudato Si’.”

The document ended with 30 questions about how the church
should respond to specific challenges in the region such as injustice, violence
and discrimination, particularly against the area’s indigenous people.
Responses to the questions will provide material for the synod’s working

The questions also sought to identify solutions for a
variety of pastoral challenges, particularly the region’s shortage of priests,
which means the “impossibility of celebrating the Eucharist frequently in
all places.”

Rich in biodiversity, natural resources and cultures, the
Amazon rainforest is the largest in the world, covering more than 2.1 million
square miles in South America. The rainforest includes territory in Brazil, Ecuador,
Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana and French Guiana.

The region has experienced significant deforestation,
negatively impacting the indigenous populations in the area and leading to a
loss of biodiversity.

The document’s preamble states that “new paths for
evangelization must be designed for and with the people of God” who live
in the Amazon, an area that is in “deep crisis” due to
“prolonged human intervention in which a ‘culture of waste’ and an extractivist
mentality prevail.”

Using the method of “see, judge and act,” the
document began with a description of how the region’s rich biodiversity, which
provides food and resources for the indigenous population, “is being
threatened by expansive economic interests.”

Those threats include logging, contamination of rivers and
lakes due to toxins, oil spills and mining, as well as drug trafficking.

The destruction of the land and pollution of the rivers have
forced many people to move. The indigenous people who are forcibly dislocated,
the document said, often are met with “an attitude of xenophobia and
criminalization” that leads to their exploitation. Women are particularly
vulnerable to being trafficked for “sexual and commercial exploitation,”
it said.

The preparatory document’s section on promoting “pastoral
and ecological conversion” highlighted the need to proclaim the Gospel and
to “accompany and share the pain of the Amazonian people and to
collaborate in healing their wounds.”

“Today the cry of the Amazonia to the Creator is
similar to the cry of God’s people in Egypt,” the document said. “It
is a cry of slavery and abandonment, which clamors for freedom and God’s

By focusing on the indigenous people and the care for their
land, the church is “strengthened in its opposition to the globalization
of indifference and to the unifying logic promoted by the media and by an
economic model that often refuses to respect the Amazonian peoples or their
territories,” the document’s third section said.

It also emphasized “relaunching the work of the
church” in the Amazon region “in order to transform the church’s
precariously thin presence” through new ministries that respond “to
the objectives of a church with an Amazonian face and a church with a native

This includes, it said, fostering “indigenous and local-born
clergy” as well as ministerial roles for women in the church.

“Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the
type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account
the central role which women play today in the Amazonian church,” the
document said.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod
of Bishops, told journalists June 8 that although the church has “a
magisterium and a discipline that is already established” restricting priestly ordination
to men only, the synod offers a space to freely discuss other ministerial roles
for women.

“The emphasis on women — that they should have a space
in the church — doesn’t come from” the preparatory document, Cardinal
Baldisseri said. “We can listen to the pope who said that there must be
space for women in the church at all levels.”

The document does not mention the possibility of allowing
married “viri probati” — men of proven virtue — to become priests,
a question that Pope Francis has expressed a willingness to study.

“We have to study whether ‘viri probati’ are a
possibility. We then also need to determine which tasks they could take on,
such as in remote communities, for example,” the pope said in a March 2017
interview with German newspaper Die Zeit.

Cardinal Baldisseri told journalists that the synod preparatory
document leaves room for discussion on finding solutions to the lack of priests
in the area but does not center on “viri probati” as the only answer
to the problem.

“I understand the interest but there are many
ministries,” the cardinal said. “It isn’t that those that already
exist are definite. The church can also have other ministries. Ministries is an
ample word that ranges from the ministry of acolyte to the priesthood.”

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