Amazon synod: ‘Indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time’

THE SYNOD FOR AMAZONIA is being held at the Vatican Oct. 6-27. The synod that has generated much interest in and outside of the Church. Aid to the Church in Need spoke with Bishop Neri José Tondello of the Diocese of Juína, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, one of the 18 members of the pre-synodal Council.

To what do you attribute the great interest in this particular synod?

 What happens in the Amazon affects the entire world. The synod is tackling the theme of an integral ecology. This includes not only the original inhabitants living there, especially the indigenous peoples, who are the first and legitimate proprietors of the Amazon region. It also includes the communities living on the riverbanks, the quilombolas (descendants of former African slaves), and so many other people who are now living in the region in search of a better life. The aim of an integral ecology is to consider our “common home” in all its complexity, and Pan-Amazonia is a region which serves the whole planet. This region is confronted with very grave problems that have worldwide impact.

Consider the forest fires that have started; these lead to deforestation and illegal logging, the poisoning of rivers, and the killing of fish. The hydroelectric dams and the mining industry—with its toxic byproducts, such as mercury—are also killing off the fish stocks. At stake is the basic food supply for our indigenous peoples. All these things are gravely harming the Pan-Amazonian region in all its biodiversity. And everything is interconnected, everything is interrelated, and that is why the region is of crucial importance for the world.

Bishop Tondello

What does the Amazon synod mean to you?

We are going to have to ask for many prayers so that we can have the gift of discernment. We have considered the reality of the situation in Amazonia and have listened to the clamor of its peoples, who are expressing their unhappiness. During the course of the synod we will be listening to the scientists, and above all we will be listening to what the Holy Spirit wishes to say to the Churches in the Amazon region.

It is important to bear in mind that the synod is not a deliberative body; according to its guidelines, it is a consultative body. But let us nonetheless not be lacking in courage to propose new ways for the Church and for an integral ecology. May this great event help Pope Francis to make the necessary decisions and give us sure guidance that will be appropriate for this blessed place that is our beloved Amazonia.

What is needed if the Church is not to be solely a “visiting Church” throughout Amazonia?

Evangelization was brought to us by men and women who came from abroad, who gave their lives, many of whom are martyrs of Amazonia. But many of the things that were imported were not always the best; they were often schemes of colonization, of domination, which disregarded the potential already present there. In other words, they did not take account of the true face of the Amazon, which has the capacity to become the protagonist of its own form of evangelization, through the inculturation of the Gospel, which is incarnated in the reality of the “seeds of the Word” already present among the indigenous peoples, the riverside dwellers, the settlers and all the other people who inhabit this region. In order to become a Church that is more effective and more present, and closer to the people, there is a need both for the religious formation and the organization of the community. We must draw more deeply on the people’s gifts and charisms. Of course we have to acknowledge baptism as the starting point for everything—it’s a baptismal and collegial Church, which is different from a clerical Church.

However, celibacy will never disappear, because it will always be a gift for the Church. But I also believe that the Church can reflect, from the point of view of theology, spirituality and pastoral considerations, on the need for new forms that will help to assure a more permanent presence alongside the People of God—so we can move beyond this idea of a “visiting Church.” We need to be closer, more present to the people, and for this reason we need to explore the ideas on which people have been working for so long—for example, the idea of a priest from the community, someone with an Amazonian face, someone who lives on the spot and knows all the members of the community and who can help make the process of evangelization much more effective. Lest we forget: indigenous peoples have had God with them for a long time.

—Rodrigo Arantes