Courageous response required of the Church for Amazon region, pope says

Pope Francis at Mass on Oct. 6, 2019, at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for the opening of the Amazon synod. Photo: Riccardo de Luca/Shutterstock

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said he dreams of an Amazon region where the rights of the poor and indigenous are respected, local cultures are preserved, nature is protected, and the Catholic Church is present and active with “Amazonian features.”

In his apostolic exhortation Querida Amazonia (Beloved Amazonia), Francis made no mention of the idea of ordaining married men to the priesthood so that far-flung Catholic communities would have regular access to the Eucharist.

Instead, he said “every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian people do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.”

“A specific and courageous response is required of the Church”  to meet the needs of Catholics, he said, without dictating what that response would be.

However, Francis opened the document saying he wanted “to officially present the final document” of October’s Synod of Bishops for the Amazon.

The final document asked for criteria to be drawn up “to ordain as priests suitable and respected men of the community with a legitimately constituted and stable family, who have had a fruitful permanent diaconate and receive an adequate formation for the priesthood, in order to sustain the life of the Christian community through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments in the most remote areas of the Amazon region.”

Speaking about the final document, Francis wrote that the synod “profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region.”

Having a Church with “Amazonian features,” he said, also will require greater efforts to evangelize, official recognition of the role women have and continue to play in the region’s Catholic communities, a respect for popular forms of piety, and greater efforts to inculturate the Catholic faith in Amazonian cultures.

“Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples,” he said.

Pope Francis celebrates Mass on Oct. 6, 2019, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome for the opening of the Amazon synod. Photo: Riccardo de Luca/Shutterstock

The pope devoted several long passages to the theme of “inculturation,” the process by which the faith becomes “incarnate” in a local culture, taking on local characteristics that are in harmony with the faith and giving the local culture values and traits that come from the universal Church.

“There is a risk,” he said, “that evangelizers who come to a particular area may think that they must not only communicate the Gospel but also the culture in which they grew up.”

Instead, he said, “what is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ.”

One of the characteristics of many Catholic communities in the Amazon, he wrote, is that, in the absence of priests, they are led and sustained by “strong and generous women, who, undoubtedly called and prompted by the Holy Spirit, baptized, catechized, prayed, and acted as missionaries.”

What is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit.

While the idea of ordaining women deacons was mentioned at the synod, it was not included in the bishops’ final document.

In his exhortation, Francis said the idea that women’s status and participation in the Church could come only with ordination “would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.”

Instead, he called for including women in roles “that do not entail Holy Orders,” but that are stably established, publicly recognized, and include “a commission from the bishop” and a voice in decision-making.

— La Croix International staff (with Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service)

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