Pope Francis announced today in Rome that he is calling a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the pan-Amazon region. He made the announcement after the Mass at which he canonized 35 new saints, including three indigenous children martyred in 16th century Mexico.
Francis focused on three issues in convoking the synod: the needs of indigenous people, new paths for evangelization, and on the crisis of the rain forest. He stated that the main purpose will be “new paths for the evangelization of God’s people in that region.”
Some commentators already wonder whether “new paths for evangelization” is code language for married clergy. Will the synod take up the possibility of ordaining (some) married men to the priesthood?
Already in 2014, Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil suggested, based on his conversation with Pope Francis, that there could be significant steps coming in the question of mandatory celibacy. Kräutler said at the time that this could be on a regional basis for places such as Latin America. The issue is pressing because of the severe priesthood shortage in the region – 90% of all communities in the Amazon have no Sunday celebration of the Eucharist. 70% have Mass two or three times a year – otherwise a Liturgy of the Word is held. Kräutler’s diocese has 800 communities and 27 priests.
In late 2014, the Brazilian bishops established a commission on the question of mandatory celibacy.
Given these developments, it seems very possible that the issued of mandatory celibacy and married priests will be on the docket.
2014 saw the founding of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM). This consists of not only the regional Bishops’ Conferences, but also by priests, missionaries of congregations who work in the Amazon jungle, national representatives of Caritas and laypeople belonging to various Church bodies in the region. REPAM was founded to facilitate cooperation and collaboration in a region facing many challenges – climate change, large-scale mining projects, and actions by transnational corporations have “devastated” the region according to Archbishop Barreto of Huancayo, Peru.
The Amazon territory is the largest tropical forest in the world and includes Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil. It is home to nearly 2.8 million indigenous people in 390 tribes speaking 240 languages in 49 different linguistic families.
At the time of the creation of the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network, Brazilian cardinal Cláudio Hummes said that the network “represents a new incentive and relaunch of the work of the Church in Amazonia, strongly desired by the Holy Father. There, the Church wishes to be, with courage and determination, a missionary Church, merciful, prophetic, and close to all the people, especially the poorest, the excluded, the discarded, the forgotten and wounded.’
The pan-Amazon synod announced today will not take place until October, 2019. This time frame will no doubt allow for the discussion of many issues the synod might take up.