How the Pan Amazon Synod could surprise us

The «Pan-Amazon Synod» is taking place in Rome from October 6th to the 27th. In 1974, Pope Paul VI instituted the concept of the Synod: first were the «Synod of Bishops», with representatives from every continent, and the «Regional Synods», such as the 1980 Synod of the Dutch Bishops and the Synod of the German Bishops, that is being celebrated in 2019, among others.

The Synod, that etymologically means “to make together (syn) the path (odos)” is an opportunity for local or regional churches to take the pulse of their ministries, analyzing problems, identifying challenges and seeking together ways to implement and realize the Gospel.

The Pan Amazon Synod has special relevance, for the twin levels of consciousness manifested in its basic theme: “New paths for the Church and for the integral Ecology”. It is about defining a new form of the Church’s presence in the American continent, particularly in the vast Amazon region that spreads over 9 countries, in an expanse of more than 8 million square kilometers. The other form of consciousness is seen in the importance of the Amazon to the Earth’s equilibrium and the future of life and humanity.

The Roman Catholic Church in the American continent and the Amazon region was a mirror of the mother-Church of Europe. After five centuries, it has transformed itself into a source-Church, with an Afro-Indigenous-European face. In his opening homily of the Synod, on October 4th, Pope Francis openly said: ”How many times has God’s gift been… not offered, but imposed! How many times has there been colonizing instead of evangelizing! May God save us from a new colonialism”.

On another occasion, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, he asked for forgiveness–something never before done by a Pope–: ”I humbly ask for forgiveness” Francis said, “not only for the offenses committed by the Church herself, but for the crimes against the original peoples that took place during the conquest of the American continent”.

The «Instrument of Work» to prepare the Synod, asks that “viri probati”, this is, married men, proven to be honorable, especially indigenous men, be ordained priests. Dom Erwin Kräutler,Bishop Emeritus of Xingu, the largest diocese in the world, suggested to Pope Francis that in place of the term viri probati (honorable men) the term personae probatae (honorable persons), which would also include women, should be used. Dom Erwin says: in the communities women do everything that the priest does, except consecration of the bread and wine. Why not allow them this mission as well? Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God; the women, her sisters, why cannot they represent him? Moreover, the text says that women will be given a special mission. It could be, as in all the other Christian Churches, that women too, in their own way, be priests.

This Pope is innovative and courageous. The best theologians say that neither dogma nor doctrine precludes women from representing Christ. Theologically speaking, the priest is not the one who consecrates. Christ does that. The priest only lends visibility to the act. At present, the only roadblock is the patriarchy.

The most important and acute question is safeguarding the Amazon biome. That vast region has been studied by the greatest scientists for at least two centuries. As Euclides da Cunha said in his Amazon essays:“Human intelligence could not support the weight of the portentous reality of the Amazon; human intelligence would have to grow with her, adapting to her, to dominate her” (Vozes 1976, p. 15). The Amazon is the world’s greatest filter. It captures carbon dioxide, returning oxygen to us, and mitigates global warming. Its biodiversity is such that “in few hectares of the Amazon jungle there exists a greater number of species of plants and insects than all the flora and fauna of Europe”, says the great specialist E. Salati.

But its most important meaning lies in the immensity of its waters, be they those of the flying rivers (the tremendous humidity of the trees, that rises above the jungles), the surface waters of the rivers, or the immense aquifer Alter do Chão. If we do not preserve the jungle, the Amazon will be turned into a desert, like the Sahara, that some 15 thousand years ago was like the Amazon, with the Nile river flowing into the Atlantic If the Amazon is deforested, fifty billion more tons of carbon dioxide annually would be released into the atmosphere, making life impossible in the South of the continent.

Pope Francis referred to the fate of the Amazon when analyzing the present global situation:“the Earth is ever more interconnected and the peoples that inhabit it are part of the planet’s community, for example, the problem of the fires in the Amazon is a problem not only for the Amazon region… is a world problem, as is the migratory problem”.

Awareness that the Amazon biome is a «Common Good of the Earth and of Humanity» is growing. The cry of each country’s sovereignty still exists in the old paradigm that divides up the planet… Today it is important to reunite those parts and recreate the reality that there is but one, a whole: the Common Home for us and for the entire «Community of Life»… Brazil does not own the Amazon (63%); Brazil is only its current administrator –under a new government– of a highly irresponsible form. It pays little attention to the fires and, when it deals with the minerals, the oil, and other wealth, it supports huge projects that threaten the Native peoples — those who know how to care for and to preserve the jungle– and the ecological equilibrium of the whole Common Home.

There is a project supported by scores of caciques, bishops. authorities, scientists and others that will be presented in the Synod, to declare “The Amazon, ¡intangible sanctuary of the Common Home!”.

UNESCO has already registered several biomes in many countries; why not do so with the Amazon, where the future of the Earth’s vitality and human civilization is at stake?

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher of the Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,


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