We are now nearing the end of the Pan-Amazon synod. We have already seen the results of the various circuli minores (small working groups), most interesting and challenging; some quite innovative. These proposals will, of course, need to be subjected to the final vote. No matter what the result of this will be, I would like to point out in this article the key point of importance for the revitalization of the Church in Amazonia.
The synod must clearly announce that the fundamental mission of the Church is to proclaim Jesus Christ as our Savior.
And this applies as much to the indigenous communities of the missionary vicariates as to the churches already established as archdioceses and dioceses of the universal Church. It is important to strengthen the evangelization work and the clear, explicit and overt proclamation of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, he in whom the mystery of the human being is deciphered and in whom all human wisdom makes sense. This is clearly affirmed by Vatican Council II in the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes (10 and 22).
The Fundamental Mission of the Church: to Evangelize
There is no doubt that the fundamental mission of the Church is to announce Jesus Christ. This point has been well pointed out by one of the circuli minores. They did an excellent job of enunciating this. It is indeed the center of the mission of the Church. All other subjects: the ecological, the social, the cultural and even the pastoral aspects like ministries, organization and authority in the Church are important, certainly; but they are secondary.
What is truly important is that the Catholic Church in Amazonia, as in the rest of the world, live and announce with the joy of the Gospel — as Pope Frances asks us — its faith in Jesus, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords, the beginning and the end.
As we said with respect in earlier reflections upon the instrumentum laboris (working document), it would be important to study why, in spite of the great and sacrificial, constant labor and presence of many missionaries, the Protestant churches have grown, while the fruits of our pastoral work have not been what was hoped for. Many of the indigenous communities are grateful for the social work of the Catholic missionaries but prefer the Protestant churches. One of the circui minores stressed this point. Sadly, the instrumentum laboris did not study the causes of this basic reality.
We must, therefore, strengthen the proclamation of Jesus Christ to the indigenous peoples and respectfully invite them to convert and be baptized, so they may receive the immense treasure of becoming children of God and members of the Church.
Inculturate the Gospel
This is it: We must evangelize and enculturate the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Of course this does not mean imposing European or Western culture on the indigenous peoples. It means presenting Christ as Savior and Redeemer, as our friend and brother, with his requirements of life changes, of family morality, of social behavior, as also in the economic world, the rejection of idols, and their enslavement to the forces of nature — that the Gospel enter into their cultures. This is what is meant by “inculturation of the Gospel.”
We have to evangelize openly and explicitly. Dialogue and accompaniment are not enough. Of course they are necessary, but at the same time we must offer and present Jesus. Let us remember St. Paul:
“And woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The mission of the Church is to announce the Gospel. And we know that Christ will change us radically and create the new man, the new community, the new family, sanctified by sacramental grace.
And this requires of us, the agents of evangelization, and especially the bishops, priests and religious, a continual conversion, personal and pastoral. That we recognize, personally and vigorously, Jesus as the Lord of creation and of history, as the Good Shepherd, as the Light of the World, as our Savior. And we must present him as such to our brothers. Of course we must not disdain the indigenous cultures! But we must take them the ancient divine wisdom, revealed in the Old Testament and particularly by Jesus Christ. We must bring them the gift of new life in Christ, the light of grace, the hope of eternal life. We must free them from the enslavement of nature, announcing the Lordship of God the Father, and of Christ, his Son, the face of Divine Mercy, over creation and over each one of us.
In this sense it is essential that the final document of the synod promote an overt evangelization, in Amazonia and in the whole world, without fear of injuring the indigenous people and promote the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, respectfully, of course, but without trepidation — not apologetically, as if asking forgiveness for taking the treasure of Christ to the indigenous peoples of Amazonia.
The Suggested Amazonian Rite
In this same line, we must also focus upon the possible Amazonian-indigenous rite [of the Mass], which the synod could suggest. That would be okay. In the Church, there are many rites.
Of course it would have to be prepared very well. And certainly the possible Amazonian rite must avoid any kind of strange or incorrect syncretism. The syncretism present in the ritual celebrated around a large blanket, led by an Amazonian woman surrounded by strange and ambiguous images in the Vatican gardens Oct. 4, should be avoided. It is lamentable that, in spite of the many criticisms of that ritual, none of the organizers have explained what that ritual was. The reason for the many critical commentaries is precisely the primitive nature and pagan appearance of the ceremony and the absence of recognizably Catholic symbols, gestures and prayers in the motions and prostrations of that surprising ritual.
This type of syncretism must be absolutely avoided. The liturgy or the Roman Latin Rite, particularly the Sacred Eucharist offered only to God, is simple, sober, austere and easy to understand for those who receive adequate initiation. An eventual Amazonian rite must respect the sacred nature of the Eucharist and maintain its fundamental elements, and while other gestures could be introduced, none can be similar to the animist or non-Catholic naturalist gestures.
We bless the Lord for the sacrificial and generous work offered in Amazonia, in the jungle as in the urban areas, in the vicariates and prelatures, archdioceses and dioceses, by bishops, missionaries, priests and deacons, religious and consecrated laity who are committed to multiple ecclesial labors.
We beseech God, the Creator of the universe and our Father, that this synod reaffirm decisively and clearly the evangelical mission of the Church in Amazonia and in the whole world, and that Catholics, especially the ministers of the Lord and religious, keep living and announcing with joy the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “the only one in whose name we can obtain salvation and the forgiveness of sins” (see Acts 4:12; Gaudium et Spes, 10).
This commentary has been edited for style.
Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino is the archbishop emeritus of Caracas, Venezuela.