In October 2017, Pope Francis announced that a Synod of Bishops
would take place in October 2019 and be a special assembly looking to the Amazon region. He said that the purpose was, “to find new ways for the evangelization of that portion of the People of God, especially the indigenous, often forgotten and without a perspective of a good future, also for the cause of the crisis of the Amazonian forest, lung of fundamental importance for our planet”.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Church in the last couple of years, you certainly have heard about synods. In short, a synod is a meeting or assembly of bishops who gather to speak about a certain topic. It is not a parliament where decisions are made, but rather it is how the Church addresses issues of concern. The bishops will speak on several topics based on a working document and then make proposals or offer suggestions to the Holy Father. Afterwards, the Holy Father commonly releases a concluding document in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation
Following the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI
established the Synod of Bishops. Some synods from the recent past that you may remember are:
• Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment
• The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and the Contemporary World
• The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith (2012)
• The Word of God in the Life and the Mission of the Church (2008)
• The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church (2005)
All of these have been ordinary general assemblies. However, a synod can also be held as an extraordinary assembly or as a special assembly.
The one taking place this month is a special assembly because it does not involve bishops from around the world but rather only those from a particular region.
The Synod on the Amazon
will include 114 bishops from the Pan-Amazon region. This region is comprised of 9 countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana. The 13 heads of the Roman Curia's dicasteries will also be present, as well as experts, auditors, and other members appointed by the pope, mainly from Latin America, but also from Europe, Canada, and Africa. A total of 185 members will participate and work under the theme: New Paths for the Church and for Integral Ecology
Canada will have two delegates at the Synod: Bishop Lionel Gendron, PSS, of Saint-Jean-Longueil, and Sr. Josianne Gauthier, who is the Secretary General of CIDSE
, the international Catholic alliance of development agencies.
Also at the Synod will be Canadian (and, as of yesterday, Cardinal
) Michael Czerny, SJ, who is the sub-secretary of the Migrants and Refugees Section of the Dicastery for Integral Human Development. They are able to participate as special guests or members of interested organizations.
Why a Synod on the Amazon?
According to the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace
, there is no place on Earth like the Amazon rainforest, which spans an area of 6 million km² in 9 countries.
The Amazon is home to half of all living plants and animals on the planet. It is home to 10% of the world’s known species, including 30,000 species of plants and 500 species of mammals. It also contains 1/5 of the Earth’s fresh water and 1/3 of our rainforest.
The Amazon is also home to 3 million people. They speak 86 languages and 650 dialects.
The Amazon is the largest tropical rainforest in the world. It functions as the lungs of the planet, absorbing carbon emissions and providing 20% of the Earth’s oxygen.
These people and this natural environment are threatened by the growing interests of the lumber, oil, mining, and hydroelectric industries. According to Development and Peace, some scientists claim that deforestation is already causing the Amazon to emit more carbon that it absorbs. Deforestation also increases the risk of drought and famine, yet over the last 50 years, 17% of forest cover has been lost.
Protecting the Amazon is a matter of survival not only for the people who live there but also for all of us.
This region also poses some particular challenges for the Church. The people who live there are very isolated, making it very difficult for the Church to be present to them.
The Preparatory Document
for the Synod explains the challenges of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Amazonia. There aren’t enough priests to bring the sacraments; many people in the region will only have access to the Eucharist once a year. This forces male and female elders in the communities to take the place of religious and spiritual leaders. Most of the people living in the region are indigenous. They are not a wealthy population and are often victims of climate and social injustices.
These are some reasons why Pope Francis, recognizing the importance of the Amazon for all of humanity, has called this special synod. Throughout the Synod, the Church will try to provide appropriate responses for the defense of life, land, and cultures, and the evangelization of this region.
Although we live in a completely different region of the world, the Church of Canada sees many parallels between the challenges that the Church faces in the Amazon and those of our Church in the North. We also have vast regions with isolated populations and not enough priests. We also have male and female elders who take the place of spiritual leaders; we also could consider ordaining married men to the priesthood to minister to these people; we also have a precarious relationship with the environment, very much affected by climate change. Add to that the fragile relationship that we have with our Indigenous peoples.
I believe that this Synod will be of great interest to Canadians, and that is the coverage that we at Salt + Light Media hope to provide.
The Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon will be held in the Vatican from October 6 to 27, 2019. Join us for live coverage of all the Synodal Liturgies. Also join us on October 18 and 25 for our special synodal summary programs.
If you want to know more about synods, tune in to the Premiere episode of my new show Deacon-structing
, October 11 at 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT.
Also, check out our Synod 2019 website
, where you can find all of our synod-related coverage in one place.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: [email protected]