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Amazonian rite and married priests pass vote in final Synod document

Major discussions: Pope Francis meets indigenous people from the Amazon in the Paul VI hall at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. Photo: CNS

JESUS Christ is central, Peruvian professor and member of the Ashaninka people Delio Siticonatzi Camaiteri said at a press briefing at the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon on October 24.

Professor Camaiteri was responding to a question about an Amazonian rite of the Catholic Church proposed at the synod.

“Do we (want to) have our own rites? Yes, we do,” he said. “But those rites must be incorporated with what is central, which is Jesus Christ.

“There is nothing else to argue about on this issue. The centre that is uniting us in this synod is Jesus Christ.”

The Amazonian rite was one of the final controversies to strike the synod; it represented the struggle of the synod itself – misinformation, a lack of transparency, the centrality of land and cultural identity.

The final synod document was voted on by 185 voting members, mostly cardinals and bishops, on October 26. 

Three controversial measures – ordination of married men, an Amazonian rite and further discussion on women deacons – outlined in the final document all passed the vote.

This does not mean these measures will be implemented.

Pope Francis can choose to act on the measures or not, and it is as yet unclear what the Vatican will choose to do, or when.

The synod was marked by an understanding issued from Pope Francis that information to the media be kept to an adjudicated minimum.

“This is for me one of the most significant traits of these last weeks: lack of transparency,” Catholic journalist Maike Hickson said on Twitter.

“As a journalist and Catholic woman, I cannot remember how many times my media requests have been left unanswered: by Synod secretariat (Bishop) Kraeutler, Vatican Press (Office), REPAM, Adveniat.”

Without information, the media has instead fuelled controversy.

One incident involved the theft and vandalism of statues used in synod liturgies, an act which was filmed and circulated widely online.

The footage showed unidentified men taking the Pachamama statues, symbols of fertility from the Amazon region, and tossing them into the Tiber River from the Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge.

The men were traditional Catholics protesting the use of the statues as idolatry.

The Holy See called the act a “stunt” and a “theft”, and said the statues represented life the same way a “glass of water” represented life in the West.

Misinformation about the synod plagued it from the outset. 

Perhaps the most pervasive mistaken belief was that the synod was about South America.

It was a synod on the Pan-Amazonian region, which covered a vast space but not the whole continent and not the major cities and trading hubs.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who played a major role at the synod, said the synod concerned 800,000 square kilometres with a population of 33 million people.

The focus on land was intentional. The focus on indigenous perspectives was also intentional.

Two loose categories of discussion on the synod emerged – nature and ministry.

One of the insights of the synod was that to an indigenous person these two categories were one. 

Marcivana Rodrigues Paiva, from the Satere-Mawe indigenous people of Brazil, said her people’s spirituality was focused on the earth “from which we come”.

Her ancestors had been caring for the earth for thousands of years, she said.

That is why “the cry coming from the Amazon is to take care of mother earth”.

Pope Francis labelled the Amazon as “a raped woman whose cry is to rally because only in this way is evangelisation reawakened”.

Profit-driven criminality by multinational corporations, a vast narcotics trade and rapid urbanisation were some of the culprits behind the abuse, according to the testimonies of synod fathers and representatives at the synod.

Dr Felicio de Araujo Pontes Junior, who is a specialist in indigenous rights, told press the Amazon was an “asset”, and allowing it to thrive “makes economic sense”.

“Nature has rights,” he said.

National co-ordinator of the Movement for Victims affected by Dams in Brazil Judite da Rocha highlighted the threats posed by hydroelectric power stations to fishermen and people living alongside rivers.

She said multinational companies exploiting natural resources caused mental health issues, depression, and even suicide. She said people were told to “leave or die”.

Exploitation in the region from corporate interests was rife, particularly with land grabs, rights violations and irreversible destruction.

Brazilian Bishop Mario da Silver denounced these actions and said greed, profit and excess contained the “DNA of evil and sin”. This “sin” disproportionately harmed the indigenous people.

The indigenous people suffered disproportionately in ministry too.

Vienna Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, one of the synod fathers responsible for drafting the final document, said as one of the few Europeans in the synod, he wanted to only ask questions and not make propositions.

“My first question was: ‘What does it mean that 60 per cent of the Christian population in Amazonia are more or less with the Pentecostals?’” he told Vatican News.

Cardinal Schönborn said the answer was a need for pastoral ministry – not only of visit – but of presence.

If these communities dispersed across hundreds of kilometres in the Amazon region had a priest visiting once a year, that was not a pastoral ministry of presence, he said.

“The Pentecostals are present in most of the villages,” he said.

Amazon people often received Eucharist only once or twice a year because of this.

Viri probati – the proposal that married men of virtue could be ordained – was proposed and discussed as a solution to this problem at the synod.

“I voiced my surprise that permanent diaconate is not so much present in Amazonia, while there is much discussion about the viri probati,” Cardinal Schönborn said.

He said in Austria they already had viri probati because the Second Vatican Council “gave us the permission to ordain married men who have given a good witness of their family life, or their professional life, of their Christian faith, to be permanent deacons”.

“So why not start with viri probati deacons in the villages? Prepare them as catechists, as deacons, before asking whether they can become priests?” he said.

Cardinal Schönborn pointed out the diaconate was a stage in ordination to priesthood anyway.

The role of women was widely discussed at the synod; the final reporting of Pope Francis’ discussions suggest a women’s diaconate is not on the table. 

Sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Roselei Bertoldo said trafficking, especially of girls and women, was often an “invisible crime”.

She said the presence of women in the communities was undeniable.

“We are church and we do church,” she said.

Women, she said, claimed and wanted to become protagonists in the Church. 

Sr Daniela Adriana Cannavina, who is Confederation of Latin American Religious secretary general, spoke of letting women take on certain pastoral ministries “in a responsible way”.  Again she stressed “co-operation and co-responsibility” as a priority, clarifying this was not about “clericalism or power”. Religious life was about service, she said.

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