Four participants at the Synod for the Amazon met journalists in the Holy See Press Office on the afternoon of October 14, 2919, for an exchange of experiences and impressions regarding the 9th General Congregation. The event was reported by Vatican News.
The 9th General Congregation, held on Monday morning, was attended by 179 Synod Fathers, together with Pope Francis, who opened the session with a prayer for Ecuador.
This was confirmed by the Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, before he invited Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa, Secretary of the Information Commission, to provide a summary of what was discussed in the Synod Hall.
Fr Giacomo Costa SJ began by affirming how Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato sì, is proving to be more than just a text, but truly rooted in the realities discussed at the Synod. This is being demonstrated by the way “everything is connected”, he said.
Summarizing what was discussed in the Synod Hall on Monday morning, Fr Costa listed several themes: dialogue with indigenous people, and the importance of participating in their lives, protecting local peoples’ rights and safeguarding nature. He said the need to remain rooted in the ground of experience coming from local territory was also mentioned.
The Synod Fathers discussed the challenges to local ministries, he said, how to inculturate the liturgy, and how to respond better to the needs and cultures of the people. The Eucharist, continued Fr Costa, was presented as “a source of unity and light”. Participants at the General Congregation, he said, confirmed we are “custodians of nature”, and stressed the integral and ecological focus of the Synod.
Participants at the morning session, said Fr Costa, affirmed the Church’s role of protecting and promoting the local people, of accompanying those without a voice. A suggestion was put forward to set up an international ecclesiastical observatory on the rights of indigenous people. Some Synod participants confirmed the importance of the Church integrating her perspectives into practices concerning human rights.
Fr Costa continued his summary of the proceedings that included the topic of “circular economic models”: access to food that respects the environment and has a positive impact on local populations. These models can be achieved through an “integral education” that helps promote an equitable consumption of goods, he reported.
Not just education, but information too, was a topic that came under discussion, said Fr Costa. According to Synod participants, the “communication culture” is growing rapidly in the Amazon Region, and we need to “bridge the communications gap”. This means training local indigenous communicators and establishing communications networks based on community and solidarity.
Ms. Josianne Gauthier is Secretary-General CIDSE, the “Coopération Internationale pour le Développement et la Solidarité”, an umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America. She began her presentation by saying how CIDSE has spent over 50 years supporting communities, including in the Amazon, promoting integral ecology and defending human rights.
We are here at the Synod, she said, in a “listening position”, to hear stories and to begin work on how to support these messages outside the Synod “in political spaces”. The task of CIDSE, she explained, is to “take struggles and turn them into political pressure”.
Ms. Gauthier said those of us who live “from the benefits of the tragic exploitation” that takes place in that part of the world, have a “heightened responsibility”. We need to recognize that “our wellbeing and comfort comes at a cost”, she said: human life, security, peace, and ecological justice.
Ms. Gauthier concluded saying we need to promote consciousness and concentrate on “doing what we can after the Synod to transmit these messages”.
Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti, S.D.B. of Bamaccora (Venezuela) is a Salesian. The Salesians, he said, have been working in the south of Venezuela since 1957. Reflections after the Second Vatican Council led to a new approach that began in 1976, he said: developing new forms of evangelization that support people and help them “take control of their own destinies”. Priests, laypeople, men, and women religious, are all involved in this mission and have developed criteria based on participating in people’s lives, and respecting communities, educating them, and assisting them with projects, he said.
In order to evangelize effectively, said Bishop Cilveti, we need to be familiar with people’s feelings, to understand what they think. Speaking in terms of his own experience, he said people “want to follow Jesus Christ, they want to change”. The Gospel has brought new concepts like mercy and forgiveness, he said, and these become the keys to solving many problems and conflicts.
The Bishop concluded by describing the Church in his region as a “young Church with different features”, one that helps people to help themselves.
Bishop Carlo Verzeletti comes from Castanhal, in Brazil. His diocese comprises over 1,000 villages beside the mouth of the Amazon River. His priests, he added, “are few and aging”. They are able to meet people only a few times a year when they visit to celebrate Mass. This “running from one place to another”, does not offer the “presence and proximity, the support and comfort”, the people desire, he said.
The priest becomes the “distributor of the sacraments”, he added. This is why Bishop Verzeletti supports the ordination of “viri probati”, approved married men, “so that the Eucharist can become a reality that is closer to people and communities”. These would not be “second-rate priests”, he added, but men who are formed accordingly, “devoting their lives to others”.
Bishop Verzetti said his region has been severely affected by colonization and globalization: the result is secularization, religious indifference, and the influence of the Pentecostal churches. “Popular piety cannot resist the impact”, he said.
As an example, Bishop Verzetti said there are 750 Pentecostal churches in his city alone and only 50 Catholic churches.
He has ordained 110 Permanent Deacons, he said, and works at empowering laypeople, “but with difficulty”. Were the Pope to consider the reality of “viri probati”, concluded the Bishop, “we have worthy people who could be ordained priests”.
Mr. José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal is Coordinator of COICA, the Congress of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin. His organization represents 4 million indigenous people spread over 4,500 communities in all six countries of the Amazon Region.
The Catholic Church, he said in his presentation, is the only organization calling for the world “to wake up”. Speaking as an indigenous person, he said: “we will disappear if we don’t do something”.
The presence of COICA at the Synod, said Mr. Mirabal, is to support those who are struggling to protect the land, to stop the “violent invasion of development projects”, including hydroelectric schemes, uncontrolled mining, and the agri-food industry. He spoke of those who are imprisoned and murdered for speaking out against land grabbing, or while trying to stop the pollution of the air and water.
Mr. Mirabal concluded by inviting the media to help disseminate these messages.
A question about statistics
The first question was addressed to Dr. Paolo Ruffini and concerned statistics from the Amazon Region. The Prefect of the Vatican Communications Dicastery responded that, while pre-Synod preparations had produced statistical materials, this is not a study conference that requires statistical data. The Church is reflecting on “how to serve the Amazon though pastoral activities”, he said.
The Synod is not about “percentages”, he added, but about “how the Universal Church relates to a territory”. And a territory is best described by those who live there, said Dr. Ruffini.
Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti confirmed that studies on the Church in the Amazon Region have been made by REPAM and that this data was collected and published in preparation for the Synod.
A question about sovereignty
Responding to a question on possible interference in the Synod by local governments in the Amazon Region, Bishop Carlo Verzeletti re-affirmed the Church’s respect for the sovereignty of Brazil, in particular. The Church does not give “technical solutions”, he added, but guidelines so that life and rights in the Amazon Region are respected. Resolving economic problems in Brazil doesn’t mean opening up areas in the Amazon that will improve the lives of the rich, but not “the lives of our people”, he said.
With regard to a meeting in the Vatican between the Vice President of Brazil and the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, Dr. Ruffini said it had “no influence on the Synod”. The meeting was about “diplomatic relations between states”, he said, and there was “no connection” with the Synod for the Amazon.
A question about future Pan-Amazonian organization
A question was asked about the possibility of setting up a future Pan-Amazonian organization after the Synod. It was confirmed that the topic had been raised in one of the small working groups, but there was a concern about multiplying too many organizations when the REPAM network already exists.
Ms. Josianne Gauthier added that any form of collaboration is helpful when it comes to defending human rights. As long as there is “clarity of intention”, she said her organization would work with whatever structure is decided upon.
A question about viri probati
In connection with the ordination of approved married men, or “viri probati”, Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa stressed the desire of the Pope that “all issues” be discussed in order to discern appropriate solutions. Fr Costa confirmed there are “different positions” on this issue, but that “everyone is listening in a respectful way”.
Dr. Ruffini added that while some may be in favor and others against, in the end it is not the Synod that decides. The Synod will eventually entrust its reflections to the Holy Father as “something that is still in progress”.
A question about Ecuador
Responding to a question about the ongoing violence in Ecuador, José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal said that what is happening throughout the region, “pains all of us”. There are so many challenges in search of solutions, he said.
Bishop José Ángel Divassòn Cilveti added that it is important to be aware of what is happening in these situations. We can only understand if we “look at the overall picture”, he said.
A question about Church investments
A question was asked regarding Church investments in projects in the Amazon Region. Fr Costa responded saying the Church has already disinvested and is disinvesting from certain products and companies.
Ms. Josianne Gauthier added that disinvestment is a way by which the Church can show her “coherence with Laudato sì and integral ecology”, the connection between “words and actions”.
A question about the Church’s Amazonian face
The last question was about the kinds of changes that need to be made if the Church in the Amazon Region is truly to have an “Amazonian face”.
José Gregorio Dìaz Mirabal responded by repeating that it is not up to the Synod to make decisions. He confirmed, however, that the Church “must reach out”, and must be reflected in the realities of the local people.
He admitted that the Church needs support, and needs to build greater unity with the indigenous people in some parts of the Amazon Region.
In order to make one another stronger, he concluded, we need to “walk together” – even if it means “going barefoot”.