Today at the press conference, we were joined by Bishop Rafael Alfonso Escudero López-Brea of Moyobamba, Peru; Bishop Eugenio Coter of Tibiuca, Bolivia; Father P. Sidney Dornelas, C.S.,Director of the CEMLA of Argentina; and, Dr. Marcia Maria de Oliveira of Brazil.
All are experts on migration. Today, they spoke about those who come through or to the Amazon region as they flee their own countries, and those who face internal displacement or flee the Amazon region itself.
Marcia de Oliveira, whose institution has been studying migration for nearly 30 years says their research can help the Church as it lays out a new direction and new pastoral ministries for addressing the challenges facing the Amazon and the wider church.
She has explained that there are some 30 million people who "are threatened by pollution, by the radical and rapid change of the ecosystem they depend on and by the lack of protection of fundamental human rights."
Other threats such as unprecedented economic and political crises have pushed many people to migrate as an alternative for survival. She explained that only in the 1980s and 1990s, more than one million Brazilians traveled to other countries in search of work and better living conditions.
In all of this, women are affected most profoundly.
Today at the press conference the professor explained that women are the victims of smuggling, trafficking, and sex trafficking.
And it is women who are working to address this criminal activity and challenges.
According to Dr. Marcia, women are at the heart of the church. For her, it is impossible to talk about the church without talking about the presence and role of women at the head of organized groups, communities and pastoral ministries.
"They take on the leadership of the communities," she said.
They head political and social movements to address the most pressing problems their people face.
She suggests that this Synod and the Church should recognize their central contributions "giving greater value to the ministerial work that women take on and recognize the services they already give."
Women take care of the children. They farm and grow food. And it is women who are the caretakers of the seeds that will be sown during the next season.
Women are leaders in overseeing services people need. And they are political and religious leaders taking care of the health and life of the community.
According to Dr. Marcia, "They have a lot to teach us concerning an integral ecology."
In her interview prior to the synod, Dr. Marcia believes that recognizing the role of women in the Church of the Amazon "is to do justice to all those who died in defense of rights and life of the peoples of that region, such as Sister Dorothy Stang, cowardly murdered in Anapu, in Pará, on February 12, 2005, and for Sister Cleusa Coelho, martyr of justice and peace of indigenous peoples, murdered on April 28, 1985 in the Lábrea prelature, in the Amazon.
My Interview with Bishop Francis Allenye of Guyana; Women lead in my communities
Today, I had the opportunity to interview Bishop Francis Allenye, OSB, who has pastored the diocese of Georgetown, Guyana, Antilles for nearly 16 years. It is the only diocese for the whole country.
The bishop is a very soft spoken man who appears to take in the wisdom of others as he discerns. He has included two young people from his diocese in the synod process here in Rome and is listening intently to what they are saying.
It is also clear that the bishop is very content with the synod process and the way discussions are taking place.
Unlike his experience with small group discussions at the Synod on the Family where "sparks flew", he said these discussions have been very calm and helpful for opening up new ideas.
And while he does seem to be advocating for any particular solution for strengthening the ordained and lay ministries of the Catholic Church, he does seem quite open to the new ideas and discussions being formulated at the Synod.
A Little History
The Catholic Mission to the Amerindian tribes in Guyana actually began in Venezuela, when in April 1818, the Bolivar revolution in Venezuela against Spanish rule was taking place.
Amerindian peoples who lived in the Orinoco, in Venezuela, were under the religious care of an order of Catholic priests who remained loyal to Spain. This made them vulnerable to attacks from those supporting the Bolivar revolution.
Many of the priests and people were slaughtered and Amerindian villages were pillaged. Rather than remain under such conditions, the Amerindians who survived made their escape eastward into British Guiana.
As a colonized region, it is the only South American country where English is the official language, a legacy that many indigenous people want to reverse by offering education in indigenous languages.
To give you a sense of the people, the Amerindians are composed of four main tribes; the Warraus, Arawaks, Wapisianas and the Caribs, which include several sub tribes, Arrecunas, Akawaios, Patamonas, and the Macusis. The Wai-wais are also included in the Carib-speaking group.
Archaeology shows that the Warraus are believed to be the oldest known inhabitants of Guyana dating back 7,000 years ago. You can get a sense of the richness, heritage and beliefs of our tribal sisters and brothers here.
In the face of that fact, the Catholic Church is very much a newcomer, with Amerindian people making up only 10% of the population. According to the bishop, "They are looked down upon" by others in the region.
Guyana is facing the same problems other parts of the Amazon region are facing; mining, deforestation, and pollution of the rivers. Connected to those destructive activities are human trafficking and other forms of human exploitation. "And the State does not have the capacity to police all these things," said Bishop Allenye.
Notes from the Catholic Standard newspaper offer a view of what people are actually facing. One opinion writer states:
Guyana is being bombarded with all manner of advice by experts of all stripes on how to manage discovery of oil and gas. The unanimous thread amid this welter of opinion is that life in Guyana is about to be transformed.
To date it is unclear whether the transformation will create a secure, fulfilling life for all Guyanese or will plunge our chronic failure to create such a society into something significantly worse.
The fact that Guyana has languished at the bottom of most economic and social indicators for the past five decades has never been due to an absence of natural resources. It is squarely and uncontrovertibly the result of our failure to generate an inclusive political system of Government.
For the oil and gas transformation to be positive, therefore, the first transformation required is at the political level. The prospects are not encouraging. Aspirations for electoral victory in 2020 are hardening ethnic polarization - continuing discriminatory practices which have dogged Guyanese politics for half a century.
The price of polarized politics is to be counted, in part, in our inability to develop a truly national position on oil and gas. This implies, for example, that Exxon Mobil, with its decades of experience as a global economic power will be confronted across the table with inexperience, pettiness and mediocrity – and most significantly, the lack of commitment from either side of the political spectrum to resolving these obstacles.
In summary, the future of the society is being determined decisively by the profitability interests of one large company which has unquestioned control over the pace, volume and life of Guyana’s oil and gas regime.
The unwillingness – across the party political spectrum - to discuss that a problem exists renders reaching a solution remote. Determining and defending the national interest would include, for example, taking steps to insulate oil and gas development from the vagaries of Guyanese elections. Moreover, creation of State Agencies and mechanisms related to oil and gas should be genuinely ring-fenced from partisan influence. The farce to which both parties recently reduced selection of the Chairperson of the Elections Commission is an indicator of the difficulty of establishing a much-needed bipartisan process for appointment of all senior gas and oil personnel.
One idea that impressed +Allenye and "opened his mind" was the idea of developing new ways to dialogue with those who represent the oil, gas, and mining companies, those who seem intent on placing profits over people. Some recent Vatican meetings with the heads of oil companies has given him a sense that these kind of forums can be useful in giving indigenous people a greater voice in decisions that are made about the land.
The Church as a Voice for the People
Catholics are a minority, only about 7% of the total population of 750,000, around 50,000, although "you don't see that many people in our churches," according to + Allenye.
Still, what he finds interesting is half of that number are not Catholics with a colonialist preoccupation, but "indigenous people who live in very remote areas in the valley, mountains and in the wetlands."
"That makes it very difficult to reach them," he shared.
Making it all the more difficult is the fact that the diocese has about 30 priests with only 5 or 6 of them traveling to the remote villages where indigenous Catholics live.
In some regions, the communities may see a priest once a month, but in many others, it is more likely that the priest will visit every 3 or 4 months.
Most of the communities have extraordinary ministers who offer communion services in between visits with hosts that have been consecrated by the priests, but other communities who see the priest more often, only celebrate the Mass when the priest joins them.
Women are the Ministers
Overall, ministers in the remote villages are women, along with some men.
According to + Allenye, "They have had very good formation programs whereby they very competently look after catechesis, baptism, and other ministries."
So women form people's faith through Bible studies and other forms of catechesis, hold services "priest or no priest", minister to people according to their needs, baptize and preside at funerals which must be done "right away" according to the bishop, given the climate.
Marriages in the Catholic Church require a priest because they are also registered marriage officers for the State.
When I asked the bishop how he felt about women deacons or married priests as possible solutions for building a stronger Catholic Church in the region, he was non-committal replying, "these ideas are under consideration, but so are other ideas."
In any case, the bishop believes that whatever happens, "it is not going to happen right away."
In the meantime, he believes the best way to build community is to build confidence by affirming the ministries of Catholic women and men and providing good education and formation programs. But the bishop also admits, that even though the formation program has been very strong, they have not attracted the next generation of ministers.
Still, in a Vatican News interview, the Bishop expressed a great openness to what his people would want.
When asked about vocations among the indigenous people, the Bishop said, “If the Church gives a genuine witness, it is something that the people themselves would warm to – and I do see where a genuine witness has drawn some of the indigenous people to religious life”. Sharing his own observations, Bishop Alleyne said, “I have seen qualities that are nurtured in the [indigenous] culture that I find very suitable religious life”; and, he added, “if they took that step, it would be a continuum, a step further for their culture”.
The Voice of Young Catholics
As noted above, Bishop Allenye came to the synod with two young Catholics. Today they both gave "very good" interventions at the synod. And according to the bishop, they have very strong opinions about what they want from the Catholic Church.
First and foremost, they want early education to be given in indigenous languages. They have embarked on a pilot project where the whole curriculum has been rewritten. In other places where this has been tried, it has shown that it gives the children a stronger sense of themselves and their dignity and strengthens their confidence.
The bishop was extremely laudatory in his praise for young people. He said they "free range" in that they can cross with great skill from one language to the next and from one landscape to the next. He also commented on their inner beauty, which comes from living in extraordinarily beautiful lands among extraordinarily beautiful people.
What is the Best Vehicle for Strengthening the Church; Translating the Bible
Mentioning married priests and women deacons as possibilities, I asked the bishop to describe the vehicle he would build to expand and strengthen the presence of the Church in the region.
He said he would choose to strengthen the roles of lay people. With a bit of a smile, he said, "priests take up an inordinate amount of my time putting out fires."
So, I got the sense that he thinks lay ministry is where the church is strongest in his region and where it should be strengthened.
And then he went on to describe a fascinating project -- the translation of the Bible into the indigenous language, which took place under his tenure.
The process took years to complete and was complex because the indigenous language is oral. So the oral language had to be translated into a written text that faithfully and accurately reflected the meaning intended in the Bible.
Biblical scholars from Wycliffe and indigenous people went to work. Using English phonetics of the indigenous language, they created the written word.
Most of the time transitions were fairly simple, but from time to time, they had to create a new symbol to represent a sound in the native language that could not be represented by English.
So, as the bishop explained, "you have to create this written language, and then make sure they can read it."
And they way that do that is to translate some of the folklore and stories people know so that the stories are accurately reflected when the people read them.
When the translation was completed and accuracy was assured, they printed the Bibles in the indigenous language.
And yes, there were tears in my eyes when the bishop told me that when the people received those Bibles in their indigenous tongue, "they kissed the book and hugged it to their chests."
As I immerse myself into the realities of people from the Amazon region I am less sure about almost everything, Still, there is one thing that serves as my guiding star. I know that whatever happens in terms of ministry, it has to make sense for the indigenous peoples -- the women -- of the Amazon.
Who will write the final document
The members of the synod will again be participating in small language group discussions for the next few days.
According to Fr. Costa of the Vatican Press Office, we should be getting a copy of the small group reports this Thursday or Friday.
Then the synod will focus on negotiating and approving a final document which they will be given before the beginning of the third week.
Thee final document will be written by this group of people.
Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, O.F.M. Archbishop Emeritus of São Paulo, President of the Episcopal Commission for the Amazon of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (C.N.B.B.), President of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM) (Brazil)
Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops (Vatican City)
Bishop Mario Grech, Pro-Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops (Vatican City), Apostolic Administrator of Gozo (Malta).
Cardinal Michael Czerny, S.I., Titular Archbishop of Benevento, Under-Secretary of the Section for Migrants and Refugees of the Department for the Service of Human Integral Development (Vatican City)
Bishop David Martinez de Aguirre Guinea, O.P., Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Titular Bishop of Izirzada (Peru)
4 Members elected by the Assembly
Bishop Mário Antônio da Silva, Bishop of Roraima (Brazil)
Bishop Héctor Miguel Cabrejos Vidarte, O.F.M., Archbishop of Trujillo, President of the Episcopal Conference (Peru), President of the Latin American Episcopal Council (C.E.L.AM.)
Bishop Nelson Jair Cardona Ramirez, Bishop of San José del Guaviare (Colombia)
Bishop Sergio Alfredo Gualberti Calandrina, Archbishop of Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia)
4 Members appointed by Pope Francis
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, O.P., Archbishop of Wien, President of the Episcopal Conference (Austria)
Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, Titular Bishop of Vescovio, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (Vatican City)
Bishop Edmundo Ponciano Valenzuela Mellid, S.D.B., Archbishop of Asunción, Asunción (Paraguay)
Father Rossano Sala, S.D.B., Professor of Youth Ministry at the Pontifical Salesian University and Director of the Magazine (Italy)
Whatever contributions the small groups have made will be filtered and condensed into a final document by this group. It is hard to know to what extent the writing will reflect the wishes of indigenous people and especially women who are participating. As Joshua McElwee notes, transparency is not one of the Vatican's greatest virtues.
But if some bishops we have heard from are correct about the leanings of the group, a married priesthood will be forwarded and some form of recognition for women's ministries will be recognized, although it is not at all clear that will be a formal opening to the diaconate, even though the topic is brought up daily.