At the beginning of the October 23, 2019, Amazon Synod briefing, the Prefect for the Dicastery for Communication, Dr. Paolo Ruffini briefly reviewed the process for producing the Synod’s final document, reported Vatican News. Jesuit Father Giacomo Costa noted that the final document will be entrusted to the Holy Father, who will provide guidance for the Church going forward. Father Costa emphasized the importance, in the synodal process, of “listening deeply”, noting that the final document is a fruit of the process, but not its final goal.
The first guest at today’s briefing, Sister Roselei Bertoldo of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, spoke about the issue of trafficking, especially of girls and women. Often an “invisible crime”, trafficking can involve not only sexual exploitation but also domestic enslavement and child labor. She said the Church must help raise awareness about the issue, and continue working on strategies of prevention.
The President of the Episcopal Conference of Bolivia, Bishop Ricardo Ernesto Centellas Guzmán said the Church must change its mentality with regard to the role of women. Women have a very strong presence in the Church, but their participation in decision-making is “almost invisible”. He said change must come primarily at the community, rather than the universal level.
Bishop Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, a Brazilian Bishop, said the Church must find new ways of thinking, in dialogue with the contemporary world. The synodal path, he said, involves not simply proposing answers, but pointing to new paths, reconsidering what has been done in the past.
Jesuit Bishop Gilberto Alfredo Vizcarra Mori, S.J., who has served as a missionary and is now Vicar Apostolic of Jaén en Peru o San Francisco Javier, spoke of the importance of being close to, and even a part of, indigenous societies. This involves many sacrifices, including giving up our preconceived mindsets. He said living with indigenous peoples has helped him realize how they feel connected to the whole of creation. This is something we, who sometimes see ourselves as “masters” of creation, can learn from indigenous peoples.
Finally, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, spoke said he was surprised to be called to be part of the Synod. He said that he has learned that “the Amazon” is India; that is, the issues facing Amazonia are universal. He mentioned the violence committed against nature; the injustice toward indigenous peoples; and the lack of pastoral care as three particular areas of concern. Cardinal Gracias also said he is very impressed with the passionate concern the Bishops of Amazonia have for their people.
A question about the role of women in the Church
Bishop Ricardo Centellas was asked if now is the “right time” for structural changes in the Church with regard to the role of women. He said the Church does not prohibit active and effect participation by women, but highlighted again the lack of women in decision making role; and this, he said, must change. He emphasized that small changes must be made where they can.
A question about the contributions that women can offer
In answer to a further question on how women are already offering their unique contributions to the Church, Bishop Centellas said that men and women have different points of view, and approach things from different perspectives. Nonetheless, he said, those visions and approaches, though different, are complementary.
The question of the role of women in liturgy, said Bishop da Silva is only one part of the question. He said a large part of the pastoral activity of the Church is inspired by the intuition of women. He said we should remember the strong contribution of women in Catholic communities.
Sr Roselei Bertoldo said that the presence of women in the communities is undeniable. “We are church, and we do church,” she said. The fact that women have been called to the synod, and that they have a voice there, is significant. Women, said Sr Bertoldo, claim and want to become protagonists in the Church.
Finally, Cardinal Gracias noted that neither Church law nor theology prohibit women from participating in active ways in the Church. Apart from a few ritual actions – like hearing Confession, saying Mass, and giving Confirmation – women are able to do just about anything in the Church. He said that despite the decentralization urged by Pope Francis, Bishops are not using the opportunities they have to involve women more.
A question about human trafficking
Sister Bertoldo said that Pope Francis, from the beginning of his pontificate, has emphasized the need to respond to the scourge of human trafficking. She highlighted some of the fruits of the synodal process in this regard, such as encouraging local churches to raise awareness about the issues; deal with identified cases; and work on prevention, especially in ecclesial contexts.
A question on synodality
One reporter, noting appeals for the whole Church to have an “Amazonian face”, asked if, given the emphasis on synodality, there had been any proposals to hear from people from other parts of the Church. Cardinal Gracias said that Pope Francis has given the Church the theology of synodality, and put great emphasis on it and that during the Synod for the Amazon, the Church has had a true experience of it.
Dr. Ruffini pointed out that the Pope had spoken about synodality during the day’s General Audience. Pope Francis explained how, at the Synod on Jerusalem, the Apostles dealt with theological issues by discussing them and finding a common path. This, he said, “sheds light” on how to address differences, and how to resolve conflict through dialogue.
Bishop Vizcarra added that the experience of the early Church was reflected in the experience of being Church in the Amazon. “The Holy Spirit is speaking to us,” he said, is extending an invitation to live as Christians, to welcome the Holy Spirit, and to live fully in being Christians in the context of ecology. He said that for him, the Synod is a Synod of listening.
A question about media coverage
A final question was asked about the reactions to media coverage of the synod, and the “vastly different interpretations” about what is happening in the synod.
Bishop da Silva said that there is a certain amount of resistance to the idea of synodality. When the Church starts “a synodal pathway”, he said, it’s giving a significant sign. The Church, he said, is not going down an obscure path, but is a light in our times. And he said, the role of the media, even when critical, is constructive.