Principal's Blog - 27 February 2020

24 Feb 2020

Amazonian Synod brings Hope

Dear members of the Marcellin community,

From 6-27 October last year, a synod (an assembly) of Catholic Bishops met at the Vatican. The title of the synod was; “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” and it was made up of approximately 180 bishops – primarily from the Amazon but also from other regions of the world – and 80 lay auditors. While the focus of the synod was on a relatively small and unique part of the Catholic world, the issues being discussed tapped in to some of the big universal and controversial issues confronting the Church and our world more broadly. That is why there was an extraordinary level of outside attention and criticism during the month-long process.

Indigenous people in the Amazon have suffered greatly over many centuries. Colonial exploitation has impacted significantly on their lifestyle, their culture and their environment. Pope Francis was keen to hear first-hand from local people as part of the recent synod and by all accounts he listened intently and respectfully to their stories. One of the big concerns is the environmental damage that has been inflicted, and continues to be inflicted, on the region. Another big issue is how the Church will tend to its people in the area given the distances, the diversity of language groups, and the inhospitable terrain – to name but a few challenges.

Out of these deliberations came a number of heartening, though for some perhaps controversial, recommendations and comments in relation to the challenges faced and potential solutions. With respect to the environment, the synod set forward a definition of ‘ecological sin’, describing it as “an action or omission before God, against others, the community and the environment. It is a sin against future generations and manifests itself in acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the environmental harmony.” Strong language indeed. The bishops also point out that the Church must ask itself questions like; Where do we stand? On whose side are we on? They also make concrete suggestions – for example, to join and support divestment campaigns from companies involved in socio-ecological damage. This becomes a call to action for us all to consider how we can make a positive contribution within our local environments.

In regard to the ministry of married men and women, the bishops made a number of key statements. Firstly, they suggested the Pope allow current married deacons to be ordained as priests. Secondly, in relation to the role of women, they consider it “urgent” for the church to “promote and confer ministries of men and women in an equitable manner.” In response to this last statement Pope Francis spontaneously replied, “I am going to take up the challenge you have put forward, that women be heard.” This is in line with his previous actions in setting up a study commission on women Decans in 2016. Is this a step towards women becoming Deacons and potentially, ordained priests in the Catholic Church? At the very least it is a commitment to continue listening to 50% of the Catholic population.

The National theme for the Marists this year comes from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians; Creating One New Humanity (EPH2:15). The subtitle One Wild and Precious Life is a line from Pulitzer prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”. The scripture from St Paul is a hope filled message about the legacy that Jesus has left us.  It is a call to celebrate our common humanity. It speaks of Jesus as the one who ‘breaks down the dividing wall’ (EPH 2:14) to make us one. Mary Oliver’s poem is a meditation on the beauty and fragility of life and encourages us to pay more attention to our lives. These are significant things to ponder and already our staff and young men are starting to engage with them. It also seems to me that the bishops attending the Amazonian synod had at the centre of their deliberations both Jesus’ legacy of inclusion and a desire to be more attentive to the people of the Amazon’s one wild and precious life.

With blessings for the week ahead.

John Hickey