At Amazon synod closing Mass, Pope Francis decries ‘predatory models of development’

Pope Francis’ crosier for the closing Mass was a gift from members of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. (Photo by Daniel Ibanez, CNA)

By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency

[Vatican City – CNA] –  In his homily at the Amazon synod closing Mass Oct. 27, 2019, Pope Francis denounced exploitation and “predatory models of development” that plunder the poor and wound “sister earth.”

“In this Synod we have had the grace of listening to the voices of the poor and reflecting on the precariousness of their lives, threatened by predatory models of development,” he said at St. Peter’s Basilica.

“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: we have seen it in the scarred face of the Amazon region,” the Holy Father said.

Pope Francis said that throughout history people who have considered themselves superior to others have “made other people feel rejected” by “considering them backward and of little worth.”

“They despise their traditions, erase their history, occupy their lands, and usurp their goods,” he said. “How much alleged superiority, transformed into oppression and exploitation, exists even today.”

The Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica served as the official close of the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazonian region, which took place at the Vatican Oct. 6-27. The synod final document approved by the 181 voting bishops Oct. 26 calls for the ordination of married men in the Amazon region, and an ecological conversion for the entire Church.

“How many times, even in the Church, have the voices of the poor not been heard and perhaps scoffed at or silenced because they are inconvenient,” the pope said.

A woman carried a plant in the opening procession as the choir sang St. Francis’ Canticle, “Laudato Si.” She later presented the plant to Pope Francis during the presentation of the gifts.

Pope Francis reflected on the Gospel from Luke in which a Pharisee’s prayer is “I thank you God that I am not like the rest of humanity,” while a tax collector prays for the mercy of God.

“The root of every spiritual error, as the ancient monks taught, is believing ourselves to be righteous,” Pope Francis warned.

The pope said that the pharisee was “brimming with self-assurance about his own ability to keep the commandments” and was focused only on himself, forgetting to love God and his neighbor.

“He stands in the temple of God, but the one he worships is himself,” Pope Francis said, adding, in a departure from his prepared remarks, that there are many “prestigious” Catholic groups who do the same.

“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. Even Christians who pray and go to Mass on Sunday are subject to this religion of the self,” he added.

Pope Francis said that the prayer of those who presume themselves righteous remains earthly, “crushed by the gravitational force of egoism,” while the prayer of the humble person rises directly to God.

“Let us pray for the grace not to consider ourselves superior, not to believe that we are alright, not to become cynical and scornful. Let us ask Jesus to heal us of speaking ill and complaining about others, of despising this or that person: these things are displeasing to God,” he said.

Catholic indigneous people from the Amazon were special guests at the Mass, as were members from the L’Arche community, an initiative that supports people with intellectual disabilities.

“Let us pray for the grace to be able to listen to the cry of the poor: this is the cry of hope of the Church. When we make their cry our own, our prayer too will reach to the clouds,” Pope Francis said.

Church must convert from cultural, ecological sins, Amazon synod concludes

By Courtney Mares and Hannah Brockhaus, Catholic News Agency

[Vatican City – CNA] – The Amazon synod final document, published Oct. 26, laid out the need to define “ecological sins” while calling the Church to walk new paths of “integral conversion.”

“We propose to define ecological sins of commission or omission against God, one’s neighbor, the community and the environment,” paragraph 82 of the final document states. “They are sins against future generations and are manifest in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment.”

“No believer, no Catholic can live their life of faith without listening to the voice of the earth,” Bishop David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea, apostolic vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Peru explained at a press conference to present the final document Oct. 26.

“If we are going to face the problem, then we have to change,” added special secretary for the synod Cardinal Michael Czerny.

Czerny, who also serves as under-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, warned that the “good news” will not necessarily reach people in the Amazon “if we continue doing what we have been doing.”

The final document for the Synod of Bishops on the Pan-Amazon region calls for a new four-fold expression of “integral conversion” for the Church in the Amazon: pastoral, cultural, synodal, and ecological. These are framed in terms of “new paths of conversion” in the chapter titles for each of the subjects.

“New paths” are a way of saying “change,” Czerny said. “Without conversions, we are repeating what we have done before …but there is no real change.”

“We have brought our tradition into play so that we can find a way forward,” he said. For the pope, the most important necessary change is “pastoral change.”

The 33-page document, was approved article by article by a two-thirds majority vote on Oct. 26. It is the result of a three-week meeting in Rome during which the synod’s 181 voting members, together with representatives from indigenous communities, religious orders, lay groups and charities, discussed a range of issues concerning the region, spread across nine countries.

In ordinary sessions of the Synod of Bishops, delegates are elected by the world’s bishops conferences. In the special session for the pan-Amazonian region, all attendees were by special invitation.

The document was drafted by a committee of experts and special secretaries, assisted by a drafting committee elected from among the synod fathers. The draft text was presented to the assembly on Friday night, and various amendments were proposed and debated during the approval process.

The final synodal document has no teaching or binding authority of its own.

Pope Francis said in his closing remarks in the synod hall Oct. 26 that he will write a post-synodal exhortation, to hopefully be published before the end of the year.

Ecological Conversion

In addition to the synod document’s proposal to change universal Church discipline on clerical celibacy and create new roles for women, it also contains strong exhortations on environmental issues and the rights of indigenous peoples.

On the topic of integral ecology and the environment, the document references the threat of exploitation of the Amazon and its peoples.

It also criticizes as “scandalous” the criminalization of Amazonian ethnic communities whose rights are threatened, it says, by public policies favoring the exploitation of natural resources.

These projects “exert pressure on ancestral indigenous territories” and are accompanied by “widespread impunity throughout regarding human rights violations.”

The document notes the Church’s teaching on the inviolability of the human person, which is created in the image and likeness of God.

The synod fathers propose giving support to “fair” sustainable development initiatives, though it does not name specific initiatives.

“The Amazon is in the hands of us all, but it depends mainly on immediately abandoning the current model that is destroying the forest, not bringing well-being and endangering this immense natural treasure and its guardians,” the report states.

It goes on to say it is “incumbent” on the Church to help protect the Amazon by being an “ally” of the local communities, “who know how to take care of the Amazon, how to love and protect it.”

The indigenous peoples are “asking the church to become their ally and the answer of the church is yes,” Czerny said.

“With the Amazon burning, many more people are realizing that things have to change. We cannot keep repeating old responses to urgent problems,” Czerny said. “The ecological crisis is so deep that if we don’t change we won’t make it.”

Czerny said that environmental scientists and other experts who audited the synod helped the bishops to understand “the planet suffering” because “they drove scientific facts home in a way that we can feel them.”

The Canadian cardinal said that people want “a plastic solution” that is not going to affect their lives and not require them to change, but he stressed that it does not exist and conversion is required.

The synod document also condemns the theft of the “traditional wisdom” of the Amazonian peoples as “biopiracy” and a “form of violence.”

“The Church chooses to defend life, the land and the native Amazon cultures,” including in the Amazon peoples’ “registration, processing and dissemination of data and information about their territories and their legal status,” it states.

The report says the Church must guard itself against “the power of neo-colonialism” and  “unlearn, learn and relearn” in order to overcome any tendency toward “colonizing models.”

The synod reaffirms a “commitment to defend life seamlessly from conception to natural death and the dignity of each and every person.”

Pastoral service to the indigenous, it says, “obliges us to proclaim Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Kingdom of God.”

Pope Francis announced in his closing speech to the synod that he would create a new section in the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development dedicated to the Church in the Amazon.

The synod final document also called for a “socio-environmental and pastoral office” to work in alliance with the Latin American church organizations REPAM, CELAM, CLAR, and other non-ecclesial actors representing indigenous peoples.

Cultural Conversion

The synod document states that “inculturation is the incarnation of the Gospel in indigenous cultures… and at the same time the introduction of these cultures into the life of the Church.”

The Amazon culture and spirituality already have a rich “indigenous theology, Amazonian face of theology and popular piety,” it says, adding that they “reject a colonial style of evangelization.”

“The evangelization that we propose today for the Amazon is the inculturated proclamation that generates processes of interculturality, processes that promote the life of the Church with an Amazon identity and face,” the report states.

Czerny said that it is very important for the Church to learn how to be “interculturally respectful.”

“Not to assume that the way I am or the way we are is definitive, is the norm, is the way it has to be … differences have to be embraced,” he said.

“The church is not an inflexible structure in which your cultures and traditions will find no place … it is the opposite,” Bishop Guinea said.

“A Church with an Amazonian face,” the document states, “needs its communities to be infused with a synodal spirit, supported by organizational structures of this dynamic, as authentic organisms of ‘communion.’”

“The Church’s research and pastoral centres, in alliance with the indigenous peoples, should study, compile and systematize the traditions of the Amazon’s ethnic groups in order to favor an educational effort that starts from their identity and culture…”

Synodal Conversion

The synod document also calls for “new paths for synodal conversion.”

Cardinal Czerny said that this process involved “an unprecedented process of listening” before the Amazon synod.

“You know that synodality is working when you find yourself voting for something which you knew before the synod began that you disagreed with,” Czerny said.

When asked what was the working definition of “synodality” understood among the synod fathers, Czerny replied, “Everyone had a sense of what it meant because we were doing it. Whether everyone could explain it in words, I am not so sure, but I am not sure that that matters.”

A synod is a consultative assembly, convened by the pope or a bishop, to advise on a particular topic of interest to the local, regional, or universal Church.