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Pope Francis: Off-the-Cuff, About the Synod

The Holy Father’s Comments at Final General Congregation of the Special Assembly

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Here is a translation of the words the Holy Father Francis expressed off-the-cuff on October 26, 2019, in the course of the 16th and last General Congregation of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region, held from October 6-27, 2019 on the theme: “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and for An Integral Ecology.” The text was provided by the Vatican and translated by ZENIT.

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The Holy Father’s Address

 First of all, I want to thank all of you who have given this testimony of work, of listening, of seeking, of seeking to put in practice this synodal spirit that we are learning to establish, and which we have still been unable to complete. However, we are on a journey; we are on a good journey. And we are increasingly understanding what it means to walk together; we are understanding what it is to discern, what it means to listen, what it means to incorporate the Church’s rich tradition in critical moments. Some think that tradition is a museum of old things. I like to repeat what Gustav Mahler said: “Tradition is the safeguard of the future and not the custody of ashes.” It’s like the root from which the sap comes that makes the tree grow so that it bears fruits. To take that and to make it go forward is how the early Fathers conceived what tradition is. To receive and to walk in the same direction, with that very lovely triple dimension of Vincent of Lerins already in the 5th century: “Christian dogma, remaining absolutely intact and unaltered, is consolidated over the years, develops with time  and deepens with age” ( Cf. Primo Commonitorio, 23: PL 50, 667-668)] Thank you for all this.

One of the topics that was voted on, which had a majority  — three topics had a majority for the next Synod –, is that of Synodality. I don’t know if it will or will not be chosen, I’ve still not decided, I’m reflecting and thinking, but I can certainly say that we have walked a lot and we still have to walk more in the journey of Synodality; thank you all very much for your company.

The Post-Synodal Exhortation that – it’s not obligatory for the Pope to do it – which most probably – no, sorry, the easiest would be: “well, here is the Document, you all see to it. In any case, a word of the Pope about what he has lived in this Synod might do good. I would like to do it before the end of the year so that not much time goes by; it all depends on the time I’ll have to think.

We are talking of four dimensions, which were — we have worked on the cultural dimension; we talked of inculturation, the valuation of the culture, very forcefully, and I am happy with what was said in this regard, which is in the tradition of the Church. Inculturation: Puebla had already opened the door, to name the closest. Second: the ecological dimension: I would like to pay tribute here to one of the pioneers of this awareness in the Church – it’s Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. He was among the first who opened the way to create this awareness. And after him, so many have followed him, with that anxiety and, increasingly, with an acceleration of geometric progression, of the Paris team and the other meetings that followed. Laudato Si’ was born there with an inspiration with which many people worked, scientists, theologians, pastoralists. Well, this ecological awareness that goes forward and which today denounces the way of compulsive exploitation, of destruction, of which Amazonia is one of the most important points. I would say this ecological dimension is a symbol, in which our future is at stake, isn’t that so? In the protests made by young people, be it in Greta’s movement or others, youngsters came out with the placard: “The future is ours, that is, don’t you decide what our future will be.” “It’s ours.” The awareness that exists along with that of the ecological danger  —  evidently not only in Amazonia, but in other places: the Congo is another point, other sectors, in my homeland it is in the Chaco, the zone of the “impenetrable,” which is also small, but we also know this, in some way. Along with the ecological dimension is the social dimension, of which we spoke, which is no longer what is exploited wildly, the created, Creation, but persons. And in Amazonia, all sorts of injustices appear: destruction of persons, exploitation of persons at all levels and destruction of the cultural identity. I remember that on arriving at Puerto Maldonado – I believe I said this, I don’t remember –, there was a placard in the airport with the image of a very beautiful girl, very beautiful,  stating: “defend yourself or beware of trafficking.” That was a warning to an arriving tourist. Trafficking listens, and trafficking is the highest level of corruption, but of persons at all levels. And this, together with the destruction of the cultural identity, which is another of the phenomena you have pointed out very well in the Document – how cultural identity is destroyed in all this. And the fourth dimension, which is the one that includes all – and I would say, which is the principal one –, is the pastoral, the pastoral dimension. The proclamation of the Gospel is urgent, urgent, but it must be understood, assimilated, understood by these cultures. And there was talk of the laity, of Permanent Deacons, of men and women religious, to point to on this issue. And there was talk of what they do, to strengthen that. There was talk of new ministries, inspired by Paul VI’s Ministeria Quaedam, of creativity in this., creativity in the new ministries, to see how far one can go. There was talk, very forceful, of indigenous Seminaries. I thank Cardinal O’Malley for his courage in this because he put his finger on the sore in something that is a real social injustice, which is, in fact, the Indians are not allowed to go on the seminarian path and on the path of the priesthood. There was talk of creativity in all this of the new ministries and of everything. I assume the request to recall the Commission or perhaps open it with new members to continue studying how the Permanent Diaconate existed in the primitive Church. You all know that they came to an agreement among themselves that wasn’t clear. I handed this to the nuns, to the General Union of Women Religious, which had asked me to do the research. I gave it to the Union and now each one of the theologians is with his line looking into and researching this. I’m going to try to do this again with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and to bring in new persons in this Commission, and I pick up the glove, that they have put there: “that we be heard” I pick up the glove [applause]. Things appeared that must be reformed: the Church must always be reforming herself — priestly formation in the country.

I heard it said, that in some countries, or perhaps it was said in a group or here, it was once said  — which I heard –, that a certain lack of zeal was noted in the clergy in the non-Amazonian area as opposed to the Amazonian area. With Cardinal Filoni, we have faced difficulties when a Religious Congregation has left a Vicariate, to find priests of that country to take the Vicariate: “No, of course, I’m not for that,” they say. Well, that has to be reformed. Priestly formation in the country, which is universal, and that there is a responsibility to take charge of all the problems of the geographic countries, let’s say, of that Episcopal Conference. But to reform that: there must not be a lack of zeal Some also – I remember two – pointed out that, perhaps, the lack of zeal is not so strongly seen – sorry –, that there is lack of zeal, strong or not but . . . in young men religious, as something that must be taken into account. Young men religious have a very great vocation and they must be formed in apostolic zeal to go to the borders. It would be good that, in the plan of formation of men religious, there was a one-year or more experience in border regions. The same, and this is a suggestion  that I received in writing, but now I express it, that in the Holy See’s Diplomatic Service – in the curriculum for the Diplomatic Service, a young priest should spend at least one year in a mission land, not doing the internship in the Nunciature as is now done and is very useful, but simply at the service of a Bishop in a place of mission. That will be studied but it’s also a reform to see to.  And the re-distribution of the clergy in the same country. It was said, referring to a situation where there is a great quantity of priests of that country in the first world, read the United States, Europe, etc., and there are none from that country to send to the Amazonian area. That will have to be evaluated, but be in agreement. Those interested of fidei donum . . .  it’s true that sometimes – and this happened to me while I was Bishop in another diocese  — one of them comes whom you sent to study and he fell in love with the place and stayed there with all that the first world offers, and he doesn’t want to return to the diocese And, of course, to save the vocation, one yields. However, be very careful on that point and don’t favor.

I thank the true fidei donum priests who come to Europe from Africa, from Asia, and from America, but those that are fidei donum, who return that fidei donum, that Europe gave them. However, those that come and stay constitute a danger. It’s something that is a bit sad, a Bishop of Italy said to me, who has three of those who stay and don’t go to celebrate a Mass in the mountain villages if the offer is not made to them first. This is historical of here, this no. Then, let’s be on the alert with this and let’s be courageous in doing these reforms of re-distribution of the clergy in the same country.

And woman was a point of the pastoral part. Evidently woman – what is said in the Document, falls “short,” what woman is, no? In the transmission of the faith, in talking about the culture, I would only like to stress this: that we have not yet realized what woman means in the Church, and in this connection, we stay in the functional part, which is important, which must be in the Councils . . . or in all that was said, that yes.  However, woman’s role in the Church goes far beyond functionality. And that is what has to continue to be worked on, beyond functionality.

Then there was talk of re-organizations, <the point is> made at the end of the Document and I saw, from the votes, that some weren’t in agreement. An organism of service, following REPAM, to do a sort of . . .  REPAM must have greater consistency, a sort of Amazonian face. I don’t know, to progress in organization, to progress in the semi-Episcopal Conferences, that is: there is an Episcopal Conference of the country, but there is also a partial semi-Episcopal Conference of an area, and that’s done everywhere; here, in Italy, there us the Lombard Episcopal Conference . . . That is, there are countries that have sectorial Episcopal Conferences. Why can the countries of the Amazonian region not have small Amazonian Episcopal Conferences, which belong to the general one, but that do their own work, and organizing this sort of REPAM structure, this sort of Amazonian CELAM. Opening, opening. . . There was talk of a ritual reform, to open to rites. This is within the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship, and it can do so following the criteria, and I know they can do very well, and make the necessary proposals that inculturation calls for, but always stress the overflowing, always go beyond. Not only ritual organization, <but> organization of another sort, what the Lord will inspire. Of the 23 Churches with their own rite that are mentioned in the Document, which came out at least in the pre-Document, I believe that at least 18 if not 19 are sui iuris Churches, which began small and build traditions up to where the Lord leads us, <and> not be afraid of organizations that guard a special life. Always with the help of Holy Mother Church, Mother of all, who guides us on this path so that we don’t separate. Don’t be afraid of them.

And in regard to the organization of the Roman Curia, there must also be a contribution. Open an Amazonian section within the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, in such a way, as — as it doesn’t have work — I give it more.

In addition to thanking you, which I’ve already done, I want to thank all those that worked outside, especially from this room. Well, the secretaries that helped, the hidden secretariat, the media, the publishing team, those that prepared the meetings and information. The great hidden ones that make it possible for something to go forward, the famous regi that has helped us so much. Gratitude also to them.

I include the Presidency of the General Secretariat in gratitude to all and gratitude to the media – that I thought would be here to hear the voting, as the voting is public – for what they have done. Thank you for this matter, for this favor you do for us of spreading the Synod. I would ask you a favour: that in spreading the Final Document you pause especially on the diagnoses, which is the heavy part, which is the part where the Synod really expressed itself better: the cultural diagnosis, the social diagnosis, the pastoral diagnosis, and the ecological diagnosis, because society must take charge of this.

The danger is that, perhaps, you might entertain yourselves – it’s a danger, I’m not saying you will do it, but society asks for it – sometimes <saying>: Let’s see what they decided on this disciplinary question; what they decided on the other; this side won, did that one lose? In small disciplinary things, which have their importance, but that wouldn’t do the good this Synod must do. The society must take charge of the diagnoses, which we have carried out in four dimensions. I would ask the media to do so. There is always a group of “elite” Christians that like to meddle, as if it was universal, in this sort of diagnosis – smaller, in this sort of more disciplinary intra-ecclesiastical resolutions. I don’t say inter-ecclesial but inter-ecclesiastical, and say that the world won this section, won that other one. No, we all won with the diagnoses we did up to where we reached in pastoral and intra-ecclesiastical questions. However, they must not shut themselves in that.  Thinking today of those Catholic “elites” and sometimes, Christian <elites> but especially Catholic, that want to go to ”the little thing” and forget the “great” I remember a phrase of Peguy, I went to look for it. I’ll try to translate it well, I think it can help us when he describes these groups that want the “little thing” and forget the actual “thing.” ”Because they don’t have the courage to be with the world, they believe they are with God. Because they don’t have the courage to commit themselves in the options of man’s life, they believe they fight for God. Because thy don’t love anyone, they believe they love God.” It enlightened me a lot, not to fall prisoners of these selective groups, who will want to see from the Synod what was decided on this intra-ecclesiastical point or on this other one, and they are going to deny the body of the Synod, which are the diagnoses we have made in the four dimensions.

My heartfelt thanks. Forgive my petulance and pray for me, please. Thank you. [Applause].

The Document is being published with the result of the voting, that is, of each number — the result of the voting.

[Original text: Spanish]  {ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

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