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Amazon Synod Briefing for October 21, 2019

A Voice and Visibility for Indigenous Peoples

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The Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications, Dr. Paolo Ruffini, opened the Monday, October 21, 2019, briefing, reported by Vatican News. He confirmed that Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Archbishop emeritus of Sào Paulo, had presented the draft text of what will be the final synod document. The text contains details of what was discussed in both the General Congregations and small working groups. These issues include inculturation, and missionary and ecological conversion, among others. The main message to emerge, however, is that “the process of listening is not yet over”.

Ms. Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva represents the Sateré-Mawé indigenous people in the state of Amazonas, Brazil. She mentioned the active role taken by women in her territory. She also said she came to the Synod as a witness for indigenous people living in urban contexts. 35,000 of them live in the city of Manaus alone. Indigenous people migrate to the cities where they face discrimination and often consider themselves “invisible”, she said.

Bishop Domenico Pompili comes from Rieti, Italy. A devastating earthquake that struck his diocese in August 2016 left more than 250 people dead and thousands homeless. Reconstruction is still far from complete. The Amazon is “a metaphor” for the wounded earth, he said, and he

Fr Dario Bossi, M.C.C.J. is Superior General of the Comboni Missionaries in Brazil and has spent the past 15 years in the country. He addressed the impact of mineral extraction and the damage caused by multinational companies. His region is located “at the heart of the Amazon”, he said. It includes the “largest open-air mine for the extraction of iron”, an area that covers 900 kilometers and crosses 100 communities.

Deforestation is a problem, he said, because companies use wood to produce fuel that causes pollution. He spoke of the effect of 30 years of toxic waste on the population, and of how mercury in the water affects the children.

Fr Bossi said that an ecumenical network collaborates with the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference, demonstrating their awareness and commitment “to finding a solution”.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, O.P., Archbishop of Vienna and President of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, addressed journalists at the briefing, saying he had spent two weeks in the Amazon “listening to their experiences”. At the Synod, he said he learned “we have nothing to teach the Amazon”, but that we need to understand what our contribution can be. The Synod provides an opportunity to consider those who are “forgotten by world politics”, he said, and to “give voice” to those in the Amazon Region whose lives are threatened.

Proposals at the Synod for a permanent diaconate, he said, are aimed at “assisting pastoral ministry in this huge territory”. Referring to the 180 permanent deacons who serve in his own Archdiocese of Vienna, the Cardinal said he thought the permanent diaconate was “useful and significant for the life of the Church”.

Fr Dario Bossi responded to a question about the effects of extractivism, the process of mining natural resources for exportation. There is nothing sustainable in this process, he confirmed. There is “no intergenerational justice”. Fr Bossi gave the example of his own community that had stood up to this “violence” and called for reparation. They began by building a new settlement far from the polluted areas, he said, a sign that “hope can be found with the Amazon communities themselves”.

A question about impressions

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn was asked what he is learning from this Synod and what he will take back with him to Vienna. He responded saying he has been struck by “the courage of the indigenous people who have lived under threat for 500 years”. We must be “alert and attentive to what it means for these people to be under pressure, under danger of extinction for centuries”, he said. While the Church has used her voice to defend them in the past, it has not been enough, he added. We need to be attentive “to those who have no voice”, he concluded.

A question about rights

Ms. Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva returned to the issue of urbanization saying that being “invisible” in big cities means indigenous people have no rights. Indigenous pastoral ministry plays an important role in giving people living in urban areas “support and visibility”, she said. Their cultural identity is tied to their territory, she added. They have no identity without their land.

A question about permanent deacons

Cardinal Schönborn was asked a follow-up question regarding the issue of permanent deacons. He responded by suggesting that more priests should be ready to serve in the Amazon. “Europe has an abundance of clergy”, he said, but, “justice asks us to do something”. The Synod discussed the question of “vocational solidarity”, said the Cardinal, and agreed that the “whole Church is co-responsible for the Amazon”.

A question about development

The last question was put to Ms. Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva and concerned the kind of development her people hope for. Her people’s spirituality is focused on the earth “from which we come”, she said. “Which is why we have such a strong relationship with the earth”. Our ancestors have been caring for the earth for thousands of years, concluded Ms. Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva. That is why “the cry coming from the Amazon is to take care of mother earth”, she said.

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