What is the Amazon Synod? Your questions answered

27 October 2019

Children hold up placards ahead of the Amazon Synod

Children in Colombia celebrate the forthcoming Amazon Synod. Photo: REPAM

What is the Amazon Synod?

A Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops took place from 6-27 October 2019 on the theme of “Amazonia, new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology”. 

It was a way for the Church to pause and listen to the people of the Amazon, and respond with them to the devastation facing them and their environment.

Why does it matter to all of us?

In Laudato Si’ (#38), Pope Francis stressed the ecological importance of the Amazon and Congo basins “for the entire earth and for the future of humanity”. One fifth of all the air we breathe and the fresh water we drink comes from the Amazon.

The Vatican document which set out the synod themes describes the Amazon in all its biodiversity and cultural richness as “a mirror of all humanity”. To defend it, we must all make changes – to ourselves, to our nations, to the Church.

Join us in prayer following the synod with this Novena to Saint Francis, asking for the saint's intercession as we take stock of the voices we have heard. 

What is a synod and who comes to it?

A Synod is a gathering of bishops to discuss specific concerns to help guide the Church. It is helpful to think of the original meaning of the word ‘synod’: “travelling on a journey together”.

There is a permanent Synod of Bishops in Rome, but periodically the Pope calls a synodal assembly on a special theme. The Amazon Synod is the latest in a long history of previous synodal assemblies, the most recent of which have focused on the themes of youth (2018), the family (2015) and evangelisation (2012).

Besides bishops, other guests attend a synodal gathering. These include:

  • Experts – who help redact documents
  • Auditors – who have particular expertise regarding the issues
  • Fraternal delegates – from Churches and ecclesial communities not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church.
  • There may also be special guests.

At the Amazon Synod, all the bishops from the territory of Pan-Amazonia came along with their auxiliaries. There was also a strong contingent of indigenous people, as well as other bishops selected from around the world.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a Brazilian defender of social justice and President of the pan-Amazonian Church network, REPAM, led the proceedings. 

What was the Amazon Synod about?

Under discussion will be many issues of importance to CAFOD’s work in the region, including:

  • the rights and culture of indigenous people
  • poverty
  • the impacts of climate change and extractives
  • the role of the Church.

The preparatory document or lineamenta came out in June 2018. This was used for consulting the faithful prior to the synod. It has three parts: See, Discern, Act.

See

We must all be aware of the ecological and cultural crisis of the Amazon basin. The diversity of the Amazon peoples and their biome must be protected, or human dignity will be lost and the environment further harmed.

Discern

As Christians we have a spiritual and moral imperative to protect our brothers and sisters, and to care for the Earth. God has trusted us with stewardship of Creation and this is part of our relationship with God.

Act

The Church needs an “Amazonian face”. This means the Church must stand up against injustices including loss of territory, exploitation, threats to biodiversity and “the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its peoples”.

What was the working document for the synod?

The working document for the synod, in Latin the instrumentum laboris, came out in June 2019. It followed the lineamenta themes, but added results from all the consultations that took place in preparation for the synod across the nine countries of Amazonia.

It has three parts, which served to outline the main themes to be discussed, with suggestions for action: 

  • The voice of the Amazon
  • Integral ecology: the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth
  • A prophetic Church in the Amazon: challenges and hopes

The bishops also heard from religious sisters and indigenous people amongst the special guests and experts present.  

The lineamenta set forth the process of listening required to become a Church with an Amazonian face, and thus to witness to the rest of the world the challenges and hopes which relate to us all.

What happens after a synodal assembly?

Once the synod has finished its discussions, the bishops vote on their conclusions and present them to the Pope, in a Final Document. If and when the Pope approves this, it goes back to local churches for their acceptance.

Either this document, or a Post-Synodal Exhortation (which draws on the Final Document to a greater or lesser extent) then becomes part of the teaching of the Universal Church – the Magisterium.

Pope Francis has indicated that, for the outcomes of the Amazon Synod, he will write an exhortation, to distil the many voices and insights that have emerged in the Final Document.

Most crucially, the synod agreed that it was the Church’s duty to stand by the people in Amazonia facing various threats to life, livelihood, and human rights from extractives and agribusiness, human trafficking and all forms of predatory colonisation.

In a gesture of prophetic witness, the synod members re-committed to the pact of the catacombs, originally signed in 1965, to pledge a life of simplicity, sustainability and solidarity with those most vulnerable to the complex socio-ecological crisis we face.

What is REPAM and how is it relevant to the synod?

CAFOD supports REPAM, a key adviser for the synod. It is a Catholic Church network that promotes the rights and dignity of people living in the nine countries of the Amazon region. REPAM stands for the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.

It has been tasked by Pope Francis with consulting the peoples of the Amazon. In his words, “we need the native peoples to shape the culture of the local churches in the Amazon.”

As part of the consultations for the synod, REPAM held 260 “listening moments” with indigenous peoples, rural communities, social movements and pastoral workers. Over 80,000 people participated. 

As Mauricio Lopez of REPAM said:

“The Church has been called by indigenous communities to be with them. Indigenous communities trust the Church and we are standing alongside them to defend their territory, their identity and their culture. We cannot fail.”

Read more about the hopes of those living and working in the Amazon for the Synod

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