The preparatory document Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology, released today in the lead-up to the special assembly for the Pan-Amazon region which will take place in October 2019, is rich in its scope and depth. It comprehensively raises the major issues and challenges facing the Catholic Church in the Amazon rainforest, both in its internal life and in its social witness.
At the risk of giving inadequate attention to the fullness of the document’s riches, it will interest Pray Tell readers to focus in particular on those passages that, with their emphasis on lack of access to Eucharist and need for renewal of ministries, could be read as code language for opening up the possibility of married priests or women deacons. Here are these passages:
The Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region requires an extensive exercise in reciprocal listening, especially between the faithful and the Church’s magisterial authorities. One of the main points to be heard is the cry “of thousands of [their] communities deprived of the Sunday Eucharist for long periods of time” (DAp 100, e). We trust that the Church, rooted in its synodal and missionary dimensions (cf. Francis, Address for the Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Institution of the Synod of Bishops, 17 October 2015), may generate processes for listening (see/listen) and processes for discernment (judge), in order to respond (action) to the concrete realities of the Amazonian people.
[T]he Church in the Amazon Basin has come to recognize that – because of the immense territorial expanse, the great diversity of its peoples, and the rapid changes in its socio-economic realities – her pastoral care has been spread precariously thin. It was (and still is) necessary to have a greater presence, in an attempt to respond to this region’s specific identity from the point-of-view of Gospel values. This implies recognizing, among other elements, its immense geographical extension, much of it often difficult to access, its broad cultural diversity, and the pervading influence of national and international interests which often seek easy economic enrichment through the region’s plentiful resources. An incarnated mission implies rethinking the Church’s limited presence in relation to the immensity of the territory and its cultural diversity.
In order to transform the Church’s precariously-thin presence and make it broader and more incarnate, a hierarchical list of the Amazonia’s urgent needs should be established. The Aparecida document mentions the need for “Eucharistic integrity” (DAp436) for the Amazon region, that is, that there be not only the possibility for all the baptized to participate in the Sunday Mass, but also for a new heavens and a new earth to take root in the Amazon Basin in anticipation of the Kingdom of God.
In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between the common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood (cf. LG 10). This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with an Amazonian face and a Church with a native face” (Fr.PM). One priority is to specify the contents, methods, and attitudes necessary for an inculturated pastoral ministry capable of responding to the territory’s vast challenges. Another is to propose new ministries and services for the different pastoral agents, ones which correspond to activities and responsibilities within the community. Along these lines, it is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values. Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life (cf. DAp 251). Is there room for indigenous expression and active participation in the liturgical practice of your communities?
4. One of the major challenges in the Amazon Basin is the impossibility of celebrating the Eucharist frequently in all places. How can we respond to this need?
10. What are the particularly Amazonian activities and ministries that you believe should be created and promoted?
12. The role of women in our communities is of utmost importance, how can we recognize and value them on our new paths?
Is all this code language?
It is noteworthy that none of these passages mention by name the ordination of married men to the priesthood or of women to the diaconate. This suggests that one should be cautious in seeing code language or a predetermined agenda. What the document does is name challenges and point to desired improvements. What shape that should take, and what the “new paths” might be, is admirably left open.
The Amazon synod is about prayer, discussion, listening, and discernment. The process will surely bear fruit if there is openness on all sides to the work of the Spirit manifested in the voices of all the participants.
If there is any code language in the document, it is this:
“We need to practice the art of listening, which is more than simply hearing.”
That is code language for synodality – for a renewed ecclesiology along the lines of the Second Vatican Council.