The Synod for the Amazon convened by Pope Francis in Rome from 7 to 27 October 2019, with the aim of looking for "New paths for the evangelization of the Church and for an Integral Ecology", corresponds to a missionary ecclesiology, to a Outgoing Church that puts into practice an intercultural pastoral with a clear position in front of the world: starting from those who suffer.
Walking together in the Church, starting from the Amazon suburbs
There has been much talk of the Synod for the Amazon in recent days, but there are two important things that I would like to emphasize: it's meaning and new air, the new horizons that this Synod has brought to the Church and to the Common House. What did this synod mean that starts with the cry of indigenous peoples with a history of deep wounds and a struggle for survival, in which so many missionaries have given their lives?
The advanced exploitation on Amazon has consequences not only on local populations but the entire world. The Amazon is the victim of a development model that can bring our Common House to ruin. They are the oppressed people of Amazonia who have defended the forest head-on and resisted attacks, at the cost of many sacrifices and their own lives.
"These problems strangle her peoples and provoke the migration of the young due to the lack of local alternatives. (...) The defense of the earth has no other purpose than the defense of life. (...) the cry of this people, which is often silenced or not allowed to speak. That prophecy must remain alive in our Church, which will never stop pleading for the outcast and those who suffer.
The recognition of these people – who can never be considered a minority, but rather authentic dialogue partners – as of all the native peoples, reminds us that we are not the absolute owners of creation. We need urgently to appreciate the essential contribution that they bring to society as a whole (...) Their cosmic vision and their wisdom, have much to teach those of us who are not part of their culture.
Each culture and each worldview that receives the Gospel enriches the Church by showing a new aspect of Christ’s face. The Church is not alien to your problems and your lives, she does not want to be aloof from your way of life and organization. We need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in Amazonia". In this spirit, Pope Francis convened the Synod for the Amazon in January 2018 from Puerto Maldonado, during his apostolic journey to Peru.
The Church needs to reform itself
With Pope Francis we entered a phase of transformation characterized by an ecclesiological shift that generated a process of transition from a Westernized and monocultural Church, centralized in Rome and on primacy, to a world and intercultural Church.
The core is that he has succeeded in spark off a process of transformation of our mentality which concerns: lifestyles, practices of discernment and fraternal communication with all the structures of government. The significance of this reform is to make the Church conform to the good News which must be proclaimed to all, especially the poor, the least and the rejected, according to the signs of our time. Francis proposes the figure of the Samaritan as a reference for the discernment of the ecclesial practice and mission. In this we see the continuity with Paul VI: "The ancient history of the Samaritan was the paradigm of the spirituality of the Second Vatican Council" (Address of Paul VI in the last session of the Second Vatican Council). Following this inspiration, Francis emphasizes the reform in order to serve people and nations. This stems from direct contact with the People of God, which constitutes the basis of the reform, because "without a change of mentality the functional effort will be useless", as he told us. For this reason, a pastoral conversion is urgently needed: "a missionary choice capable of transforming everything, so that customs, styles, schedules, language and every ecclesial structure become an adequate channel for the evangelization of the present world, rather than for the self-preservation" (Evangelii Gaudium, n. 27).
Being Church centered on the person of Jesus and on his humanizing project
The Synod for Amazonia reminded us that what moved Jesus before suffering was "compassion". Like Jesus, we need to know how to welcome and listen. Compassion is God's way of being, He looks at us with compassion and this is fundamental for Jesus, as a loving presence, as a "good Father", to make life more human. He shows us paths of humanization of history for a transformation, always starting from the last. Until the last ones are the first in our attention, we will not announce the Kingdom of God. The most urgent task in the Church is to focus on the person and on the humanizing project of Jesus.
The reflections and debates of this synodal time have certainly increased our awareness that we cannot continue to live in the same way, overloading the planet. Progress passes through a critical conscience, which will require new habits of life: what the native people call "good living" to overcome the shabby life.
A fundamental challenge that emerged from this synod for the Amazon is Synodality. The Church must be participatory and cannot be conceived in a clerical way, Francis called for a decentralization of the Church and that we are all part of the People of God with its various ministries. Being Church means thinking of oneself starting from categories of integration, participation, not from the top; Francis affirmed that we must turn the pyramid upside down because we are all people of God. We need to change our mentality, that is to be Church not for ourselves but for society, for the world. And if a change is not made, the Church will be increasingly disconnected from people's lives.
A contribution that Francis gives us is to integrate pastoral processes and the internal development of peoples with the process of evangelization, this is to make the Church significant for the moment in which we live. So it is not a question of carrying an indoctrinating message but of generating a process starting from a fractured reality. The model is to build bridges before walls, says Francesco. It is about taking a position from the global periphery and the poor of today to show the world that "local fractures have global repercussions and causes".
Vatican geopolitics is conceived as a structural way of serving the poor and communicating the Gospel so that it can be inserted as a constituent part of the current processes of the new evangelization. The new social places that Francis asks us to look at constitute a challenge to the crucial question: where does God pass in our history today?
This transformation begins with Francis's visit to Lampedusa in 2013. From there he exposes to the world that the current system or world order, although it has generated more wealth, has also generated great inequalities. Not only the one who has not but the one who has no way of having is poor. We need to rebuild the connections that make us people. It is from this place that Francis listens to the cries of the refugee humanity and takes on a pastoral geopolitical option in favor of the poor and the excluded. He announces that the path is that of interculturality because it is the path that allows the redemption of cultural identity and the restoration of the rights of each people, recognizing that reciprocity is mutual growth.
“New paths for the Church and for an integral ecology”
The Amazon Synod helps us to move from listening to an integral conversion, "which drives us to a profound conversion to Christ and to his Gospel" of our schemes and structures; for this reason, the final Document highlights four fundamental points: pastoral conversion, cultural conversion, ecological conversion, and synodal conversion.
A pastoral conversion because we must be an outgoing Church as a missionary, a Samaritan and in solidarity, which has taken on our illnesses and endured our hardships (Mt 8,17b), being missionary disciples rather than fulfilling tasks or doing things (Final Document 21). A Church in ecumenical, interreligious and cultural dialogue, a Church with an indigenous and Afro-descendant face, with a migrant face and a young face because it recognizes young people as a theological place, prophets of hope attentive to the "Common House" (Final document 33), experiencing the spirituality of listening and announcement (Final Document 36).
Our conversion must also be cultural, we must learn from each other. Be present, respect and recognize his values, live and practice inculturation and interculturality in our proclamation of the Good News (Final Document 41) United in the same faith in Christ and different in the way of living, expressing it and celebrating it (Final document 42)
Apostolic parrhesia at the service of peoples and their cultures concerns the implementation of compassion in an intercultural key. In the conversion that takes place through dialogue, we must find bridges, so as not to see an enemy, but a brother to welcome and embrace.
Ecological conversion to learn from our brothers and sisters of the original peoples, in a dialogue of knowledge, (...) looking for models of fair and square development (Final document 65). Proclaiming Jesus Christ and the good news of the Kingdom of God to stop sinful situations, death structures, violence, and injustice, promoting an intercultural, interreligious and ecumenical network.
Finally, the Document proposes synodal conversion, a Church not centered on the clergy, but on the community that is the center of ecclesial life.
Being synodal means following together "the path of the Lord" (Acts 18:25). Synodality is the way of being of the primitive Church (see Acts 15) and must be ours. It means concretely manifesting communion in walking together, meeting in assembly, encouraging the active participation of all members in the proclamation of the Gospel, that is, in the co-responsibility and participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the Church (see final document 87).
Contributing to accompanying suffering humanity implies recreating our Consecrated Life which although it is true that its essence will remain, yet the way of living it requires other languages, other forms, other styles.
This event of the Spirit that we breathed in the Synod for the Amazon, leaves us with a very strong challenge for the Church and therefore for consecrated life, because we must look at Jesus and stay where the human life is facing challenges, be mindful that we are called to the consecrated life not to survive, but to give life for our brothers.
Sr. Maria del Rosario Peña (Rome)
November 10, 2019