“Active listening… to God, the Amazon, the people, and the pain of mother earth”. The cry is the same, whether in the Amazon or from our indigenous people in India

Synod Fathers Expected to Vote on Final Document on Saturday Afternoon


Over the past three weeks, the daily press briefings have provided an opportunity to hear, first-hand, the experiences and reactions of Synod participants coming from, or engaged in, the Amazon Region. Following is the October 25, 2019, report by Vatican News.

Sr Inés Azucena Zambrano Jara is a Missionary Sister of Mary Immaculate, originally from Ecuador, but working in Colombia. As a woman at the Synod, she said she felt “trusted and heard.” Sr Inés described the atmosphere at the Synod as one of “active listening… to God, the Amazon, the people, and the pain of mother earth.”

Sr Inés said the women participating at the Synod were calling themselves the “Synod Mothers”, reflecting the sense of family and belonging.

Her hopes for after the Synod include “building an indigenous Church with an Amazonian face – and an Amazonian heart.” To do so, we need “to deepen indigenous theology and listen to the poor,” she said. Learning local languages is important because it allows us to enter the indigenous spiritual experience, she added. While continuing to work for the protection of their rights, we need to recognize that indigenous people are asking to “stand on their own two feet,” she said.

Fr Miguel Heinz, SVD, is a Divine Word Missionary and President of Adveniat, the German bishops’ relief agency for Latin America that helps “build bridges”, funding educational and human rights projects, among others.

We cannot separate integral ecology from our lifestyles, said Fr Heinz. This means supporting nature and people, above all, he added. Fr Heinz confirmed that Latin America “has made great progress” since the Second Vatican Council, “setting an example” in understanding how to live “a new way of being Church”.

Reverend Nicolau Nascimento de Paiva is a pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil. He is currently President of the Amazonian Council of Christian Churches, and is one of the “fraternal delegates” invited to attend the Synod.

He spoke of his personal familiarity with the ecumenical movement in the Amazon Region, where there is “mutual respect for different ideas”. There are more things that unite us than divide us, he said. Which is why we need to work on shared issues from a faith perspective: integral ecology, social, political, and economic questions. Taking care of our common home is everyone’s task, he added.

Bishop Evaristo Pascoal Spengler comes from Marajó, “an archipelago comprising thousands of islands”, in Brazil. His presentation focused on what he called “the decisive presence of women in the early history of the Church”. “God employs women in salvation history”, he said, and gave the examples of women prophets, judges, saints, and doctors of the Church.

Bishop Spengler said over 60% of communities in the Amazon Region are led by women, serving as catechists, ministers of the Word and of the Eucharist, especially in areas where priests are able to visit “less than twice a year”. The ordination of male deacons “could be useful”, he added, to create a “Church of presence”. The role of women too “must be expanded upon”, said the Bishop, citing Saint Paul who refers to women deacons in his letters.

Bishop Joaquín Humberto Pinzón Güiza is a Consolata Missionary and Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Leguizamo-Solano in Colombia. Through this synod, “our Amazonian communities feel they are at the heart of the Church and of all people”, he said.

The Bishop stressed the connection between indigenous people and the concept of “buen vivir” (“good living”). For them, “buen vivir” includes integral ecology, “an invitation to universal fraternity”, said Bishop Pinzón Güiza. For indigenous people it means “something real”: keeping Amazonia healthy, protecting it from exploitation. Living in a healthy land allows indigenous people “to recognize God the Creator” and to “take care of the earth”, said the Bishop.

A question about communication

Responding to a question about how the Synod has been communicated, particularly with reference to the ceremony in the Vatican Gardens on 4 October, the Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Dr Paolo Ruffini, again stated that “no ritual” had taken place.

Lutheran pastor Nicolau Nascimento de Paiva confirmed how, in the Amazon Region, “communication depends on context”, and how many people must be taught how to read before they can be introduced to the Bible. He reiterated the mutual respect felt among Christian confessions and indigenous people, saying it “has an impact on their lives, stimulates communication, becomes an opportunity for learning, and enriches exchange”.

A question about lessons learned

Sister Inés was asked what she learned at this Synod. She replied listing the great cultural riches and diverse spiritual realities. She confirmed the variety of issues facing the Amazon Region, from exploitation to migration. Most importantly, she learned to share a common objective, “to listen and to be united for the same cause”, she said.

Father Heinz added he had learned something about the pressure brought to bear “on those who are protecting the indigenous people”. He said it was “emotional” to be among people who are threatened and risk being killed for defending their rights.

A question about challenges facing indigenous people

Asked how the Church addresses the problems facing indigenous people, Sister Inés gave her testimony as a woman religious, saying her charism is to accompany indigenous people in the face of injustice and racism, but also to empower them to be protagonists. Indigenous people are very responsible, with clear public policies, she said. They are already saying: “It is our turn”.

A question about ecumenical dialogue

Lutheran pastor Nicolau Nascimento de Paiva responded to a question about how the Synod can advance ecumenical dialogue in the Amazon. We are united already through “learning, prayer, exchange and shared experience”, he said. The churches in the region collaborate on a variety of issues, including working with migrants coming from the countryside to the cities, welcoming them and responding to their basic needs.

Bishop Joaquín Pinzón Güiza added how “the common commitment to finding new paths for the Church and integral ecology can unite us”. Caring for our common home “has allowed us to enter dialogue with other denominations and to decide on future actions”, he said.

A question about an Amazonian rite

The Prefect of the Dicastery for Communication, Dr Paolo Ruffini, responded to a journalist’s question regarding the adoption of an Amazonian rite. He clarified that “something this complex cannot be contained in a single paragraph, if there is one”. Discussion at the Synod concerning an Amazonian rite, he continued, was simply “a step in that direction”

The Secretary of the Synod Information Commission, Jesuit Fr Giacomo Costa, added that “many conditions” would apply for such a rite, and that, in any event, “it is the Holy Father who has the final word”.

A question about Amazon martyrs

Finally, Fr Miguel Heinz answered a question about the Amazon martyrs. Their images were displayed throughout the proceedings in the Synod Hall, and this meant, “they were always present”, said Fr Heinz. The martyrs of the Amazon “gave witness to God with their lives”, and the Synod expressed great sensitivity towards this topic, he said.


From interview with Cardinal Gracias, India

Indigenous people are being displaced. Their land has been being taken away. They have not been given opportunities, and they are particularly at a disadvantage. There is so much that needs to be done…

Canon Law allows that if a bishop cannot find priests, then he can put a group of people, or a person, –a ‘person’… it doesn’t say man—so a religious community could be in charge of the whole animation of the community. It means, as the Pope says, someone who is available to the people, guides the people.

Zenit – interview – Oct 2019 – Amazonian Synod

Cardinal Gracias / Copyright: Vatican Media

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Cardinal Gracias: I Believe We Must Have a Universal Sharing of Priests

Archbishop of Mumbai Suggests Alternative Solutions for Difficulties of the Church in the Amazon


“I believe we must have a universal sharing of priests.”

In an exclusive interview with ZENIT this week in the Vatican, Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), suggested this as he reflected on Pope Francis’ Synod on the Amazon, taking place this October 2019 in the Vatican.

Cardinal Gracias was president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference. He also is one of the Pope’s advisers of the Council of Cardinals, the currently so-called ‘C6.’ The Indian prelate was also part of the organizing committee for the February 21-24, 2019, Summit for the Protection of Minors, and will be present for the Pope’s upcoming Nov. 19-26, travel to Thailand and Japan, as he has been for all Francis’ trips to Asia.

In the interview, Cardinal Gracias reflects on the Synod and explores various solutions to issues facing the Church in the Amazon, noting there are numerous possibilities beyond those discussed by the media. 

Here is Zenit’s interview:


ZENIT: Your Eminence, how would you describe your experience at the Synod thus far?

Cardinal Gracias: I was surprised when the Holy Father nominated me, since I didn’t know much about the Amazon. But now I must say it has been a wonderful experience, listening to all the interventions on the Amazon and from the bishops. One thing that struck me so far is how the Church is universal, and the problems of one place really are the problems of the whole Church. I feel solidarity with them and see there is so much to learn from them.

ZENIT: What in particular is there to learn?

Cardinal Gracias: The problems are similar: exploitation of nature, violence against indigenous people, and injustices. This we also see in India, in Asia. I see that with the Church in the Amazon, there are difficult circumstances and great challenges, but they are really on the right road. They are going ahead with courage with the people, trying to think of the future. It is a great learning experience, and I am happy to have been part of it.

ZENIT: And what you experience in the Synod Hall is also reflective of this?

Cardinal Gracias: I think it has gone well. Everyone has spoken freely what they feel and what their anxieties are.  Now we need to see what is ahead. We must remember that at the end of the day, a synod makes recommendations, but only recommendations. Then, the Holy Father makes a decision. He decides with the Magisterium, how he believes things should go, in that sense.

ZENIT: This is a special synod concerning a special region, but it has a universal meaning for the whole Church. Given this, what lesson will you bring back to India?

Cardinal Gracias: Yes. I do keep asking myself, what can I learn from this too for my country, for India, for Asia. Next year in 2020, we have a special meeting in Bangkok, in November. I am certainly taking a lot from the methodology and matters being discussed. We have to take care of our indigenous people more. The cry is the same, whether in the Amazon or from our indigenous people in India. We have been giving special attention to the tribes, who are being displaced. Their land has been being taken away. They have not been given opportunities, and they are particularly at a disadvantage. There is so much that needs to be done for them. We do not have exactly the same problems they do but there are many similarities.

ZENIT: Could you elaborate?

Cardinal Gracias: Well, we do not have the same shortage of priests. For us, there is no crisis. For them, there is a crisis; to have the Eucharist once every six months, once a year, is unacceptable. We must find a way out. But there is also, not as dramatically or drastically, the question of exploitation of nature. India is really one of the advancing countries, so nature is being used and abused. But the government is conscious of it and making efforts to protect it. There is a ministry for the environment, which has already been instituted for a few years now, and I see many efforts, and projects by the government to protect the environment now. I recognize as well, when someone reacts to wrongdoings, saying: ‘No, this goes against nature.’ The Church can help and is helping make people more conscious and sensitive to this need.

ZENIT: The idea of protecting Creation is so widespread, but there is no super-national authority, which goes beyond borders, and enforces it. What can be done to protect nature and prevent its exploitation? How can global policies be adopted to tackle the emergency? Is there a way?

Cardinal Gracias: I think for this, we need governments. Governments make decisions, laws, and enforce the laws. Now, we have to lobby with government, develop peoples’ consciences. I think that if the people understand, they can help influence the governments to make improvements, working for the good of all. Also, it is important to work toward this awareness through interreligious and ecumenical dialogue. I do think the Church has been truly in the leadership for ‘care for Creation.’ The Asian Bishops Conference, the FABC, has especially been speaking about this; and for at least five to seven years, we too have been sending bishops as delegates to international conferences on such themes. So, Asia really has been in the lead. However, now we all need to come together and push forward. We have begun working, we will continue working, but now, maybe, we have a more focused idea of how we need to go.

ZENIT: Unlike the Amazon, India is a densely populated nation. What are the main environmental emergencies in India today?

Cardinal Gracias: Unfortunately, because it is so densely populated, there are not such big forest areas, but there are some. The idea is to not let them be diminished. People should be conscious, and leave the forests as they are. The government, fortunately, is conscious of this, and I am grateful they are. For example, when tigers were becoming extinct in an area, the government stepped in, and helped prevent their extinction. We cannot let this momentum go. This commitment of government, the corporate world and each person in their daily lives is what makes that possible.

ZENIT: Pope Francis often speaks about work also affirming human dignity. How can one reconcile having a good developed economy which offers work to individuals along with caring for Creation and indigenous peoples properly?

Cardinal Gracias: Yes, Pope Francis has spoken about this very often. Very often. He is conscious of this problem. We have spoken about it also at the Synod. We are conscious that there has got to be economic progress. We cannot stop economic progress, but economic progress cannot go unbridled, for a profit motive. Pope Benedict had already begun, speaking very much, and strongly and clearly, about ethics and ethos. It was something new when he spoke about it the first time. Pope Francis has continued in this line.

ZENIT: Do you see any difference in their approach to this matter?

Cardinal Gracias: While Pope Benedict gave the theoretical principles, Francis has spoken more on the practical level of what we should do. Pope Benedict was showing it was not only good ethics, but good economics, which he expressed in various ways. Pope Francis has been stressing that too. The sad reality is that, according to all the relevant studies, large gaps still exist between the rich and the poor. There is economic growth, but these gaps exist.

I agree, Deborah, we cannot change it overnight. We have to educate people, change mentalities. Material goods and money is not everything. How important it is to give proper value to human life, quality of life, dignity, the quality of life, of society, of the poorest. There must be a special eye and care for the weakest, poorest, and those on the margins, as Pope Francis does and wants. Every society must keep these elements in mind.

ZENIT: In India, we know that there is not a shortage of priests. What remedies would you suggest, to help others?

Cardinal Gracias: As far as priests are concerned, well, that is a real issue. There is an unacceptable situation. This morning at breakfast a bishop told me of a parish 130 kilometers wide. He was discussing with me what we could do.

ZENIT: And what did you discuss together?

Cardinal Gracias: We could see the possibility of using some very good laypeople. A temporary solution could be ordaining permanent deacons for the Eucharist specifically, only for the Eucharist. It is not really ordaining priests, priests, for everything. For confessions, you need moral theology. You need so much formation. Really. But for the Eucharist, this could be considered as a temporary solution.

I do not think this should be left to the individual bishop, it should be the bishops’ conferences deciding, Rome giving approval to the request, and the regional bishops saying jointly, “we will take care of the formation.” It must be something very thoroughly well done, Deborah. This is present in Canon Law. But this impacts the whole world. Since it is present in Canon Law, you cannot say it is only for this place. Therefore, it needs to be thought out very, very carefully, with strict safeguards, proper thinking of the future, and of the impact on the universal Church, when you work to find a solution.

I think we also must have a universal sharing of priests. Vietnam has so many vocations. Thank God. I have been there and seen the seminaries full. There is not a single seat left.

ZENIT: That is very encouraging…

Cardinal Gracias: Yes, and the cardinal told me: ‘If anybody leaves, I have people ready to join.’ So that it is a great sign. They can send and train priests to go there [to the Amazon]. India does not have an excess, but a good number of priests. We can send priests there. And perhaps the Philippines too, and potentially Korea. I think some of the Asian countries can help. Also, we must start making an active campaign for priests, an active campaign for indigenous vocations. But to have that, various elements are essential.

ZENIT: Could you give some examples?

Cardinal Gracias: We would need to have formation and seminaries adapted to them, and training adapted to their culture. No watering down. They would need fully trained priests clearly, fully trained. I think that is important. The Church should consider and could do this. Adapt the formation to local people. Have seminaries adapted in the ways that it could adapt, to their needs: the culture, food, style, timetable, adapted to them. Then gradually, you will get them into the mainstream. You do not begin by forcing them. No, no forcing. This [solution] is possible and I think it should be done.

ZENIT: Pope Francis has said on a papal flight’s press conference, that the door for having married priests was closed, even if in some other rites, there exist married priests. But those rites have their own histories, you cannot compare them with the idea of the ‘viri probati,’ since it is a different situation.

Cardinal Gracias: Right, exactly.

ZENIT: In the meantime, numerous religious sisters have pointed out: We are more or less, the protagonists doing the work on the ground in the Amazon, and have spoken about how women deacons would be something to consider given that they are doing work similar to it…

Cardinal Gracias: Well, I also feel women are doing so much in the Church. They should have a greater role. Not more than what they are doing, but there is no recognition of the women’s role. There is not Church, official Church, approval. Again, I am thinking of Canon Law when I say there exists so many possibilities the Church can approve. Already Saint Paul VI had invited conferences to start ministries. I thought at that moment, I had thought of a Ministry of Women. No one was very interested at that time. I think now is a time to start the Ministry of Women. Women, administrators of the community.

They cannot be parish priests, but Canon Law allows that if a bishop cannot find priests, then he can put a group of people, or a person, –a ‘person’… it doesn’t say man—so a religious community could be in charge of the whole animation of the community. It means, as the Pope says, someone who is available to the people, guides the people. There are so many senior superiors with such a maturity, and motherly qualities, I am talking of women–who are and would be able to help the community so very much. Now, regarding deaconesses, the Holy Father did appoint a commission, which is studying this question.

ZENIT: Right. Yes, he had.

Cardinal Gracias: I knew some people on that committee, and I do not think they submitted their proposal at the end. But if we cannot get deaconesses, that does not mean we cannot get anything. We can get as close to that as possible. Many many, many ministries are possible, and we should explore. With great theologians and Canon lawyers, together working would be able to find a way for much greater involvement of women.

ZENIT: So according to Canon Law, it would be permissible for Ministries of Women to be instituted.

Cardinal Gracias: Yes, it would be necessary to have clearance from Rome.

ZENIT: Of course.

Cardinal Gracias: But they would have to decide and discuss and come to an agreement, saying we want this ministry in our country, in this part of the world. Then they would have to send it and present it to Rome. Then those in Rome who better understand the situations in those countries and the challenges could better look into it. However, I feel we have not gone far enough in exploring valid possibilities… We have not used all the opportunities we could have, using the theology and Church teaching. We perhaps have not developed sufficiently the theology, perhaps since there has been such focus on the ideas of ordaining married priests or women deaconesses. There is so much else that can be done.

ZENIT: Is there anything else on the Synod you would like to add?

Cardinal Gracias: I am happy. I have participated in six or seven synods. There is new methodology to a certain extent in this one, and there is very intense participation. I have hardly seen anyone dosing off.

ZENIT: Thank You, Your Eminence.

Deborah Castellano Lubov is a Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of ‘The Other Francis’ (‘L’Altro Francesco’) featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in four languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope’s travels abroad, at times from the papal flight, and has done television and radio commentary, including for Vatican Radio and BBC. She is a contributor to National Catholic Register, UK Catholic Herald, Our Sunday Visitor, Inside the Vatican, and other Catholic news outlets. She has also collaborated with the Vatican in various projects, including an internship at the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, and is a collaborator with NBC Universal, NBC News, Euronews, and EWTN. For ‘The Other Francis’: http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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