The special synod on the Amazon has just started in the Vatican. It is a project dear to Pope Francis. We can see in it his desire to give a concrete orientation to his encyclical on “our common home”, Laudato Si’. The 185 members of this synod include almost all the bishops of the Amazon region and others who work with the inhabitants of the region or are involved at the environmental level. Ten Jesuits are full members of the assembly, four others are members of the group of invited experts, and two are “auditors”. Also, two Jesuits are part of the permanent team of the General Secretariat of the Synods.
We have asked Fr. Alfredo Ferro, a Colombian Jesuit and coordinator of the Proyecto Panamazónico, to tell us how important this synod is for the people living in the Amazon as well as for the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus. The mission of this “Pan-Amazon Project,” which is promoted by the CPAL (Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America and the Caribbean), is to defend and promote life and a sustainable environment in Panamazonia, in solidarity with the poor and excluded and in particular with the indigenous peoples. Here is what Alfredo shared with us.
“I believe that one of the most important challenges that the Church faces, when she raises the question of new ways and inquires what missionary evangelization should be, is to rethink our practice in the field. The Church, in my opinion, must focus on intercultural, interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, which demands very attentive listening. Gone are the days when we had to carry around mental models expressed in heavy doctrine, external logic built on our vision of the world, Western rites that failed to take into account the symbols and celebrations of indigenous peoples, etc. We need to rethink our actions, and for this to happen, it is necessary and urgent to acknowledge our mistakes and to be humbly willing not only to dialogue, but also to learn.
The fact that the Synod is being held in Rome is a concrete way of globalizing the Amazon, so that we will understand better that the planet belongs to all humankind and that what happens in the Amazon affects all peoples and all the territories beyond this region.
At the same time, the impetus given by Pope Francis to the Synod and the support for the Amazonian Church as such has catapulted the Amazonian territory and its concerns to the forefront. The Pope will closely accompany the Synod and its progress because he is earnestly interested in encouraging change and transformation in the Amazonian Church. Such change will necessarily have repercussions on other Churches, be they local, national, continental, or even in the universal Church. Finally, the experience of the Pan Amazonian Church Network (REPAM), which transcends borders and seeks better coordination among the different local and national Churches within a global perspective, has contributed to a broad and universal understanding.
For the Society of Jesus, the Synod will be a great challenge, given the presence of more than 60 Jesuits in several countries of the region. The challenge, however, is not only for those of us who live in the Amazon, but for the whole body of the Society. We Jesuits must make a commitment that begins with a greater awareness of these realities that affect us all. We must commit ourselves to making real and concrete the priority that the Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America (CPAL) has given to Amazonia. We can say today that this is an opportunity for all of us, one that is reinforced by the Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, with particular emphasis on the fourth one, Caring for Our Common Home.”