Towards A Synod For The Peoples Of Amazonia.

Pope Francis strongly desires it. The bishops outline guidelines. In all probability, Pope Francis will make the announcement next January when he is visiting Peru.

During a meeting with the bishops of Peru last May, Pope Francis told them to consider holding a Synod for the peoples of Amazonia.
At present, the people and nations that live in the Amazonian rain forest represent nine countries: Brazil (67%), Peru (13%), Bolivia (11%), Colombia (6%), Ecuador (2%), Venezuela (1%), Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana (together 0.15%). In the Amazonian area of South America there are 2,779,478 aborigines belonging to 390 native peoples and 137 ‘isolated’ (not yet contacted) peoples. They speak 240 different languages that belong to 49 linguistic branches, the more relevant from the historical and cultural point of view.

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Monsignor Salvador Piñeiro García-Calderón, President of the Peruvian Bishops’ Conference notes: “Pope Francis told us that it is very important for us bishops of Amazonia to get together and to set out common policies and to express not only the environmental riches of Amazonia but also those of the peoples who inhabit these lands. We are already considering how to organise this ecclesial event. Peru occupies 63% of the Amazon Basin, two thirds of Amazonia. But we must admit that we have turned our backs on Amazonia, showing little sensitivity to its suffering and marginalisation. The lack of personnel and the great distances mean it is not an easy area to work in and the Pope is very concerned”.
Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Archbishop Emeritus of Sao Paolo and Prefect Emeritus of the Congregation for the Clergy and President of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) stated: «Pope Francis strongly encouraged us in this direction when, during the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, addressing the Brazilian bishops, he told us that “Amazonia is a decisive verification, a test-bed for the Church and society” and added, “an  urgent appeal to respect and guard the whole of creation that God has entrusted to humankind, not to be violently exploited but to be made into a garden”. He also said: “I would like to add that the work of the Church in Amazonia should be re-motivated and re-launched”.

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Cardinal Hummes said: “The Synod is part of the movement of the Church to commit itself to the defence of Amazonia which is in danger of being destroyed, devastated and degraded! There is a great lack of presence close to the indigenous peoples, especially deep inside Amazonia. This physical presence of the Church through its priests and deacons is very uncertain. The indigenous people complain about this and would like the Church to be closer to them. Furthermore, there is the question of inculturation: giving Amazonia an identity means being a Church that is inculturated in the original cultures of the place. There is much to be done and the Synod would give encouragement and indicate paths to follow on this line… first of all, it would encourage this process of inculturation. It would doubtless be a very fruitful event for the Church in Amazonia”.

The Pope and Amazonia

The first encounter between the Pope and Amazonia, hitherto only touched upon during his other journeys to Latin America (when Pope Francis often met with native peoples, social movements and visited peripheries), will take place early in 2018, in Peru. A visit to that country is planned for 18 to 21 January, in the apostolic vicariate of Puerto Maldonado, a vast slice of territory in the east of the country. Mons. David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea says: “It will be the first encounter with Pope Francis in the territory of Amazonia”. With reference to the Encyclical Laudato Sì, the Bishop said, “the meeting will be a follow-up to Laudato Si. The encyclical adopts an attitude of attending to the problem of the defence of the land and the indigenous peoples.

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The cry of the land and that of the poor are one and the same and the encyclical says so very clearly. At the same time, the document condemns the plundering of the resources of those territories as if they were the private garden of rich countries, and also the effects of this phenomenon: conflicts with indigenous people, corruption etc. The encyclical hears the cry raised by these peoples. This is why the request of the Pope for a pan-Amazon Synod is to be seen in this light”. It is thought that the Pope himself will announce a possible date for the Amazonian Synod during his trip.

Four guidelines

Several bishops, mostly in Brazil, are already working on a possible agenda for the Amazon Synod. They have singled out four themes: new forms of ministeriality of the Church; the increased presence of evangelicals in the communities; the threat of the destruction of the Amazon forest; violence against indigenous peoples.
These four themes are obviously intertwined. The dramatic shortage of clergy in such a vast area means that liturgical celebrations in certain communities are equally infrequent, catechesis is practically non-existent and the presence of evangelicals unchallenged. This is also why the idea of forming an indigenous native clergy is widespread at the highest levels of the Church in Amazonia.

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Don Edson Damian, Bishop of São Gabriel da Cachoeira, in the state of Amazonas, is asking that the Synod study three points which he considers central: the formation of priests born in the region; the formation of indigenous people who are the subject of evangelisation; the institution of proper ministries and rites for the sacraments and blessings practised by indigenous cultures.
Concerning the formation of native priests, the Synod ought to consider the possibility of creating a formation itinerary that is shorter than the traditional version with periodical courses held in the same communities where the young men who are involved live, and so facilitate the participation of those who do not have the financial resources or the time to leave their area of residence for a long period of time. “We must remember – Bishop Edson Damian states – that young people born in the area know better than anyone else the culture and lifestyle of their specific communities and it is much better to work with them rather than import people from outside who often have to endure a long and difficult period of adaptation”. In Mons. Edson’s view, the formation of indigenous leadership is a decisive step for the Church in Amazonia: “It is only by forming a local clergy that the indigenous people can assume a role of leadership in evangelisation in their own villages”.

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To this theme of indigenous clergy we must add another – that has also been proposed for the agenda of the Synod – that of the liturgy in the local native languages and the possibility of electing married natives to carry out some religious services in the community. The indigenous culture – the Bishop of São Gabriel da Cachoeira notes – has no notion of celibacy.
A controversial point which the Amazon Synod cannot avoid is that of ordained local ministers, whether married or not, qualified to administer the sacraments and lead the communities. This is a path that must be taken with conviction and on which the capillary presence of the sacraments and Christian instruction depend. It is a direct way to confront the ever-increasing presence of evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals.

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The protection of the environment and the people who inhabit it. Another important point on the agenda of the future Synod is the Amazon forest and the danger of its destruction. The threat indicated by various ecclesial sources is represented by continually developing mining projects. One of these – the largest goldmine in Brazil – is run by the Canadian Mining Corporation Belo Sun, in the locality of Altamira in the state of Pará. The mine occupies an area of 600 Hectares, 300 of which have already been deforested. The population of 1,320 people has already been expelled from two indigenous reserves and five villages. Local Church sources have reported the dumping of chemicals – more than 35 million cubic metres of chemical mineral residue – in the river Xingu. This situation – they note – was created when the Belo Monte hydrolectric dam was built in 2011, when the flow of water in the river was reduced by 80%, endangering local flora and fauna. Don Erwin Kräutler, Bishop Emeritus of Xingu (Pará) reports that the ecosystem is being seriously damaged: “People of the area understand perfectly the absurdity of what is happening. What those people have built is nothing but a monument to their own folly”.
The theologian Ivo Poletto, former executive secretary of the Pastoral Commission for the Land, is also involved with the peoples of Amazonia and states: “The rivers, the forest, the soil, the biodiversity and the people are all crying out for help. They are suffering endless aggression by that which is falsely called progress. It is a matter of an economy based on predatory mining that leaves in its wake an imbalance in the eco-system where these people live a precarious existence due to the fact that their lands must undergo invasions and violent threats by those who want to control and exploit everything and everyone”. For this reason, the theologian Poletto has thrown down the gauntlet in favour of a Synod that will face up to the problem and seek possible solutions: “It would carry great weight, much more than many meetings and congresses held from time to time”.
Don Sebastião Lima Duarte, Bishop of Viana in the state of Maranhão, insistently demands that any Synod should carefully examine the condition of the Amazon peoples. He also points out that many situations of conflict occur due to the lack of borders to indigenous lands. An important case in point concerns his diocese where the indigenous Gamela people are the victims of abusive occupation. Another case is that of the Jaminawa Arará people in the state of Acre. “The Church – don Sebastião maintains -,  must intervene with a process to reorganise the indigenous peoples and the quilombolas (slaves who escaped by taking refuge in the quilombo) to recover their lands and reaffirm their culture”. (C.C.)



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