A special Synod on the Amazon called by Pope Francis to be held in Rome this October. The difficulties and opportunities that this important ecclesial event implies.
The first difficulty is that many people, both outside and inside the Church, do not know what a synod is, nor do they know what the Amazon is, nor have they heard that a synod focused on the Amazon region will be held in Rome next October.
A synod is a meeting of bishops from all over the world convened by the Pope to discuss the proposed topic. The issue of the next October synod is: ‘Amazon: New Paths for the Church and Integral Ecology’.
The Amazon is a large territory of 7 and a half million square kilometres, with about 33 million inhabitants, of whom about 3 millions are indigenous and Afro-descendants living in the jungle, on the banks of the Amazon River or in cities like Manaus and Leticia. The Amazon rainforest is spread across 9 South American countries: Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana. The region is home to more than 380 different peoples or nationalities, in addition to some 140 indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation (PIAV); 240 languages are spoken in the Amazonian territory.
Some difficulties derive from the fact that several people think that the Amazon issue is a purely territorial and local problem that does not affect the rest of the inhabitants of the planet, while the Amazon is the great American and world lung, being one of the largest reserves of biodiversity (30 to 50% of the world’s flora and fauna), of fresh water, and forests (30% of the planet).
Many ignore that (illegal and legal) mining of multinationals in the oil industry, logging, monocultures, hydraulic megaprojects, agrochemicals, etc., which cause habitat destruction and climate change, and destroy biodiversity, have therefore a serious impact on several territories of the Amazon. The Amazon peoples are affected by drug trafficking, presence of armed groups, attacks on their culture and identity: many indigenous people have been expelled from their territories, they live marginalised in the peripheries of cities, suffer persecutions and many have been killed.
The October synod faces another serious difficulty; in fact this event is seen as a threat by those governments that grant Amazon territories to multinationals in order to get large economic gains. These governments therefore promote campaigns aimed at downplaying human involvement in climate change: ‘environmental exaggeration harms development, progress and economies, we must not be Utopian, we can’t go back to the prehistoric times and live in caves or in the jungle, the Church does not understand science or economics’, etc., they argue.
Another risk is that on the occasion of the synod, campaigns against Pope Francis may intensify: communists and heretics, naive people, third worldists, who argue that the Church should first face the scandal of sexual abuse by priests, before entering other issues.
The synod on the Amazon has also to face the ignorance of many people who identify Amazonian peoples just as socially and economically poor peoples, without taking into consideration the immense richness of their languages, cultures, spirituality, and their ancient wisdom which is prior to the arrival of Christianity in those lands. Amazon indigenous communities are an alternative to our modern society where people destroy and threaten the future of the planet. Indigenous peoples are not simply poor, they have their own identity, they have a different identity and richness.
The Church might also risk that its 500 year presence in the Amazon and the work and the evangelisation carried out by missionaries might not be recognised. Now indigenous people refuse any kind of colonial mentality and demand a Church with an Amazonian face and an increase in the number of ordained ministries so that also remote communities spread throughout the region can be pastorally attended.
New forms of ordained ministers will be probably proposed at the October synod in order to be able to administrate the Eucharist also to the most isolated communities of the Amazon. This proposal is likely to create tension between the most traditional clergy groups and those in the clergy who are more open to innovation and courageously seek new paths for the Church.
And there is also the risk that media may divert the focus from ecological issues, to the intra-ecclesial problem of the ordination of married men and women’s ministries. (Something similar happened during the synod on the family, when media focused on the question of Communion to the divorced and remarried Catholics, leaving aside the other family problems).
There is also the risk that the bishops attending the October synod won’t succeed in integrating the ecological issues with the ecclesial ones, which are intimately connected, and the Church wants to improve the life of the Amazonian communities integrally, both socially, culturally, environmentally and spiritually.
There is a risk of not sufficiently tackling the issue of mission and evangelisation, of not deepening intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, of not insisting sufficiently on Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom.
But the synod on the Amazon also implies many opportunities on the global level. The event, which will be held in Rome, will have great resonance worldwide. The presence of bishops and theologians of the Amazon, as well as groups of Amazonian men and women and the survey of many Amazon people which was carried out, ensure that the event will have great resonance.
The October synod will be an opportunity to reflect on the Laudato Si – Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis. The Amazon region issue of the synod will become a symbolic and emblematic place representing the problems that also affect many other territories of our planet (Congo, Mesoamerica, Paraguay, South Asia, etc.). Ecology therefore won’t be tackled as abstract ideology, but as reality.
The synod on the Amazon will be an opportunity to alert mankind once again to the severity of the current economic and political system that generates the marginalisation and death of poor people and destroys nature.
The event will also be an opportunity for the Church to make its prophetic voice heard and denounce before the whole world the need for an ecological conversion, if we do not want to leave a desert planet to future generations.
The event will be an opportunity to revalue the ecclesiology of the local Church of indigenous territories, with indigenous ministers and a Native American theology, and the courage to seek new paths for a Church with an Amazonian face, with mature communities that have a good number of ministers in order to live an authentic Christian life, with Word, Eucharist and Deacons or fraternal services, always in communion with the universal Church.
The synod will also be an opportunity to reflect on the close relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, because without the Eucharist there is no Church, and an opportunity to acknowledge that numerous remote communities cannot remain without the Eucharist.
It will also be an opportunity to integrate the ecological and the pastoral dimension, since both are part of people’s life. The shepherd’s first task is to save the sheep from the threats of the wolf.
The October synod will be an opportunity to make people know the richness of the wisdom of indigenous peoples and their harmony with creation as an alternative to the technocratic paradigm of our consumer society.
The synod on the Amazon will also be an opportunity to deepen the theme of integral ecology that includes the economic, social, mental, environmental and spiritual dimensions, through a different lifestyle, that of Buen Vivir (living well), the Amazonian indigenous cosmovision which emphasises the principles of reciprocity, complementarity, respect and relationality in human to human and human to non-human relations. The interdependence between society and the natural environment is crucial.’Living with less to be happier’, in harmony with all creation.
The October synod will also be an opportunity to respond to the requests of new generations who are questioning their future and who criticise the inefficiency of political summits on ecology. And an opportunity to deepen and live the dimension of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, which is the one that gives energy to life in all its dimensions and that surprises with the richness of its gifts and makes the Church a polyhedral community that walks towards the Kingdom with Easter joy and hope.
The ecclesial event will be an opportunity to recognise that the demand of changes arrives from the periphery and poverty of threatened peoples and victims; this is a sign of the times for the renewal and reform of the universal Church and society.
Let’s conclude with a statement by a member of an indigenous people from the diocese of Gauviare, Colombia on the border with Brazil and Peru: “The land is bleeding, multinationals have cut our mother earth’s veins. We want our indigenous reprimand to be heard by everybody”.
We trust that this synod, although possibly showing conflicts inside and outside the Church, will be a moment of grace and hope for the Church and for society. That is why we ask for the light and strength of the Holy Spirit creator. (Victor Codina, sj)