The Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Communications, Dr Paolo Ruffini, opened the briefing by announcing the four members named by the Pope to the Commission responsible for drafting the final document of the Synod. They are Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, Archbishop Edmundo Ponciano Valenzuela Mellid, and Fr Rossano Sala.
Dr. Ruffini went on to summarize the topics that emerged during the morning’s 11th General Congregation. These included the question of ecumenism and its connection to evangelization. He confirmed the Synod Fathers had rejected the idea of both “inter-Christian colonialism” and “proselytism”, quoting Benedict XVI as saying “the Church grows through attraction”.
The issue of finding points of convergence was also mentioned, he said, in terms of complementary and reciprocity between human beings and creation.
Dr Ruffini quoted the indigenous term for “knowing yourself” as being a “good starting point” in finding connections among cultures. Synod participants, he said, are aware their interventions are raising a series of issues that go beyond the local dimension of the Amazon Region and are applicable to all the world.
Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa is Secretary of the Information Commission for the Synod. He noted that the topic of “synodality” had been referenced in terms of “proximity”, “walking together”, and “reaching out”.
Synod participants also spoke about the need for building better ties among dioceses and religious congregations, he said. They highlighted how religious life could promote interculturality using an inter-congregational approach, he said. According to participants, there is also the need for a “new relational style that must have an impact on local communities”.
There were renewed calls in the Synod Hall for some kind of “permanent ecclesiastical organization” in the post-synodal phase, said Fr Costa. This could include an “observatory for human rights” to help provide integral scientific and human education”.
Fr Costa noted how the Synod recognized the contribution of REPAM, the Pan-Amazon Church network, which provided both support and a podium where people could express themselves.
Finally, Fr Costa related the request to canonize the Amazon martyrs, as expressed during the morning Congregation. According to the proposal, recognizing the martyrs would show how the Gospel is rooted in everyday engagement with the region. It would also help build the “rationality of being gift” and pass on “life-promoting signs” for the region, he said.
Dr. Marcia Maria Oliveira is an expert on the history of the Church in Amazonia and on Amazonian culture. She explained her contribution to the Synod as offering her expertise in the areas of human trafficking, internal migration and the movement of indigenous people. We need to consider migration issues as “essential”, she said, because “they involve pastoral issues too”.
Fr Sidney Dornelas, C.S., is a Scalabrini missionary and Director of CEMLA, the Centre for Latin American Studies on Migration. He said the topic of migration is already present in the Synod Working Document. Many of the crises we have faced over the past 10 years have emerged because of migration flows, he added.
Fr Dornelas mentioned migrants from Haiti, in particular, saying the Church provides whatever assistance she can. The Pan-Amazonian Region is also a migrant corridor, he explained, which well illustrates the “existential peripheries” described by Pope Francis.
We need to promote better cooperation among the churches and missionary institutes, he said, in order to confront the very different pastoral realities of the region.
Bishop Eugenio Coter of Tibiuca has spent the past 28 years in Bolivia, 6 of them on the border with Brazil and Peru. He sees signs of hope in this Synod, he said, in the indigenous people present, and in the fact of placing the Amazon Region at the center of attention. Too little is known about the difficulties and challenges of the region, he added.
Bishop Coter described the Synod for the Amazon as “a moment of light” that confirms we are not walking alone but are part of the Universal Church. This gives us strength, he said.
Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero Lòpez-Brea works in the eastern part of Peru where 25 percent of the population comes from the Andes.
He said he appreciated the value given to relationships at this Synod, the sharing, and the listening to the voice of the Amazon through those who have come from this Region.
The model of evangelization Bishop Escudero Lòpez-Brea proposes is through “teaching, preaching, and acts of charity”. He said he is confident charisms will arise for both ordained and non-ordained ministries. It is precisely the great commitment to evangelization in the region, he said, that gives us hope.
A question about lessons from women
Responding to a question about what indigenous cultures can teach us about caring for women and children, Dr. Marcia Maria Oliveira stressed the vital role women play in the Church in the Amazon Region in terms of leadership and responsibility.
Theirs is not a power struggle, she said, but a service to the community. Women in the Amazon Region are “custodians of the seed”, said Dr. Oliveira. They distribute goods and services and are responsible for the health of the community. Which is why they can teach us about integral ecology and how to practice “buen vivir” as “welcoming”.
A question about the Sacraments
Bishop Coter answered a question on how to administer the Sacraments in the far-flung areas of the Amazon. He said this topic was being examined in the small working groups at the Synod. One of the challenges regards how to provide formation for individuals in remote communities. Given the lack of priests, we need to “search for something that goes beyond formation”, he said.
The Bishops are discussing the issue openly, he added, encouraged by the fact the Church has dealt with these issues in past, “so we can find solutions”.
A question about migration
Given his experience and expertise, Fr Sidney Dornelas was invited to respond to a question about migration in the Amazon Region. While confirming the desire of the Church to accompany migrants, he admitted there is a lack of organization and that the Church cannot assist everyone. He gave the example of the 150,000 people crossing the border from Venezuela and the many who have come from Haiti.
We need to “take a step forward”, he said, and focus on different contexts and countries, according to what he called the “levels of emergency”. There are linguistic, cultural, and religious issues associated with accompanying migrants, said Fr Dornelas.
Dr. Marcia Maria Oliveira added that we “cannot understand the Amazon Region without understanding migration”, as it was formed by migrants, externally and internally.
A question about inculturation
Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero Lòpez-Brea chose to respond to a journalist’s question regarding what an inculturated indigenous Eucharistic celebration would be like. He confirmed that the Synod for the Amazon is discussing the inculturation of the liturgy, but said that does not mean something different from what the Church already has.
He suggested the possible introduction of “some symbols or rituals” that do not impact what is essential about the Eucharist, but that can “enrich the celebration” using ornaments and music, integrating the unique aspects of the indigenous people.
Bishop Coter noted how different cultures interpret signs differently. Which is why commissions would be appointed that know both the culture and the liturgy. Their aim would be to maintain the “central elements of our faith”, he said, while giving the liturgy an “Amazon face”.