In order to “identify new paths for the evangelization” of the People of God living in the Pan-Amazon region, Pope Francis convoked a Special Assembly of Bishops. He made the announcement before reciting the Angelus with the crowds gathered in St Peter’s Square on 15 October 2017. The Pope emphasized the fact that the population in this region, especially the indigenous population is “often forgotten and without the prospect of a serene future, due also to the crisis of the Amazon rainforest, of paramount importance as one of the lungs of our planet”.
The Amazon and Pope Francis’ concern
The Amazon Synod embraces ecclesial, social and ecological aspects. It is focused on the 34 million people and the territories of Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Guiana and French Guiana. But, in a very real way, the synod will affect every person on the face of the earth since this region is an important source of oxygen for the entire world. In addition, 20% of the world’s running water flows through it.
Pope Francis first visited a territory in the Amazon on 19 January 2018. In Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Pope Francis met with persons representing the 3 million indigenous people of the Amazon. During his discourse, the Pope said, “The native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present. The Amazon is being disputed on various fronts”. He was echoing sentiments he had already expressed in an address to the III Global Meeting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development on 15 February 2017. At that time, he said, “the central issue is how to reconcile the right to development, both social and cultural, with the protection of the particular characteristics of indigenous peoples and their territories”.
Pre-Synodal Council and meeting
On 8 March 2018, Pope Francis appointed an 18-member pre-Synodal Council which was announced through a Communiqué of the Holy See Press Office. The First Meeting of the Pre-Synodal Council took place on 14 April 2018. According to the Press Release explaining this meeting, the group “examined the project of the Preparatory Document”, “offered useful suggestions for its improvement” and approved it.
Although the theme refers to a specific region, the issues the Synod is focusing on go beyond the geographical territory. They affect the whole Church and the future of the planet. This Synod is dedicated to “finding new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church” as well as to responding “to situations of injustice in the region”. Thus begins the Preparatory Document prepared by the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and experts. It was presented in a Press Conference in the Holy See Press Office on 8 June 2018. As in past Synods, the Preparatory Document (previously referred to Lineamenta) introduces the subject matter and solicits responses. It summarizes well the Pope’s rationale to focus on both the ecclesial and ecological aspects of the Amazon:
“Pope Francis, in his visit to Puerto Maldonado, called for a change in the historical paradigm, as a result of which States view the Amazonia as a storage room filled with natural resources, with little regard for the lives of indigenous peoples or for the destruction of nature. The harmonious relationship between God the Creator, human beings, and nature is broken by the harmful effects of neo-extractivism; by the pressure being exerted by strong business interests that want to lay hands on its petroleum, gas, wood, and gold; by construction related to infrastructure projects (for example, hydroelectric megaprojects and road construction, such as thoroughfares between the oceans); and by forms of agro-industrial mono-cultivation”.
The Instrumentum Laboris is a precious resource to understand the Church’s history in the region, and various dimensions of the “proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus in Amazonia” that the Synod wishes to develop: biblical-theological, social, ecological, sacramental, missionary. It then describes areas in which the Church is challenged to take on an “Amazonian face” through “ministry with an Amazonian face” in order to tread “new paths for the evangelization” of the Amazonian people.
The Preparatory Document was sent “to the Episcopal Conferences concerned and to the other entitled bodies, in order to start the pre-Synodal consultation”. One of these bodies is the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, referred to as REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazónica). The group was first presented in the Vatican on 2 March 2015 during a Press Conference held in the Holy See Press Office.
REPAM is a network that promotes the rights and dignity of the people living in the Amazon. It is a project of the 9 local Churches of the Amazon region, inspired by Pope Francis and backed by the Latin American Bishops’ Conference, CELAM. REPAM exists to bring to the world’s attention the fragile situation of indigenous people in the Amazon and the critical importance of the Amazon biome to the planet – our common home. It was founded in 2014 in answer to the grave concerns of Pope Francis and the Latin American Church regarding the “deep wounds that Amazonia and its peoples bear”. It embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru, to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defence of life, the defence of the earth and the defence of cultures”.
Instrumentum Laboris: The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for Integral ecology
On 17 June 2019, the Holy See Press Office held a Press Conference introducing the Instrumentum Laboris. This document includes the results of the “consultation of the People of God in Amazonia”. In addition to the 7 Episcopal Conferences present in the Amazon, other voices reached the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops through some 260 events in the Amazon which had been organized with REPAM’s help (70 territorial assemblies, 25 thematic forums, 170 activities which included seminars, meetings and reunions). The Instrumentum Laboris also mentions three meetings held in Washington, DC, Rome and Bogotà where experts on the Amazonian people contributed to the issues under reflection.
Pope designates President Delegates
There are three President Delegates whom Pope Francis appointed. Their names were made public on 7 September 2019. The three President Delegates preside over the Assembly with the same authority of the Pope in his absence. It is expected that Pope Francis will be presence for the majority of the Synod’s discussions. These three delegates are:
· Cardinal Baltazar Enrique Porras Cardozo, Archbishop of Mérida (Venezuela) has held numerous positions in the Venezuelan Episcopal Conference, of which he was president for two consecutive terms from 1999 to 2006. He was CELAM’s (Latin American Episcopal Council) first vice-president (2007-2011) and has been a member of the Special Council for America of the Synod of Bishops since 1997. Pope Francis made him a Cardinal in the consistory of 19 November 2016.
· Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto Jimeno, S.J., (Peru) has been the Archbishop of Huancayo since 2004. He was created a Cardinal in the consistory of 28 June 2018 and is a member of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development.
· Cardinal João Braz de Aviz (Brazil) is the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. Prior to his current office, he was the Archbishop of Brasilia from 2004 to 2011. Pope Benedict made him a Cardinal in the Consistory of 18 February 2012.
A complete list of Synod Participants was released on 21 September 2019. Included among the participants are:
· 3 members of REPAM, including their President and Vice-President;
· 114 Bishops from all 9 Amazonian territories;
· 13 members of the Roman Curia;
· 33 members appointed by the Pope;
· 15 members of the Union of Superiors General representing Religious Congregations of men;
· 19 Pre-Synodal Council members, 16 of whom are bishops, two are women religious and a layman;
· 25 experts are listed (1 layman, 19 priests, 1 monsignor; 2 women religious and 2 laywomen);
· 55 auditors are listed (15 laymen, 10 laywomen, 7 priests, 2 deacons, 19 women religious, 2 men religious);
· 6 persons invited from other Christian traditions;
· 12 special invited guests.
Relator General and Secretaries
The task of coordinating the discussions on the Synod theme, as well as developing “any documents to be submitted to the Assembly”, belongs to the Relator General. He is assisted in this work by Special Secretaries.
His Eminence Cláudio Hummes, OFM, Archbishop Emeritus of São Paolo, Brazil is the Relator General for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon Region. He is the President of the Bishops’ Commission for the Amazon of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, and President of REPAM.
Cardinal Hummes will be assisted by Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, Undersecretary of the Migrant and Refugee Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, and Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea, OP, Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado in Peru.
The next step
It’s been almost two years since Pope Francis announced the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. It is again in a climate of prayer that the Synod opens on Sunday, 6 October. From 7-26 October, the participants will meet daily in the Synod Hall. They will hear feedback from each other in plenary sessions which are called General Congregations, and they will be meeting in smaller language-based groups as well.
Here, all of the voices which have contributed in the consultation process will converge. The bishops, gathered in the Synod, will be listening to these voices, in their role as “authentic guardians, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church” (Pope Francis). This is done in union with the Bishop of Rome, “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful” (Lumen gentium, no. 23). Once more, the Synod Assembly will be a “valuable instrument of shared knowledge among the Bishops, of common prayer, honest exchange, deepening of Christian doctrine, reform of ecclesiastical structures and promotion of pastoral activity throughout the world” (Episcopalis communio, no. 1).
In particular, this Synod will promote the Church’s pastoral activity in the Amazon region — a pastoral activity that embraces all of human life. As the Instrumentum Laboris indicates, the Church is meant to testify to Jesus who:
“offers life to the full (cf Jn 10:10), a life full of God, a salvific life (zōē), which begins with creation and manifests itself from the start in the most elementary dimension of life (bios). In the Amazon, it is reflected in its abundant bio-diversity and cultures. That is to say, a full and integral life, a life that sings, a song to life, like the songs of rivers. It is a life that dances and that represents divinity and our relationship with it. ‘Our pastoral service,’ as the Bishops affirmed in Aparecida, is a service ‘to the full life of indigenous peoples [that] requires proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Kingdom of God, denouncing sinful situations, structures of death, violence and internal and external injustices, and fostering intercultural, interreligious and ecumenical dialogue’. Such announcing and denouncing we discern in the light of Jesus Christ the Living One (Rev 1:18), ‘the fullness of all revelation’ (Dei Verbum, no. 2).” (Instrumentum Laboris, no. 11).