Evaluating the Synod for the Amazon: Fr Lasarte’s ten ‘likes’ and nine ‘dislikes’
by Martin Lasarte

The issues of the viri probati and female deaconate took up too much work to the detriment of many other topics like human ecology and comprehensive evangelisation. Pope Francis' speeches were positive, calling for a "superabundance" in mission and faith. Little was said about youth. A Synodal Father gives his take on a month of work at the Synod for the Amazon.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – A few hours before end of the Synod for the Amazon, we present here an important assessment by Fr Martin Lasarte, one of the Synod Fathers appointed by Pope Francis. Fr Lasarte is a Salesian from Uruguay, with missionary experience in Angola, and a member of the worldwide Salesian missionary team, in charge of missionary outreach in Africa and America. AsiaNews has published a two-part article by him on the Synod: Amazon Synod: Are Married Priests Really a Solution? (Part One) and Amazon Synod: The new paths and pastoral illnesses (Part Two).

The Synod is a precious tool of ecclesial and listening communion. It will offer the Holy Father some reflections and proposals. For me, personally, it was a very enriching experience in which I learnt a lot from many brothers and sisters. Here I will give you my immediate impressions without any prior knowledge about the Synod’s final document, which will be voted on tomorrow.

Being a positive person, I give the Synod ten ‘likes’, that is, things that seemed positive to me; and 9 ‘dislikes’ to point out its limits.

The ten ‘likes’

1. It was a great opportunity to reflect pastorally about the Amazon, and the great challenges of a universal nature.

2. Much visibility was given to the region, to its environmental, social and ecclesial problems.

3. The Synod helped create regional awareness about the Amazon, since it is home to many, separate, unconnected ecclesial communities.

4. The effort to closely listen was a positive experience, as was starting a process with the Amazon communities. Undoubtedly, the most important thing about the Synod is the process it will generate in the region.

5. Personally, I learnt a lot from different local Churches, problems to look into, like drug trafficking, which is truly worrisome given its economic, political and cultural impact. It was also great to learn about “good practices”, as well as hear about pastoral experiences from different local churches, and beautiful stories of dedication and service . . .

6. The Church took a clear position in favour of comprehensive (not fundamentalist) environmentalism and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon.

7. During the Synod greater importance was given to issues that touch cities, youth and migration, something that was present in the Instrumentum Laboris, but without the necessary depth. The outlook was extended to rural and riverside communities, as well as Quilombola settlements of people of African origin.

8. The Christ-centric dimension in the Church and evangelisation were emphasised.

9. In the general assembly and the smaller groups, focus fell on many topics of great interest and relevance (I don’t know to what extent they will be included in the final document):

- in-depth reflections about environmental issues, in particular by experts;

- the importance of quality education for all, in particular for indigenous peoples;

- ideas about the various migratory processes;

- culture, interculturality, inculturation and the Gospel;

- inhumane practices like human trafficking, drug trafficking, exploitation, etc.;

- the importance of the ministry of the whole Church;

- the importance of the catechumenate and Christian initiation;

- comprehensive evangelisation;

- training the clergy and laity for the mission;

- grassroots piety;

- the missionary nature of the Church;

- it became clear that various “indigenous pastors or other pastors” cannot go ahead on their own without a connection with local Churches;

- greater importance given to urban ministry and, within it, to indigenous pastoral outreach.

10. I really liked the three unplanned speeches by the Pope: yes to culture (grassroots piety, inculturation), no to aboriginalism; yes to the training of the clergy in a more pastoral way, less rigid, as well as that of the laity; no to the clericalisation of the laity; attention to religious congregations that retreat in search of guarantees, and the lack of passion of the youngest for the mission; attention to the Latin American clergy who migrate to the First World instead of opting for the Amazon. The pontiff spoke about the need for superabundance in the Synod, which does not intend to regulate the conflict, nor resolve things haphazardly. We need missionary superabundance.

The nine ‘dislikes’

1. Too much energy was dedicated to internal Church problems, especially the viri probati and female deaconate. The Synod could have been an unparalleled opportunity to offer a qualified and deeper contribution to the care of the common home through comprehensive environmentalism based on Christian ethics. Instead, the topic of human ecology was only addressed in chapter 5 (out of 6 chapters in the document.) The issues of the viri probati and female deaconate, which did not generate any broad agreement, used up a lot of time to the detriment of other topics over which there was agreement.

2. Regional self-centredness: The concept of synodality proved to be very partisan: synodality with those who think like me; autonomy and pluralism with those who think differently, as in the case of the sister Churches of Asia, Europe and Africa. I think more should have been said about the synodality of the universal Church with respect to the ordained ministries, since it is a sensitive and existential topic for the universal Church.

3. There was no deeper self-criticism by the Church. Of course, there was the usual “mea culpa” over colonisation and the Church’s limits, its Eurocentric anthropological vision, the limited social conscience about the past. I am referring here to the poor pastoral outreach of the last 50 years among the various Amazonian ecclesial communities. What are the causes of such pastoral poverty and barrenness? In my opinion, the issues of secularisation, cultural anthropology, the social ideologisation of the pastoral ministry, the lack of a credible, coherent and resplendent testimony to the sanctity of ministers (which explain religious and priestly dropouts and equivocal lives) were not adequately addressed.

4. New patches for old clothes. In my opinion, the main issues associated with evangelisation were not discussed, such as the causes of vocational shortages, generally poor pastoral outreach, the lack of better pastoral care for the family, the catechumenate to ground faith and life, the absolute absence of youth ministry (which does not appear in the document). Consequently, there is no pastoral care for vocations, and there is a lack of vitality in small Christian communities. Ecclesial movements and new communities are not mentioned. Why? Do they really not exist in the Amazon? It seems to me that the dynamism that led the Church to consider the topic of “new evangelisation” (new methods, new fervour) was missing. What are the new ways proposed by the Synod? Only new structures and the ordination of viri probati . . . It seems to me that this new thing is extremely thin, just new patches for old clothes. In my view, the new garment that we must don with new fervour is a problem of "faith", i.e. how to wear Christ.

5. There was talk of an “Amazonian rite” for the liturgy. There is a risk of falling into theoretical experimentation in a pastoral lab.  Amazonian cultures are varied, and the great richness and variety of Pan-Amazonian cultures cannot be taken for granted (the larger groups, the Tupi-Guarani, Arawak, Tukano, Pano, Jê, Jíbara, Yanomami, are usually considered out of 390 local language families). Undoubtedly, the inculturation of the Gospel in the liturgy and the life of Amazonian Christian communities is indispensable, but this must be done in real life, little by little, with reasonable adaptation and acclimatisation of what is truly authentic in the culture to truly convey the Christian mystery with original symbols and expressions, avoiding superficial and generic “folklorisation”.

6. Clericalisation of the laity. We could have solved the problem of would-be priestly ordinations for married men through the usual ways that already exist within the Church. The dispensation from celibacy (CCC 1047), which would allow for the dispensation by the Holy See, with appropriate justification, as wisely proposed by Card Gracias from India, is much simpler than a generalisation of the viri probati. Experiences in other places were presented with the same problems and with the solution of rich lay ministries, but the proposal was not well received. Unfortunately, the “topic” of the Synod was the ordination of married men, whilst other topics remained in the shadows. This Synod will be remembered as the viri probati Synod.

7. The secular vision of ministries, particularly that of women as “ordained deaconesses” was another topic, which came up all the time, with very civil but not entirely evangelical motivations. Some said: “It is time to ordain women”, “We have the right”, “Women must be empowered”. These are valid points to raise in a parliament, not in a synod of bishops designed to discern in the light of the Gospel, tradition, ecclesiastical Magisterium and current challenges, or under the strong pressure of the dominant culture. I think I saw a certain parliamentary sagacity but not a lot of synodal spirit for discernment (“We are representatives of the Amazonian peoples and we must carry forward the proposals put forward by them”).

8. The Church is in danger of becoming an NGO.  It is great that the Church is well organised in the service of charity, but it should not become an NGO, i.e. ruled by the pragmatic, secular and organisational criteria of an NGO. If this happens, the Church's mystery, life and action would be reduced to various advocacy and social service activities. Such reductionism seems to me to be strongly present in the sensitivity of a number of Synod participants. Let me insist: only with comprehensive evangelisation – in which kerygma, discipleship, diakonia, koinonia and the liturgy merge into a harmonious and balanced pastoral project – can we have fruitful pastoral care.

9. The atmosphere of the Synod was fairly serene, fraternal and respectful, even though at the end some participants presented things rather dialectically. On the one hand, the Pharisee club was tied to the doctrine, frightened by the new, thus closed to the Holy Spirit; on the other hand, those who listen to the people (sensus fidei), without fear, are open to what is new and so are docile to the Holy Spirit. . . . We must admire a Holy Spirit that came so well prepared and organised.