Making the Amazon a better place…
“Apostolic Exhortation” Querida Amazonia
February 2, 2020
NOTE: For reactions to the document, analyses, and commentary, please access our special coverage page at the following link:
The Vatican has released the text of the new exhortation in sundry languages, of which we make the following two available via direct links:
If one had to pick one single word to summarize the lengthy document, perhaps the most fitting word would be “inculturation.” The hot button issue of married priests was not mentioned at all, although the foundations for it were laid. Ordaining women was rejected rather explicitly, but a generous opening was made to Pagan practices at the liturgy.
Highlights from Querida Amazonia (Good, Bad, and Hilarious):
(the numbers in brackets refer to the numbered paragraphs; footnotes removed; italics in original)
-  …I would like to officially present the Final Document, which sets forth the conclusions of the Synod, which profited from the participation of many people who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately. I have preferred not to cite the Final Document in this Exhortation, because I would encourage everyone to read it in full.
-  I am doing so to help awaken their affection and concern for that land which is also “ours”, and to invite them to value it and acknowledge it as a sacred mystery.
-  Everything that the Church has to offer must become incarnate in a distinctive way in each part of the world, so that the Bride of Christ can take on a variety of faces that better manifest the inexhaustible riches of God’s grace.
-  I dream of Christian communities capable of generous commitment, incarnate in the Amazon region, and giving the Church new faces with Amazonian features.
-  None of this recognizes the rights of the original peoples; it simply ignores them as if they did not exist, or acts as if the lands on which they live do not belong to them.
-  The businesses, national or international, which harm the Amazon and fail to respect the right of the original peoples to the land and its boundaries, and to self-determination and prior consent, should be called for what they are: injustice and crime.
-  Since it was often the priests who protected the indigenous peoples from their plunderers and abusers, the missionaries recounted that “they begged insistently that we not abandon them and they extorted from us the promise that we would return”.
-  At the same time, since we cannot deny that the wheat was mixed with the tares, and that the missionaries did not always take the side of the oppressed, I express my shame and once more “I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but for the crimes committed against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America” as well as for the terrible crimes that followed throughout the history of the Amazon region.
-  Christ redeemed the whole person, and he wishes to restore in each of us the capacity to enter into relationship with others.
-  The Amazon region ought to be a place of social dialogue, especially between the various original peoples, for the sake of developing forms of fellowship and joint struggle. The rest of us are called to participate as “guests” and to seek out with great respect paths of encounter that can enrich the Amazon region.
-  They should not be viewed as “uncivilized” savages. They are simply heirs to different cultures and other forms of civilization that in earlier times were quite developed.
-  For centuries, the Amazonian peoples passed down their cultural wisdom orally, with myths, legends and tales, as in the case of “those primitive storytellers who traversed the forests bringing stories from town to town, keeping alive a community which, without the umbilical cord of those stories, distance and lack of communication would have fragmented and dissolved”.
-  Like all cultural realities, the cultures of the interior Amazon region have their limits. Western urban cultures have them as well.
-  Starting from our roots, let us sit around the common table, a place of conversation and of shared hopes. In this way our differences, which could seem like a banner or a wall, can become a bridge. …Far be it from me to propose a completely enclosed, a-historic, static “indigenism” that would reject any kind of blending (mestizaje). A culture can grow barren when it “becomes inward-looking, and tries to perpetuate obsolete ways of living by rejecting any exchange or debate with regard to the truth about man”.
-  In any project for the Amazon region, “there is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their own culture.
-  In a cultural reality like the Amazon region, where there is such a close relationship between human beings and nature, daily existence is always cosmic.
-  If the care of people and the care of ecosystems are inseparable, this becomes especially important in places where “the forest is not a resource to be exploited; it is a being, or various beings, with which we have to relate”. …To abuse nature is to abuse our ancestors, our brothers and sisters, creation and the Creator, and to mortgage the future”. …The harm done to nature affects those peoples in a very direct and verifiable way, since, in their words, “we are water, air, earth and life of the environment created by God. For this reason, we demand an end to the mistreatment and destruction of mother Earth. The land has blood, and it is bleeding; the multinationals have cut the veins of our mother Earth”.
-  To protect the Amazon region, it is good to combine ancestral wisdom with contemporary technical knowledge, always working for a sustainable management of the land while also preserving the lifestyle and value systems of those who live there.
-  If God calls us to listen both to the cry of the poor and that of the earth, then for us, “the cry of the Amazon region to the Creator is similar to the cry of God’s people in Egypt (cf. Ex 3:7). It is a cry of slavery and abandonment pleading for freedom”.
-  From the original peoples, we can learn to contemplate the Amazon region and not simply analyze it, and thus appreciate this precious mystery that transcends us. We can love it, not simply use it, with the result that love can awaken a deep and sincere interest. Even more, we can feel intimately a part of it and not only defend it; then the Amazon region will once more become like a mother to us.
-  On the other hand, if we enter into communion with the forest, our voices will easily blend with its own and become a prayer: “as we rest in the shade of an ancient eucalyptus, our prayer for light joins in the song of the eternal foliage”. This interior conversion will enable us to weep for the Amazon region and to join in its cry to the Lord.
-  If we respond to this heartrending plea, it will become clear that the creatures of the Amazon region are not forgotten by our heavenly Father. For Christians, Jesus himself cries out to us from their midst, “because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence”. For all these reasons, we believers encounter in the Amazon region a theological locus, a space where God himself reveals himself and summons his sons and daughters.
-  Recognizing the many problems and needs that cry out from the heart of the Amazon region, we can respond beginning with organizations, technical resources, opportunities for discussion and political programmes: all these can be part of the solution. Yet as Christians, we cannot set aside the call to faith that we have received from the Gospel. In our desire to struggle side by side with everyone, we are not ashamed of Jesus Christ. Those who have encountered him, those who live as his friends and identify with his message, must inevitably speak of him and bring to others his offer of new life: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16).
-  An authentic option for the poor and the abandoned, while motivating us to liberate them from material poverty and to defend their rights, also involves inviting them to a friendship with the Lord that can elevate and dignify them. How sad it would be if they were to receive from us a body of teachings or a moral code, but not the great message of salvation, the missionary appeal that speaks to the heart and gives meaning to everything else in life.
-  They have a right to hear the Gospel…. Without that impassioned proclamation, every ecclesial structure would become just another NGO and we would not follow the command given us by Christ: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).
-  The fundamental response to this message, when it leads to a personal encounter with the Lord, is fraternal charity, “the new commandment, the first and the greatest of the commandments, and the one that best identifies us as Christ’s disciples”.
-  As she perseveres in the preaching of the kerygma, the Church also needs to grow in the Amazon region. In doing so, she constantly reshapes her identity through listening and dialogue with the people, the realities and the history of the lands in which she finds herself. In this way, she is able to engage increasingly in a necessary process of inculturation that rejects nothing of the goodness that already exists in Amazonian cultures, but brings it to fulfilment in the light of the Gospel. Nor does she scorn the richness of Christian wisdom handed down through the centuries, presuming to ignore the history in which God has worked in many ways. For the Church has a varied face, “not only in terms of space… but also of time”. Here we see the authentic Tradition of the Church, which is not a static deposit or a museum piece, but the root of a constantly growing tree. This millennial Tradition bears witness to God’s work in the midst of his people and “is called to keep the flame alive rather than to guard its ashes”.
-  On the other hand, the Church herself undergoes a process of reception that enriches her with the fruits of what the Spirit has already mysteriously sown in that culture. In this way, “the Holy Spirit adorns the Church, showing her new aspects of revelation and giving her a new face”.
-  What is needed is courageous openness to the novelty of the Spirit, who is always able to create something new with the inexhaustible riches of Jesus Christ. Indeed, “inculturation commits the Church to a difficult but necessary journey”. True, “this is always a slow process and that we can be overly fearful”, ending up as “mere onlookers as the Church gradually stagnates”. But let us be fearless; let us not clip the wings of the Holy Spirit.
-  In the Amazon region, we have inherited great riches from the pre-Columbian cultures. These include “openness to the action of God, a sense of gratitude for the fruits of the earth, the sacred character of human life and esteem for the family, a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility in common work, the importance of worship, belief in a life beyond this earth, and many other values.”
-  The aboriginal peoples give us the example of a joyful sobriety and in this sense, “they have much to teach us”.
-  While working for them and with them, we are called “to be their friends, to listen to them, to speak for them and to embrace the mysterious wisdom which God wishes to share with us through them”.
-  Inculturation elevates and fulfills. Certainly, we should esteem the indigenous mysticism that sees the interconnection and interdependence of the whole of creation, the mysticism of gratuitousness that loves life as a gift, the mysticism of a sacred wonder before nature and all its forms of life. At the same time, though, we are called to turn this relationship with God present in the cosmos into an increasingly personal relationship with a “Thou” who sustains our lives and wants to give them a meaning, a “Thou” who knows us and loves us….
-  Similarly, a relationship with Jesus Christ, true God and true man, liberator and redeemer, is not inimical to the markedly cosmic worldview that characterizes the indigenous peoples, since he is also the Risen Lord who permeates all things. …He is present in a glorious and mysterious way in the river, the trees, the fish and the wind, as the Lord who reigns in creation without ever losing his transfigured wounds, while in the Eucharist he takes up the elements of this world and confers on all things the meaning of the paschal gift.
-  Let us imagine a holiness with Amazonian features, called to challenge the universal Church.
-  Let us not be quick to describe as superstition or paganism certain religious practices that arise spontaneously from the life of peoples.
-  It is possible to take up an indigenous symbol in some way, without necessarily considering it as idolatry. A myth charged with spiritual meaning can be used to advantage and not always considered a pagan error. Some religious festivals have a sacred meaning and are occasions for gathering and fraternity, albeit in need of a gradual process of purification or maturation.
-  In the Eucharist, God, “in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter”. The Eucharist “joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation”. For this reason, it can be a “motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation”. In this sense, “encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature”. It means that we can take up into the liturgy many elements proper to the experience of indigenous peoples in their contact with nature, and respect native forms of expression in song, dance, rituals, gestures and symbols. The Second Vatican Council called for this effort to inculturate the liturgy among indigenous peoples; over fifty years have passed and we still have far to go along these lines.
-  Nor is there room, in the presence of the poor and forgotten of the Amazon region, for a discipline that excludes and turns people away, for in that way they end up being discarded by a Church that has become a toll-house.
-  Inculturation should also be increasingly reflected in an incarnate form of ecclesial organization and ministry. …We cannot remain unconcerned; a specific and courageous response is required of the Church.
-  In the specific circumstances of the Amazon region, particularly in its forests and more remote places, a way must be found to ensure this priestly ministry. …We can even say that “no Christian community is built up which does not grow from and hinge on the celebration of the most holy Eucharist”. If we are truly convinced that this is the case, then every effort should be made to ensure that the Amazonian peoples do not lack this food of new life and the sacrament of forgiveness.
-  This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region. At the same time, it is appropriate that the structure and content of both initial and ongoing priestly formation be thoroughly revised, so that priests can acquire the attitudes and abilities demanded by dialogue with Amazonian cultures. This formation must be preeminently pastoral and favour the development of priestly mercy.
-  Priests are necessary, but this does not mean that permanent deacons (of whom there should be many more in the Amazon region), religious women and lay persons cannot regularly assume important responsibilities for the growth of communities, and perform those functions ever more effectively with the aid of a suitable accompaniment.
-  A Church of Amazonian features requires the stable presence of mature and lay leaders endowed with authority and familiar with the languages, cultures, spiritual experience and communal way of life in the different places, but also open to the multiplicity of gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows on every one. For wherever there is a particular need, he has already poured out the charisms that can meet it. This requires the Church to be open to the Spirit’s boldness, to trust in, and concretely to permit, the growth of a specific ecclesial culture that is distinctively lay. The challenges in the Amazon region demand of the Church a special effort to be present at every level, and this can only be possible through the vigorous, broad and active involvement of the laity.
-  The consecrated life, as capable of dialogue, synthesis, incarnation and prophecy, has a special place in this diverse and harmonious configuration of the Church in the Amazon region.
-  Such a reductionism would lead us to believe that women would be granted a greater status and participation in the Church only if they were admitted to Holy Orders. But that approach would in fact narrow our vision; it would lead us to clericalize women, diminish the great value of what they have already accomplished, and subtly make their indispensable contribution less effective.
-  Jesus Christ appears as the Spouse of the community that celebrates the Eucharist through the figure of a man who presides as a sign of the one Priest. …Women make their contribution to the Church in a way that is properly theirs, by making present the tender strength of Mary, the Mother.
-  The present situation requires us to encourage the emergence of other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women and responsive to the specific needs of the peoples of the Amazon region at this moment in history.
-  From that new gift, accepted with boldness and generosity, from that unexpected gift which awakens a new and greater creativity, there will pour forth as from an overflowing fountain the answers that contraposition did not allow us to see. …Similarly, in this historical moment, the Amazon region challenges us to transcend limited perspectives and “pragmatic” solutions mired in partial approaches, in order to seek paths of inculturation that are broader and bolder.
-  We Catholics possess in sacred Scripture a treasure that other religions do not accept, even though at times they may read it with interest and even esteem some of its teachings. We attempt to do something similar with the sacred texts of other religions and religious communities, which contain “precepts and doctrines that… often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women”.
-  We are united [with heretics] by the fire of the Spirit, who sends us forth on mission.
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License: public domain