Letters from the Synod of the Amazon

Br Mark O’Connor FMS Vicar for Communications, Parramatta Diocese : Letters from the Synod of the Amazon

The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region was held in the Vatican from 6 to 27 October. Br Mark O’Connor FMS, Vicar for Communications, Parramatta Diocese provided regular updates and news from the Synod to his diocese.

The following is a synopis of his letters and links to the full texts.


Letter 1

Dom Helder Camara, the Brazilian prophet and mystic of the Church in Latin America, would be rejoicing in heaven as the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region begins in Rome today.

In his poem, Put Your Ear to the Ground, Dom Helder urges us all to shun bitterness and to listen for signs of hope and the Lord’s presence in our daily lives:

In the chaos of contemporary life and the crises in the Church, we are all tempted to lose hope.
But today, in Rome, the Spirit of the Risen Jesus is hovering over the chaos. The Spirit is breaking through and breathing new life into the Universal Church through this Synod of the Amazon.
And yes, it is of great relevance to the Universal Church…

These days we are all weary and even cynical about our political ‘leaders’. The crass greed and amorality of Donald Trump is joined with the lust for power of so many politicians who promote a selfish ‘nationalism’ in so many countries.

In this ‘desert’ of our public life, we Catholics can be very proud of our leader, Pope Francis.
Francis is almost a solitary prophetic voice, amongst world leaders, crying out for compassion and mercy for all those who are victims of injustice.

We can only evangelise our times through inculturation. Whether it’s the Amazon or a local Church … , we must understand the times in which we live and discern where God’s spirit is present.
Mauricio Lopez, from Caritas Ecuador explains, “The whole Synod is about the Amazon, and then enlightening the Universal Church. It’s about contemplation of the incarnation. How does the Trinity look down on earth and see this diversity? And how do we hear the call to redeem, to take part, to bring life and possibilities?”


Letter 2

Pedro Casaldáliga, who is bishop emeritus of the Amazonian diocese of São Félix do Araguaia, Brazil, has penned a prophetic poem – ‘Deixa a Cúria, Pedro!’ (Leave the Curia, Peter!)
Pope Francis is living out this poem in front of our eyes.

Leave the Curia, Peter!

Leave the Curia, Peter,
disassemble the Sanhedrin and the walls,
order all the impeccable scrolls to be changed
to words of life and love.
Let us go to the garden of the banana plantations,
undercover and by night, at any risk,
for there, the Master sweats the blood of the poor.
The tunic/vestment is this humble disfigured flesh,
so many cries of children unanswered,
and memories embroidered with the anonymous dead. ……


Letter 3

Today, in Rome, at the Synod of the Amazon, … the successor of Peter, has gathered an impressive, representative and diverse group of lay leaders, religious, theologians and Bishop pastors.
These are people largely actually working in the field hospital of the Amazon.
They are seeking, as the pilgrim people of God, to discern the Spirit and imagine new steps for the good of the people of God.
They don’t necessarily have all the answers but there is a refreshing sense that the Spirit is breaking through.
Certainly, new graces are being offered by these local churches. Graces that can also teach us much …

These synodal delegates are ironically, the real orthodox conservatives – because they want to conserve and apply the living Gospel to today’s realities!
They understand that: “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living; whereas Tradition is the living faith of the dead.”
On the other hand, there are some here in Rome who are determined to repeat the old mantra: “No new steps!” And not all of these are old people!
They are almost exclusively represented by a tiny group of well-funded, largely USA reactionary Catholic media people (with the help of a few neo-fascist Italian intellectual journalists).
They are determined to do anything and everything they can to burn the house of the Church down, in order to maintain their campaign against Pope Francis.
With little or no sensitivity to the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, they rush in to condemn before even trying to understand. Remarkably, these critics are trashing the legacy of Pope St John Paul II and his profound understanding of inculturation.

Pope Francis leads the Synod with daring prudence! He prophesises: “A fire does not burn by itself; it has to be fed or else it dies; it turns into ashes. If everything continues as it was…then the gift vanishes, smothered by the ashes of fear and concern for defending the status quo.”

A key leader in the Synod is Cardinal Cláudio Hummes OFM of Brazil. In his overview, which uses a variation of the Cardijn method of See, Judge, Act methodology Cardinal Hummes addressed the three great themes of the Synod as: the Environment, Indigenous peoples and evangelisation.
The former Archbishop of Sao Paulo, argues that “ecological conversion” is necessary to ensure that Christians understand the “gravity of sin against the environment as a sin against God, against one’s neighbour and against future generations.”


Letter 4

“Following the Spirit means following the pain-lines to join the powerless in the Spirit’s creative and redemptive work”
Fr Enda McDonagh

Dear Friends,
The Spirit is leading Pope Francis and the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region to follow the “pain-lines” of the local Churches of the Amazonian region and to join the powerless.
That has enormous significance for them and also for the entire Universal Church.

And so, after two intense weeks of hundreds of speeches and many hours of dialogue and discussion the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region now enters into a new phase.
… many delegates that I have spoken to say that there are two things that particularly strike them about these days of grace.
The first is how many people comment about the humble listening presence of Pope Francis at the Synod.
Pope Francis mainly just listens and in the simple interactions, at moments like coffee breaks, just joins the queue and is himself a participant keen to share and learn.
The second is how the Synod Hall is often filled with a touching reverence and silence after the witness of the Indigenous peoples – women, and men – who are present in significant numbers.
Their participation is the highlight of the Synod to so many.

So, let’s now listen to some of the ‘pain-lines’ of the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon region.

• Extreme violence done to Indigenous peoples
• Ongoing ecological destruction
• Evil drug trafficking
• Shocking violence against women

How then can we as Church follow the ‘pain-lines’ and be in solidarity with these suffering peoples?
Here are how some voices from the Amazonian Synod envisage it:

• One bishop spoke powerfully about the need to intensify the Indigenous pastoral ministry. He spoke of how the local Church is putting into practice “what the Pope is calling us to do”: namely, that it should be the Indigenous peoples themselves who shape the Church in the Amazon.
• An important aspect, said Bishop Wilmar, is that the people he works with should have their own leaders. Until now, these have always been foreigners.
• Pope Francis, said Bishop Wilmar, told someone how he dreamed of seeing an Indigenous priest in every village.
• Their local Churches need priests who come out of the communities.
• The People of God need a theology that speaks to people of the presence of God and shows that presence.
• Carlo Verzeletti, a Brazilian bishop in Amazon, told the Synod that it’s vital to ordain married men, “so we can be closer to the people”.
• His diocese already has “extraordinary” married men who are already living “Eucharistic” lives, that is, selflessly serving others, and serving the common good.
• Openness to new forms of ministry means the incorporation of women and young people.
• The theme of women in the Church was also brought up again and again, with the request that they are given more pastoral responsibility and effective participation, even at decision-making levels.
• Discerning the institution of women deacons in the region was also requested.


Letter Five.
Br Mark recorded a short video interview at the Marist General House in Rome on the progress of the Synod of the Amazon.



Letter 6

One could make a compelling case, that most problems and conflicts in our lives and within the Church, have actually little to do with ‘theology’ but arise when we ‘cannot let go’ in trust and persist in mistrust of the others around us.

And, of course, if you can’t trust others, you have to ‘control’ them… and what havoc that wreaks in people’s lives, especially in the Church!

Instead, our challenge as Christians, is to constantly pray and discern, so as we can discover God’s Spirit presence in our ordinary lives. We are constantly called to open ourselves up to the abundant surprises of the Spirit of the Risen Jesus of Nazareth.
God is, after all, a surprise!

We are witnessing the birth of a new multicultural Catholicism in which all the regional Churches may be expected to interact, mutually criticising and enriching one another.
In calling and participating so humbly in the Synod of the Amazon, Francis is showing how each of local Churches, in union with the Universal Church, can continue to implement Vatican II and to preach the Good News of Jesus to all around them.

And so, Francis urges us to do this by walking and together as a Church in what he calls the ‘synodal’ path. Just a few days ago he outlined what that practically means.
Pope Francis insisted that the Church must be “on the move, always broadening her space.”
He reminded us “that the ecclesial method for resolving conflicts is based on dialogue made up of attentive and patient listening and with discernment carried out with the light of the Spirit.”

Synodality, the pope said, is “the presence of the Holy Spirit, otherwise it is not synodality, it is a parlour, a parliament, something else.”
For “the Church is not a fortress, but a tent capable of expanding and offering access to everyone,” he said.

After three weeks of listening to some 200 four-minute interventions from cardinals, bishops, priests, and women and men religious, as well as women and men representing the Indigenous peoples of the Pan-Amazonian region and digesting 800 pages of report from the small discussing groups, the final document was released Saturday night October 26.
And what a beautiful and prophetic document it is!
The final document is in Spanish and whilst I have a draft English translation only, the final English version will appear this week probably at www.vaticannews.va/en.html.

All the paragraphs in the final synod document were passed with the two-thirds majority of the Synodal delegates

Accept surprises
that upset your plans,
shatter your dreams
and give a completely different turning to your day.
And who knows…
to your life!
It is not chance.
Leave the father free himself
To weave the pattern of your days.
– Dom Helder Camara




Letters from the Synod: Ear to the Ground

Letters from the Synod: Leave the Curia Peter!

Letters from the Synod: There are new steps

Letters from the Synod: Follow the pain-lines! The Amazonian Synod listens and learns

Letters from the Synod: Video Update

Letters from the Synod: Accept the surprises

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  1. Donal Dorr says:

    Thanks for these fine letters. There seems to be a delay in the Vatican sending out an official English translation of the final Synod document. So, in case any of you would like to read an unofficial translation of the final document, the following reference gives it. However, it came in the form of a scanned document rather than as an ordinary written document and the tops of the pages are slightly twisted, but it is still quite readable. It seems to me to be a very inspiring document.
    Donal Dorr

  2. Seamus Ahearne says:

    Those letters were so refreshing. The rich Church of the Amazon was sharing with the poor Church of the West. Our poverty is shown in our weariness; in our negativity; in our cynicism; in our cowering away from the media; in our sadness in faith. The dance of Liturgy is absent. The music in our religious language is dreary. Dying ministers minister in a dying church. The Amazon Church spoke differently.

    There was encouragement. There was gratitude. There was heart and warmth. There was enthusiasm.

    Siya Kolisi spoke as Captain of the Springboks. His words were an echo of Mandela. Zelda La Grange wrote an open letter to Mandela (her former boss). She spoke of Kolisi and where he came from and who he was. She said “that like you (Mandela), he (Siya) is that person who everyone can identify with, irrespective of class, colour, religion or ideology. We need heroes like that because politicians have disappointed us. He represents what we want to be as a nation – a humble, simple, authentic unifer. He is the ‘home’ boy from Zeide. He has taken the baton from you.“

    Let’s search for the Siya Kolisis among us. Let’s learn from the people of the Amazon. Let’s become outrageous and real. Let’s shout and scream of the God who is among us. Let’s lift up our hearts. Now if the people of the Amazon can do it; why can’t we? The baton of faith has been passed to us. Let’s not drop it.

    Seamus Ahearne osa

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