With the presence of Brazilian indigenous groups, this Sunday’s Mass at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica was special: Pope Francis officially opened the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. The ceremony began punctually at 10am this Sunday, Rome time.
“The fire that destroys, like the one that devastated the Amazon, is not that of the Gospel,” said the Pope. In his homily, the Pope welcomed the synod bishops and spoke of the importance of “walking together,” quoting the apostle Paul. “We are bishops because we have received a gift from God. We have received a gift to be gifts. A gift is not bought, not exchanged and not sold. It is received and given as a gift,” he said, speaking of the importance that religious are pastors, not employees. “Gift received is to serve.” The ceremony featured readings in Portuguese and Spanish, languages spoken in countries with Amazonian territories.
Of the 250 people called by the Pope to attend the Synod, 58 are Brazilian – the largest delegation. The general rapporteur of the Synod is Brazilian Cardinal Dom Claudio Hummes, Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo and President of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (Repam). The meeting, which takes place from Sunday (6) until the 27th, should address social, environmental and religious issues of the nine countries that have territories in the Amazon. In addition to Brazil, are Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, French Guiana, Venezuela and Suriname.
Pope Francis also remembered those who were killed in fights and missions in the Amazon region. “Dear Cardinal Hummes,” he addressed the Brazilian. “When you get to small Amazon cities, go to the cemetery to look for the tombs of the missionaries. A gesture from the Church for those who shed their lives in the Amazon. Let us not forget them, they deserve to be canonized.”
“Many brothers and sisters from the Amazon carry heavy crosses and wait for the liberation of the Gospel,” said Francisco.
Among the participants are religious as bishops, priests and nuns, but also invited lay people – scientists and people linked to the United Nations (UN). The expectation is high about the debates, mainly due to the contemporary climate crisis and recent statements by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro about environmental problems in the Amazon that had a bad impact abroad.
One of the scientists participating in the event is Brazilian climatologist Carlos Nobre, who was part of the team that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 and is one of the most renowned experts in the world in his field. Noble is from the Institute of Advanced Studies, University of São Paulo. In conversation with the report, he said the Synod shows that the Amazon “has become a matter of worldwide concern.” “Although it was not planned to do so, the Synod comes at a time when deforestation and burning are increasing dangerously and the discussion has been receiving much attention,” he said. “The meeting will allow us to discuss new development models for the Amazon, a standing forest bioeconomy and the empowerment of its populations.”
In conversation with the report, US Jesuit Father James Martin, Vatican consultant, called the Synod “a time for the church to gather and meditate on the many challenges it faces, not just in terms of the environment.” “But also how to help the church reach people in places that are often not served by priests and parishes,” he said. “And the way this region answers these questions will help other areas address their own problems through this important mode of discernment.”
“Pope Francis has called a Synod on the Amazon because this region deserves a synod,” he said.
According to the Working Instrument, the document released earlier to guide the Synod’s discussions, the topics to be debated range from the situation of indigenous and riverside communities to the international exploitation of the region’s natural resources. The bishops will also discuss the violence, drug trafficking and sexual exploitation that victimizes local people, illegal logging practices, deforestation, river pollution and threats to biodiversity, the global climate crisis, possibly irreversible forest damage and the position of governments on nature-damaging economic projects.