The Synod's final document echoes the appeals of the Amazonian peoples in the face of the destruction of their territories and cultures

In his closing homily at the Synod of Bishops' special assembly on the Amazon, Pope Francis clearly referred to those cries from the Amazon which, for three weeks in the Vatican, resonated in the heart of Christianity.

First, a scream from the ground, from the "wounded and distorted beauty" of the Amazon, "a place of pain and violence," where "attacks against nature have consequences on the lives of peoples."

"The Amazonian forest is a "biological heart" for this increasingly threatened land. It is in a frantic race toward death," insists the final document, presented on Oct. 26, the penultimate day of the Synod.

Then there is the cry of the poor, that the Synod has consistently pointed out are in the frontline in the face of the destruction of Creation.

The final text lists the long list of depredations suffered by the Amazonian population.

'Integral conversion' and 'ecological sin'

Images of the "martyrs" who gave their lives to defend the rights of indigenous peoples were displayed throughout the debates in the synodal aula, and synodal fathers are resolutely committed to working alongside human rights defenders, indignant at their "criminalization" and the "voracious and predatory attitude" of humans in the region.

To respond to these cries, they invite us to "true integral conversion, with a simple and sober life" and propose "to define an ecological sin" as "seen" as an action or omission against God, our neighbour, the community and the environment."

"A sin against future generations that manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment, transgressions against the principles of interdependence and the rupture of networks of solidarity among creatures."

Throughout the pages, the Church thus wishes to be "Amazonian, Samaritan, incarnate in the way in which the Son of God became incarnate," in the words of the "pact of the catacombs" renewed a few days earlier by some of the synodal fathers who were committed to asserting the voice of the weakest against the many oppositions, including in the Church, where some have never stopped denigrating a "political" synod.

'Because they love no one, they believe they love God'

In an improvised speech after the vote on the final document, Francis responded to these "small elitist groups", quoting Charles Péguy on the devotees.

"Because they do not have the courage to be from one of man's parties, they believe that they are from God's party. Because they are not of man, they believe that they are of God. Because they love no one, they think they love God."

On Oct. 21, indigenous statuettes symbolizing fertility were stolen from an exhibition organized in a church near Rome on the fringes of the Synod assembly, and then thrown into the Tiber. An act against "idolatry" according to some fundamentalists; an expression of contempt for Amazonian cultures and the way they turn, in their own way, to the one God, for specialists in indigenous theologies.

In his homily, Francis, who had asked for forgiveness on Oct. 25 for this gesture, criticized those who consider others "backward and of little worth, they despise their traditions, erase their history, occupy their lands, and usurp their goods."

Enculturation

"How much alleged superiority, transformed into oppression and exploitation, exists even today! The mistakes of the past were not enough to stop the plundering of other persons and the inflicting of wounds on our brothers and sisters and on our sister earth," he said. "Worship of self carries on hypocritically with its rites and 'prayers' – many are Catholics, they profess themselves Catholic, but have forgotten they are Christians and human beings – forgetting the true worship of God which is always expressed in love of one's neighbour."

If the closing Mass was not very "enculturated", the subject was very much developed by the final document of the Synod which, linking "defence of life, land and indigenous cultures", rejects "an evangelization in the colonial style" and wants "to approach the Amazonian peoples on an equal footing, respecting their histories, their cultures and their style of 'living well'".

Hence a vigorous defence of enculturation lived as "the incarnation of the Gospel in indigenous cultures and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church."

Ordination of married men but caution about the female deaconate

One of the great cries of the Synod was about the lack of pastors.

"It sometimes takes months, even years, before a priest can return to a community to celebrate the Eucharist, offer the sacrament of reconciliation or anoint the sick," the final document acknowledges.

It therefore proposes to "ordain priests of suitable men recognized by the community, who have a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive adequate training in the priesthood, who can have a legally constituted and stable family."

In his speech, Francis refrained from expressing an opinion, pleading above all for a better distribution of priests in Latin America and launching the idea that future diplomats of the Holy See spend, during their formation, "at least one year" in the service of a mission diocese.

Well aware that the ordination of married men is not a miracle solution, the Synod articulates it in a broader reflection on ministries, especially lay ministries, whose equal openness to men and women it demands (starting with the readership and acolytes). He also invites us to create new ones — welcoming migrants, caring for the common house, "instituted ministry of women community leaders ... We must be 'creative' and "see how far we can go", said Francis.

'Don't be afraid!'

Nevertheless, although half of the linguistic crossroads had expressly requested it, the Synod remained very cautious about the female diaconate, contenting itself with asking for the relaunch of the commission established in 2016 by Francis and which had ended without a common position.

"In cooperation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I will appoint new persons," the pope said on Oct. 26. Nor did he reject the reflection on a proper rite "which expresses the disciplinary and spiritual theological heritage of the Amazon."

Its study would be entrusted to a new body linking the dioceses of Amazonia, the Episcopal Conferences and the Latin American Episcopal Council (Celam).

"Let's not be afraid of organizations that manage their own heritage. Our mother the Church ensures that we do not divide ourselves. Don't be afraid!", exhorted Francis, who will have to decide on the issue in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation that he will publish in a few months.

"Finally," he said, as if with a smile, "it depends on whether I find time to think."

This article was written by Nicolas Seneze and first appeared in La Croix, 28 October, 2019