Unity of the Church does not mean uniformity, instead unity is celebrated where diversity is accommodated and appreciated. This is the story of the Church in its 2000 year-long history. The Church thrived among diverse cultures, races, and colours of people around the world. The thrust for appreciating diversity is the axis of the new synod of bishops on The Amazon and its people, now under way in Rome from 6-27 October.
The synod, named, Amazonia, refers to Pan-Amazon region of nine countries viz., Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Suriname, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Guyana and French Guiana. The synod will deliberate on “the paths for the Church and for integral ecology” for the southern hemisphere.
Critics of Pope Francis once again found enough forage for cynicism and controversy with Amazonia. Since its release in June, the Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, for the synod has provoked fierce criticism from some influential cardinals and bishops. And the skeptics wasted no time in accusing the pope of deviating from the Church traditions.
The Instrumentum Laboris is the net result of the bishops of the Pan-Amazon region painstakingly listening to and compiling the voices, questions and anxieties of over 87,000 people during a period of two years. The compilation of their expressions was done in 170 assemblies.
This is not a papal document. The document attempts to address the concerns and challenges of the Church and its people in this region and in the process it emphasizes that the Church needs to assume a radical intercultural dialogue with the peoples of the region.
A number of bishops and cardinals from Europe have openly expressed their anxiety over the preparatory document. It seeks the possibility of ordaining indigenous married men. It proposes a study on “the ministries that can be conferred to women.” Above all, they also accuse the document of deifying the universe and nature.
But for the priests, bishops and cardinals from the Amazon, these criticisms are a reflection of how Euro-centric our Church leadership is. They believe that the cardinals and theologians from the northern hemisphere fail to appreciate the indigenous communities and their concerns and fails to listen to the voices of those from ‘the peripheries’, a term very close to the heart of Pope Francis. And there is the answer for why the pope convened this synod.
How is Amazonia relevant to the universal Church? Should the Church in Asia or those from the ‘South’ pay attention to the synod on The Amazon? Indeed, it should. This synod will have far reaching implications for the local Churches among numerous indigenous communities a with strong traditional cultural heritage.
Numerous Christian communities from the ‘South’ with unique socio-political and cultural backgrounds are confronted with unique challenges about which the leadership from the ‘North’ fails to understand. They fail to care, because they do no know. And that makes it easier to better understand the precise reasons for the many dubias on Laudato si’, (Praise be to you – On Care For Our Common Home) and Amoris laetitia, (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on love in the family).
Pope Francis exhibits extraordinary courage and conviction in addressING these issues, because he looks at the world with a pair of eyes from the “South.” Cardinal- designate, Jesuit Father Michael Czerny recently said in an interview: “Pope Francis is making Vatican II real.”And Vatican II had its fair share of dubia!