BY Peter Diamond | February 21 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

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Synod document produces an invitation to rethink local Church organisation and ecclesial ministry

The pope's exhortation on the Amazon synod is about much more than married priests, writes Peter Diamond. It is a heartfelt cry for a new kind of Church and a new kind of ministry.

As a former archbishop in Latin America, Pope Francis is well aware of the Amazon—its challenges and its people—which is why he called the Amazon Synod and now has written a postsynodal apostolic exhortation titled ‘Beloved Amazonia’ or ‘Querida Amazonia.’

This apostolic exhortation was the subject of much speculation over what it might or might not say about the region’s painful shortage of clergy. Because the Eucharist and Confession are rarities in many communities, would the pope allow married deacons to be ordained priests, as a majority of the synod bishops proposed?

While Pope Francis, as is his style, allowed an open discussion of this topic, clearly he felt there was not a consensus supporting such an exception and that he himself was unprepared to take such a step. This was greeted with disappointment by some and relief by others.

The Churches Mission

Within the document released last Wednesday February 12, the pope asks that we, the Church, accompany and support the Amazonian peoples, and that we engage with them in the search for solutions. He also reminds the Church that it is not just an NGO or aid organisation. There is a distinct purpose to evangelise and bring the good news to the people of the Amazon region. ‘Christ is the answer, even as we are to be the hands and the feet of Christ,’ he writes.

The document, Beloved Amazonia, is Pope Francis’ response to recommendations made by participants in the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon, held in October 2019 at the Vatican.

With the exhortation, the pope has made it clear that the Church—and the world—must listen to them and recognise them as equals. That message is woven into the document from the beginning, where Pope Francis describes four dreams. He says he ‘dreams of an Amazonia that fights for the rights of indigenous peoples, an Amazonia that preserves its cultural riches, an Amazonia that preserves its natural beauty, and a Christian communities that give the Church new faces with Amazonian features.’

Querida Amazon

The Querida Amazonia, to whom Pope Francis’ love letter is addressed, represents, above all, a challenge for the Church which is called to find new paths for evangelisation, proclaiming the heart of the Christian message.

Humanity in the Amazon is not the illness that needs to be combatted in order to care for the environment. The original peoples of the Amazon region, their cultures and traditions, need to be conserved. But they also have the right to the evangelical proclamation.

They are not excluded from mission, from the pastoral care of a Church which has been well represented by so many missionaries of old, their faces burned by the sun, who were capable of passing day after day in canoes for the sole purpose of meeting small groups of people to bring God’s tenderness together with the regenerating comfort of his Sacraments.

Environment

One message that stands out clearly in the exhortation, is that the Church sides with indigenous people who defend their lands against extractive industries like logging and mining or the encroachment of industrial-scale farming and ranching.

That is also a sign the Church workers have the backing of the pop’ when they accompany communities in those struggles. Such efforts sometimes draw criticism from others in the Church, but the pope has made clear that ‘they can’t call you a communist’ for opposing industries or infrastructure projects that threaten communities.

Pope Francis’ message comes as threats against the environment and those who defend it are on the rise in Amazonia and other parts of Latin America and the world.

Respond generously

Widespread fires in southern Brazil and northern Bolivia, where forests were razed for farming and ranching, made international headlines in 2019. Africa’s Congo basin, which faces similar threats, also suffered a fierce fire season.

Beloved Amazon invites a ‘specific and courageous’ rethinking of the local Church’s organisation and ecclesial ministries. It asks that the entire Catholic Church pick up its responsibility, that it might assume as its own the wounds of the Amazon’s peoples and the hardships of those communities deprived of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist; that it might respond generously by sending new missionaries who appreciate all of the gifts of the Spirit; that it focus above all on new services, and stable, ecclesiastically recognised non-ordained ministries which can be entrusted to the laity—men and women.

Common bonds

Specifically, highlighting the irreplaceable contribution of women, Pope Francis recalls that, in the Amazon region, the Faith has been transmitted and maintained alive thanks to the presence of ‘strong and generous’ women ‘even though no priest has come their way.’

The key to all of Pope Francis’ appeals in the document is to not ‘look at the world from without but from within, conscious of the bonds with which the Father has linked us to all beings.’

“A sound and sustainable ecology, one capable of bringing about change, will not develop unless people are changed, unless they are encouraged to opt for another style of life, one less greedy and more serene, more respectful and less anxious, more fraternal,” he said.

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