What is the Amazon Synod? Your questions answered

23 June 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 will take place 6-27 October 2019 on the theme of “Amazonia, new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology”. 

It is a way for the Church to 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 setting 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.

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. Recent themes include youth (2018), the family (2015) and evangelisation (2012).

Besides bishops, other guests attend. 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.

In the case of the Amazon, all the bishops of Amazonia are coming along with their auxiliaries, including a strong contingent of indigenous people. Other bishops selected from around the world will also be there.

This synod will be led by Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a Brazilian defender of social justice and President of the pan-Amazonian Church network, REPAM

What is 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 last year. This is 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 is the working document for the synod?

The working document for the synod, in Latin the instrumentum laboris, came out this June. It follows the lineamenta themes, but adds results from all the consultations that have taken place across the nine countries of Amazonia.

It has three parts, which 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 lineamenta sets 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 synod?

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.

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.”

It has so far held 260 “listening moments” with indigenous peoples, rural communities, social movements and pastoral workers. So far 87,000 people have participated. 

As Mauricio Lopez of REPAM says:

“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.”

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