Cardinal Urosa: The Pan-Amazon Synod’s Working Document and Evangelization

The Synod for Amazonia: Comments Concerning the Instrumentum Laboris; Part 2 of a Series.

Cardinal Jorge Urosa
Cardinal Jorge Urosa (photo: Edward Pentin)

A Truly Prophetic Church

In this new article we shall address the theme of evangelization. An acknowledged point, accepted as a matter of course, is that dialogue is a necessary factor for evangelization. And it is thus that the prophetic vision of the Church is presented in no.42 of the working document of the upcoming Synod for Amazonia.

But, unfortunately, here again, something is missing.

A truly prophetic Church is more than a Church which enters into dialogue, knows how to reach agreements, and seeks concrete proposals for an integral ecology, a Church which takes action against injustice. It is also necessary to declare forcefully that a truly prophetic Church must announce God as the source of all happiness, and Jesus Christ clearly as “the way, the truth and the life.” This is consistent with the line of Evangelii Gaudium of Pope Francis and with the pastoral exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi of St. Paul VI. And most clearly in continuity with the resoundingly clear assertion of Vatican Council II in the constitution Gaudium et Spes: “In reality it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of humanity truly becomes clear”; “Christ…in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals humanity to itself and brings to light its very high calling” (GS, 22)It is also consistent with the superlatively important decree Ad Gentes of Vatican Council II concerning the evangelization and mission activity of the Church. By the way, this key text is hardly mentioned in this working document. How was such a serious omission possible?

Regarding the announcement and proclamation of Christ, we cannot ignore the very pertinent teachings of Pope Benedict XVI in his opening speech for the General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean in Aparecida:

“That is why Christ, being in truth the incarnate Logos, “love to the end,” is not alien to any culture, nor to any person; on the contrary, the response that he seeks in the heart of cultures is what gives them their ultimate identity, uniting humanity and at the same time respecting the wealth of diversity, opening people everywhere to growth in genuine humanity, in authentic progress. The Word of God, in becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, also became history and culture.”

“The Utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbian religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in thepast.


“The wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them. Hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples…”(Benedict XVI, Aparecida Discourse, 1).

And so it will be vital that the Synod Fathers keep very much in mind something which is weak in the working document: the obligations stemming from the command to proclaim the Gospel, which Christ gave to the Apostles and to the entire Church. It is vital to assert clearly that this is the proposal of the Synod for the life of the Church in Amazonia, even though until now this concern is hardly noticeable in its Working Document. A prophetic Church is a Church which not only rightly proclaims social justice and defends human rights; not only discusses and accompanies, but most importantly, it announces Christ and evangelizesLet us remember what Pope Francis has taught us in this regard: “From the heart of the Gospel we can see the intimate connection between evangelization and the promotion of man, which must be expressed and developed in all evangelical activity” (EG, 178).


New Ways for Evangelization

The document affirms a renewed sense of the mission of the Church in Amazonia, which, starting from the encounter with Christ, goes out to meet the other, initiating a process of conversion. This is correct. But it is important that this requirement be framed in tangible proposals for an evangelization which is more open, more explicit and which goes further than mere dialogue and accompaniment.

What is required is a dynamic evangelization, a continuation of the work of the great missionaries of the indigenous America of the past, and as said above, in the line of the exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, of St. Paul VI. Let us recall it here, as it was not cited in thedocument:

“It is not superfluous to recall the following points: to evangelize is first of all to bear witness, in a simple and direct way, to God revealed by Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit, to bear witness that in His Son God has loved the world — that in His Incarnate Word He has given being to all things and has called men to eternal life. Perhaps this attestation of God will be for many people the unknown God[55] whom they adore without giving Him a name, or whom they seek by a secret call of the heart when they experience the emptiness of all idols. But it is fully evangelizing in manifesting the fact that for man the Creator is not an anonymous and remote power; He is the Father: “...that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”[56] And thus we are one another’s brothers and sisters in God” (EN, 26).

The  central   message:  salvation  in Christ  Jesus.  “Evangelization will also always contain —- as the foundation, center, and at the same time, summit of its dynamism — a clear proclamation that, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, who died and rose from the dead, salvation is offered to all men, as a gift of God’s grace and mercy.[57] And not an imminent salvation, meeting material or even spiritual needs, restricted to the framework of temporal existence and completely identified with temporal desires, hopes, affairs and struggles, but a salvation which exceeds all these limits in order to reach fulfillment in a communion with the one and only divine Absolute: a transcendent and eschatological salvation, which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity” (EN, 27).


Weaknesses in the Working Document

Certainly the working document has the virtue of being the fruit of extensive consultation with many people, especially the inhabitants of Amazonia, and it does indeed courageously plumb the depths of the ecological and socio-economic problems of the Amazonian people, whose defense the text assumes and advances most valiantly. It puts forward the need to take decisive action to avoid an ecological tragedy in Amazonia. This is very good!

However, the text suffers from several failings. It seems to consider the Indians or original peoples and culture as the whole of the Amazonian population, not taking into account the urban and criollas (white and mixed-race) population of cities and towns. It uses an imprecise and ambiguous language and inadequately states the mission of evangelization and sanctification of the Church in Amazonia, a result of its optimistic anthropological vision of human beings as pretty well perfect.

Much more serious still: it has a very feeble Christology, because it practically does not mention the person of Christ as redeemer and savior of humanity; instead it calls him the Good Samaritan (115). It rather proposes a vision which is liberationist and reductive of the Church and its mission, more concerned with sociological, cultural, anthropocentric and ecological topics and issues than with those of evangelization and sanctification, and spiritual and pastoral realities.

This lack is an extremely grave fault in an ecclesial document, which the Synod Fathers will have to overcome. The instrumentum laboriswe are discussing is not a document for a meeting of NGOs. It is a text for an ecclesial Synodan extremely important assembly of the Church meant to help her to live her mission better, to revitalize the Church in Amazonia and in the whole world, and one which needs to present new ways of authentic evangelization for our day.

It is for these reasons that the document has been criticized and has raised so much controversy. Not because of the social and ecological part of the Synod. It is because of the text’s own weaknesses. It is not to attack the Synod itself, which rightly will defend the Amazonian territory and its different peoples, indigenous and mixed. Although it is not a final document, it would have been wonderful if they had worked on it more! And if they had managed to incorporate the principal tenets of Catholic doctrine concerning Jesus Christ and the mission of the Church. It would have avoided so many doubts, arguments and even the rejection it has caused. And please, be aware that I am not referring now to the controversial subject of married priests or to the new feminine ministries, which I have not touched upon in this article.

The problematic side of this document concerns the subjects of the faith in general and a theological vision, particularly in regard to anthropology, Christology and ecclesiology, among others. These controversial aspects of a synodal working document are awkward, surprising and problematic. It is therefore necessary to study it thoroughly, so as to take advantage of its strengths and overcome and reject its faults and weaknesses. And in so doing, truly revitalize the Church in Amazonia and in the entire world. The problem of the text is not so much its ecology, but its weak ecclesiology.

The apparent preeminence throughout the working document of matters of ecology, and social and cultural matters — important as they are — to the detriment of theological, spiritual and pastoral matters in the life of the Church, will have to be surmounted in the Synod Hall. So we hope and pray for.


An Example to Follow: The Document of Aparecida

A very balanced and enlightening Church document to consider when talking about the Synod on new ways for the Church in Amazonia and an integral ecology, is the one published by the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and the Caribbean Bishops, celebrated in May 2007, in Aparecida, Brazil. It is called the Aparecida Document, and it was the fruit of the joint work of bishops, priests, religious and lay people from Latin America and, of course, also Amazonia.

This fine text addressed the social, economic, political and ecological problems of the Church of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Amazonia. But also addressed with power and light the theme of the evangelization of the indigenous peoples. It states:

“Our pastoral service to the indigenous peoples demands to announce Jesus Christ and the Good News of the Kingdom of God, to denounce the situations of sin, the structures of death, violence and external and internal injustices to foster the intercultural interreligious and ecumenical dialogue. Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation for all peoples, and the fundamental reference point to discern the values and weaknesses of all cultures, including the indigenous ones. Therefore the greatest treasure that we can offer them is for them to reach the encounter with the risen Christ, Our Savior. The Indians that have already accepted the Gospel are called, as disciples and missionaries of Christ Jesus, to live with immense joy their Christian reality” (Aparecida, 95).

Something to notice: the president of the drafting commission of that document was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio himself, now Pope Francis.

With strong demands about justice, evangelization and the mission of the Church for the indigenous peoples — from Amazonia and other regions of Latina America and the Caribbean — Aparecida reached a very strong, demanding and enlightening but also very clear, serene and harmonious message of excellent theological, Christological and ecclesiological teaching. It is a very good — and close to us Latin Americans — point of reference for this Synod. It is an enlightening element for the Synod Fathers to overcome the weaknesses of the instrumentum laboris. After all, Aparecida was written in a collegial and synodal way by bishops of the Church from Latin America, including, of course, the Amazonia region.

So far we have studied some points of the instrumentum laboris. In the next article we shall consider some of its pastoral proposals for the Synod.


Go here to read Part 1 of Cardinal Urosa’s analysis of the Pan-Amazon Synod’s working document.