The Apostolic Exhortation (Pan-Amazonian Summit)
“Pope Francis has again surprised the world with his long-awaited document (“Apostolic Exhortation”) in response to the deliberations of the Pan-Amazonian synod, issued today, 12th February 2020. In the text known as “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazonia”) he pitches hard for justice for the region’s 33 million people, of whom 2.5 are indigenous peoples, and for the protection of their lives, their cultures, their lands, the Amazon river and rainforests, against the “crime and injustice” being perpetrated in the region by powerful economic interests, both national and international, that risk destroying the people and the environment.
He declares that the church must stand with these peoples in their struggle but insists that it must also bring the Good News of salvation to them”, so writes Gerard O’Connell is America Magazine’s Vatican correspondent. See full article HERE
See Full Text of the Apostolic Exhortation “Querida Amazonia” (“Beloved Amazonia”) HERE
What’s in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation?
Almost half of the document is devoted to the need for a radical, missionary renewal of the Amazonian church that involves inculturation at all levels, including in the liturgy, church ministries and organisation, and the development of “a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay”.
He emphasizes the central importance of the Eucharist in building the church in the Amazon region but, at the same time, highlights the disturbing fact that this is not regularly available to so many communities; some do not have the Eucharist for months or years, others not “for decades” because of the shortage of priests.
Pope Francis does not address the proposal for the priestly ordination of mature married men (deacons) as a solution to this problem, an issue that largely dominated the media reporting of the synod. He does not explicitly reject the synod’s proposal on this matter, approved by more than a two-thirds majority, he simply does not mention it, not even in a footnote.
It is important to note that Francis addresses his 15,000-word exhortation “to the whole world” because he believes the main issues being dealt with here are of concern to “the People of God and to All Persons of Good Will” and he wants to “awaken their affection and concern” for Amazonia. He says the church’s concern for the region’s problems “obliges us to discuss” these important issues.
Pope Francis explains that this text:
“sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately.” Moreover, he says, “I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.”
Francis presents all this in a highly original, at times poetic exhortation, as he elaborates on the “four great dreams” that, he says, “the Amazon inspires in me.” The four dreams are “social,” “cultural,” “ecological” and “ecclesial.”
‘The Four Great Dreams’
- His first dream is a “social” one: “I dream of an Amazon region that fights for the rights of the poor, the original peoples and the least of our brothers and sisters, where their voices can be heard and their dignity advanced.”
- Speaking of his second dream, “a cultural dream,” he says, “I dream of an Amazon region that can preserve its distinctive cultural riches, where the beauty of our humanity shines forth in so many varied ways.”
- Francis’ third dream is “ecological.” He says, “I dream of an Amazon region that can jealously preserve its overwhelming natural beauty and the superabundant life teeming in its rivers and forests.”
- Speaking of his fourth dream, “an ecclesial dream,” Francis reveals, “I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.”
Addressing the inculturation of the liturgy, Francis emphasizes that the Eucharist “joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation.” In this sense, he asserts:
“encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature,” rather “it means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols.” He recalls that “the Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.”
Then, in a footnote (No. 120), he adds, “the synod made a proposal to develop an Amazonian rite.”
Pope Francis devotes a section of the exhortation to women. He recalls that in the Amazon region:
“there are communities that have long preserved and handed on the faith even though no priest has come their way, even for decades.” He says this, and similar instances involving women, “summons us to broaden our vision, lest we restrict our understanding of the Church to her functional structures. Such a reductionism would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders. But that approach would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalise women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.”
He recalls that “the Lord chose to reveal his power and his love through two human faces: the face of his divine Son made man and the face of a creature, a woman, Mary” and says “women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother. As a result, we do not limit ourselves to a functional approach, but enter instead into the inmost structure of the Church.”
Pope Francis says, “the present situation requires us to encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history.”
Mother of the Amazon Region
At the conclusion of this exhortation, Pope Francis writes:
111. After sharing a few of my dreams, I encourage everyone to advance along concrete paths that can allow the reality of the Amazon region to be transformed and set free from the evils that beset it. Let us now lift our gaze to Mary. The Mother whom Christ gave us is also the one Mother of all, who reveals herself in the Amazon region in distinct ways. We know that “the indigenous peoples have a vital encounter with Jesus Christ in many ways; but the path of Mary has contributed greatly to this encounter”. Faced with the marvel of the Amazon region, which we discovered ever more fully during the preparation and celebration of the Synod, I consider it best to conclude this Exhortation by turning to her:
Mother of the Amazon
Mother of life,
in your maternal womb Jesus took flesh,
the Lord of all that exists.
Risen, he transfigured you by his light
and made you the Queen of all creation.
For that reason, we ask you, Mary, to reign
in the beating heart of Amazonia.
Show yourself the Mother of all creatures,
in the beauty of the flowers, the rivers,
the great river that courses through it
and all the life pulsing in its forests.
Tenderly care for this explosion of beauty.
Ask Jesus to pour out all his love
on the men and women who dwell there,
that they may know how to appreciate and care for it.
Bring your Son to birth in their hearts,
so that he can shine forth in the Amazon region,
in its peoples and in its cultures,
by the light of his word,
by his consoling love,
by his message of fraternity and justice.
And at every Eucharist,
may all this awe and wonder be lifted up
to the glory of the Father.
Touch the hearts of the powerful,
for, even though we sense that the hour is late,
you call us to save
what is still alive.
Mother whose heart is pierced,
who yourself suffer in your mistreated sons and daughters,
and in the wounds inflicted on nature,
reign in the Amazon,
together with your Son.
Reign so that no one else can claim lordship
over the handiwork of God.
We trust in you, Mother of life.
Do not abandon us
in this dark hour.
(Given in Rome, at the Cathedral of Saint John Lateran, on 2 February, in the year 2020, the seventh of my Pontificate).
The Amazonian Synod 2019
It was not only those present who were heard at this Synod, but also the voices of 87,000 people who were consulted beforehand in an unprecedented project supported through the Church network. All bore powerful witness to the crisis they are facing.
The preparatory process
In the Preparatory Document for the Pan-Amazonian Synod issued by Pope Francis on October 15, 2017, the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was called to reflect on the theme: New Paths for the Church for an Integral Ecology recognising that ‘new paths’ for evangelisation must be designed for and with the People of God who live in the Amazonian region drawn from communities and rural areas of cities and large metropolises, those who live on river banks, migrants and displaced persons, and especially for and with indigenous peoples.
The preparatory document recognised that in the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a “culture of waste” (LS 16) and an extractivist mentality prevailed. To quote:
“The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-religious; it is a mirror of all humanity which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church”.
Pope Francis wished to ensure that this synod was a place of encounter, listening and dialogue with others and with the Spirit, in which everyone was invited to let go of expectations and to be open to conversion.
Through the enhanced preparatory process, the increased participation of lay women and men as experts and auditors, were encouraged to speak freely on controversial topics and to have rich discussions in smaller groups.
(Synodality refers to the active participation of the whole People of God in the life and mission of the church, according to the International Theological Commission. It means embracing the diversity of charisms, vocations and ministries of God’s people).
The actual Synod took place from the 6-27th October 2019 in Rome. There, the bishops, together with indigenous witnesses and other experts, were tasked with finding new pathways for the Church to accompany the people of the Amazon.
“It gives us hope that we are not alone,” said indigenous spokesperson Yesica Tayori.
“With the Church working alongside us, we will build actions to defend our common home.”
The Synod’s reflections transcended the strictly ecclesial-Amazonian sphere, because they focused on the universal Church, as well as on the future of the entire planet. This is a process that has at least begun with a specific geographical area and it is hoped that this will provide a bridge to the other important biomes of our world: the Congo basin, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the tropical forests of the Asia Pacific region, and the Guarani Aquifer, among others. At a Vatican press briefing on the first day of the Synod on October 16th, Giacomo Costa, S.J., the synod’s secretary for information at the Vatican, said:
“The synod is not a discussion, not a parliament,” but there is “a spiritual dynamic”. The biblical image, he said, is “the blind man who throws away his cloak to go to God,” and for the synod it means “to leave behind the safety of your arguments.”
The synod “is a path of discernment” that must “leave space for the Spirit”.
Cardinal Michael Czerny, a special secretary for the synod, presenting the final document at a Vatican briefing on October 26th underlined the synod’s call for four conversions (pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal) because, he said, there are “no new paths” and “no real change” without these conversions.
“With the Amazon burning many more people are realising that things have to change. We cannot keep repeating old responses to urgent problems and expect to get better results.”
Referring to the urgent need for ecological conversion at both the personal and communal levels, the cardinal said the ecological crisis is so deep that if we don’t change, “we’re not going to make it.”
The voice of participants
Several synod participants pointedly challenged Europeans and North Americans to examine and change their lifestyles and engage in political action in solidarity with Amazonian communities who bear the burden of climate change and the activities of multinational companies involved in mining and deforestation.
“People who live in Europe and North America have a heightened responsibility for political action in support of indigenous communities since we live from the benefits of this tragic exploitation in most parts of the world”.
Said Josianne Gauthier at a Vatican briefing on October 14th. Josianne is the general secretary of CIDSE—Together for Global Justice, an international alliance of Catholic solidarity organisations. Her role at the synod was “to listen to voices we don’t have direct access to all the time” and to consider how to support indigenous communities after the synod through “political pressure” in international political instruments.
Many urgent issues were discussed at the synod including:
- Violation of human rights and dignity
- Land grabs and deforestation by extractive industries and agribusiness
- Climate change and ecological damage
- Migration, urbanisation and loss of culture
- Violence and exploitation towards young people
Three weeks of discussions produced key proposals now being deliberated on by Pope Francis.
Five ‘take aways’
The following summary of the five ‘take-aways’ from the Synod were suggested by Luke Hansen, SJ writing in America: The Jesuit Review :
2. At the heart of the synod process and the final document is conversion at the pastoral, cultural, ecological and synodal levels.
3. This special synod—the first Synod of Bishops to be organised around a distinct ecological territory—sought to practice what it preached regarding “integral ecology” and care for our common home. In this regard, synod organisers undertook several important measures: implementing an online registration process in order to avoid printing paper; utilising bags, pens and cups made with biodegradable materials rather than plastics; and most significantly, to be a “carbon neutral” synod, the organisers offset the emissions spent to get more than 200 participants from South America to Rome—estimated at 572,809 kilograms of carbon dioxide—with the purchase of 50 hectares (123 acres) of new growth forest in the Amazon.
4. All 120 paragraphs of the synod’s final document (currently available in Spanish only) were approved with the necessary two-thirds majority vote, including proposals related to married priests and women deacons.
5. Since his election as pope in March 2013, Pope Francis has transformed the Synod of Bishops into a privileged place of discernment and conversion.
The next stage of the Synod has begun, as its outcomes are taken back to communities in the nine Amazon countries, and spread throughout the Church.
“We are on the way,” as Pope Francis said in the closing Mass. “We are on the good path.”
“The synod is a son, a daughter, of ‘Laudato Sí,’” the encyclical published by Pope Francis in 2015, said Mauricio López, the executive secretary of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network, in an interview .
“The synod is not the end of the road,” Mr. López said, “but the beginning of a new stage for the church in the Amazon, planting the seeds of metanoia, of radical conversion, from within, at this kairos moment.”
Even though these highly debated proposals had the most votes against them, the synod was able to find language to satisfy large majorities of voting members. It is a remarkable accomplishment, considering that even discussion about such questions was strongly discouraged in previous papacies.
“Perhaps the single overarching message of the Synod is that we are all called to a true and ecological conversion, to a simple and modest style of life” (final document #17).
In a gesture of prophetic witness, Synod members re-committed to the ‘Pact of the Catacombs,’ originally signed in 1965, to pledge a life of simplicity, sustainability and solidarity with the poorest people.
Some Resource Links
What is Catholic Social Teaching?
• An authoritative Church teaching on social, political and economic issues
• It is informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection
• It analyses that lived experience of Christian reflection from different historical, political and social contexts
• It provides principles for reflection, a criteria for judgement and guidelines for action
• Thus, It is informed by Gospel values and the lived experience of Christian reflection
Useful resource links
Catholic Social Teaching – Faith in a better world http://www.catholicsocialteaching.org.uk/principles/info/