Synod on Amazonia highlights Latin American experience

The debates at the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on Amazonia show how, since the election of Pope Francis, the solid Latin American ecclesial tradition has found its place in the Catholic Church.

Oct 26, 2019

By Mélinée Le Priol and Nicolas Senèze
The debates at the Synod of Bishops’ special assembly on Amazonia show how, since the election of Pope Francis, the solid Latin American ecclesial tradition has found its place in the Catholic Church.

Fr Agenor Brighenti has been studying Latin American theology for more than 40 years and has worked almost as long as a priest for the development of the Church in Brazil.

But what he is currently experiencing in Rome is something he had never dared to hope for.

This Synod is “a beautiful surprise and a moment of joy” for the President of the National Pastoral Institute of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference.

“We went through an ecclesial winter between the 1970s and 1990s, marked by the appointment of more conservative bishops and the questioning of liberation theologians, suspected of wanting to marxify the Gospel,” says the Brazilian priest.

“Some members of our Latin American Church, who suffered a lot at that time, are still here today.”

This is the case with Fr Eleazar Lopez, a Mexican priest of Zapotec origin, who had only come to Rome to explain his writings on Indian theology.

“Today, I am invited to the Synod as an expert,” he smiled.

Crossing Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who had previously been in charge of revising his texts, he asked him if he was still a suspect.

“He told me that there was no problem since I was there as an expert!”

‘We share the same culture as the Pope’
Even if it was less political, Indian theology has indeed been challenged for its links with the theology of liberation, which allowed it to emerge in the context of the Latin American growth that followed the Second Vatican Council and the Medellin Conference (1968). With strong tensions, especially under John Paul II.

“The context was special: in the middle of the Cold War, the fear of communism was stronger than anything else. It’s very different today,” explained Fr Adelson Araujo dos Santos, a Brazilian Jesuit from the Amazon and a professor at the Gregorian University.

These debates also allowed the theological maturation of the Latin American Church, expressed in 2007 at the Aparecida conference in Brazil. The final document was written under the chairmanship of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, a certain Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

Six years later, the Argentine Jesuit became the first pope from the New World; and six years later, he summoned cardinals, bishops, priests and Latin American laity to the Vatican for a Synod on the Amazon.

“The fact that we share the same culture as the pope makes the dialogue very fluid: with Francis, we speak from the heart!” said Bishop Eugenio Coter of Pando (Bolivia), in the Spanish language that has dominated the debates.

‘Speak to the whole Church’
Like other participants in the Synod, he rejoiced at this “moment of light” for a Church that had long been considered peripheral, even though it united about 40 per cent of all the Catholics in the world.

“After all, this is the whole theological mission of Francis: to put the periphery at the centre,” said Fr Roberto Jaramillo, a Colombian Jesuit and president of the Conference of Provincials of Latin America (CPAL). “Not to become a new centre, but to speak to the whole Church.”

While Europeans are a large minority in the Synod, which has only about 15 members of the Curia, some “tensions”, “reticence” and “misunderstandings” have been felt, according to several participants.

‘I feel a lot of respect for us’
“A week after the beginning of the work, some Vatican priests were still asking me: why a Synod on the Amazon?,” said Araujo dos Santos, who has been living in Rome for two years.

“There are no negative intentions but Eurocentrism remains strong in the Church. The Roman priests are not used to our Latin American religiosity, which is very festive, and sometimes feel like a devaluation of our faith.”

Fr Jaramillo disagrees, however. “We are not seen as parrots from the tropics,” he insisted. “I feel a great deal of respect for us, perhaps thanks to our many martyrs, and the experience of our basic ecclesial communities, which has been important for the whole Church.”

What all these participants can agree on is that this Synod is a “starting point” toward a Church that is more attentive to experiences in the field.

Starting with one region of the world, Amazonia, which in their eyes concentrates the main current challenges: ecology, neoliberalism and migration. --LCI (https://international.la-croix.com)

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