By Andrea Tornielli
Out of the first interventions by Synod participants – and alongside the cry of the indigenous peoples asking for respect and care for creation - another cry is being heard in the Synod Hall. It is the cry of those Christian communities scattered throughout the vast Amazon region. It is the cry of those pastors whom, with the help of only a dozen or so priests, are called to care for some 500 communities, scattered over one hundred thousand square kilometers, and who are faced with considerable difficulties in moving from one place to another.
This theme has been highlighted and discussed without taking into account the true perspective of a pastor. It’s an approach that doesn't stem from that cry, that doesn't make it its own, that is not born from the needs of those Christians who are unable to celebrate the Eucharist perhaps but once or twice in a year, Christians who have no one to confess to and who are denied the comfort of a priest when they are dying.
This cry of pain should be inherent in every consideration, in every attempt to provide a response, in every confrontation between different positions. It is an issue that has its own particular traits and characteristics and cannot be superimposed on other issues: thus the Synod on the evangelization of the Amazon is called upon to suggest possible responses. One of these, as has been said, is the possibility – as an exception and on an experimental basis - of an opening regarding the priestly ordination of elderly men of proven faith (which does not mean abolishing or rendering celibacy optional by allowing priests to marry). However, this is not the only way forward, despite the fact that it is the one on which much media debate is focused.
There are in fact other ways and other responses to the cry of these communities. For example, giving greater value to the permanent diaconate conferred upon married men; a commitment to nurture and give proper formation to indigenous vocations. The need for adequate formation for ordained ministers, religious and laity is in fact a requisite that has emerged several times during the interventions in the Synod Hall. The possibility of new ministries for the laity, and in particular for women, has been highlighted, recognizing the extraordinary dedication of many religious women who dedicate their lives to the service of Amazon communities.
It is the Eucharist that makes the Church. The Eucharistic celebration is the heart, source and foundation of community life. Thanks to the creativity of the Spirit, in situations in which a priest cannot be present, it has been said that one could envisage new ministries that answer to the needs of the Amazonian peoples: ministries with which to preach the Word, lead communities, accompany the faithful in the Sacraments of Baptism, Marriage and the Anointing of the Sick, as well as presiding over funeral rites. These are new paths that should involve, first of all, the indigenous people themselves as pastoral agents, as permanent deacons and as new non-ordained ministers who are capable of recognizing the gifts that the Lord has bestowed upon the members of native communities. The Synod has begun its journey.