Synod Leaders Commemorate ‘Catacomb Pact’ Linked to Liberation Theology

Forty synod fathers met Sunday to celebrate Mass in the same catacombs in Rome and to sign a new pact advancing some of the same principles.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the synod’s relator general, celebrated Mass Oct. 20 in the Catacombs of Domitilla; the Mass was attended by about 250 faithful, including other synod participants, representatives of REPAM, the body running the Oct. 6-27 meeting, religious and local faithful.
Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the synod’s relator general, celebrated Mass Oct. 20 in the Catacombs of Domitilla; the Mass was attended by about 250 faithful, including other synod participants, representatives of REPAM, the body running the Oct. 6-27 meeting, religious and local faithful. (photo: Edward Pentin photos)

ROME — For supporters of the 1965 “Catacombs’ Pact of the Poor and Servant Church,” the pact had the noble aim of bringing the Church closer to the poor and back to the early Church; for its critics, it had an odor of Marxism and Protestant egalitarianism that helped pave the way for “liberation theology.”

Signed in the Catacombs of Domitilla just after the end of the Second Vatican Council, 42 Council Fathers asked God for the grace to be “faithful to the spirit of Jesus” in the service of the poor.

The signatories, which later numbered 500 Council Fathers, vowed to enact a preferential option for the poor, renouncing personal possessions, ornate vestments and “names and titles that express prominence and power.”

They also made an oath to “be animators according to the Spirit rather than dominators according to the world,” to make themselves “as humanly present and welcoming as possible” and open to all, “no matter what their beliefs.”

It was for them a pact that would help return the institutional Church back to the early Church.

Archbishop Helder Câmara of Recife, Brazil, was credited with taking the lead role in organizing the original Catacombs Pact. In the subsequent post-conciliar years, Archbishop Câmara became known as “the Red Bishop,” courtesy of his prominence as one of the leading proponents of Latin American liberation theology.

On Sunday, about 40 synod fathers taking part in the Pan-Amazon synod took part in a Mass in the same catacombs to renew the spirit of the pact and to sign a new one entitled “Pact of the Catacombs for the Common Home: For a Church With an Amazonian Face, Poor and Servant, Prophetic and Samaritan.”


New Pact’s Action Points

The new pact paid tribute to the “martyrs that were the members of the base ecclesial communities” and others who “shed their blood for this option for the poor, for defending life and fighting for the protection of our Common Home.”

Among its 15 action points were to “defend the Amazon jungle” in the face of climate change; to commit to an “integral ecology”; and to renew the Church’s preferential option of the poor, helping native peoples to preserve their “lands, languages, stories, identities and spiritualties.”

There was no criticism of pagan traditions or spiritualties; rather, they rejected “all types of colonist mentality and posture” and instead called on parishes and dioceses to “welcome and value cultural ethnic and linguistic diversity in a respectful dialogue with all spiritual traditions.”

Further points included denouncing “all forms of violence and aggression” toward native peoples, their identity and territories, “announcing the liberating novelty of the Gospel,” and urging the Church to “walk ecumenically” with other Christian communities.

The call for establishing a “synodal lifestyle” was also proposed, as was the urge to “consolidate” an “adequate ministry of women leaders of the community,” and “new paths” of pastoral action where lay contributions are prominent in attention to those on the peripheries as well as “migrants, workers and the unemployed.”

The new pact also urged a “happily sober lifestyle” in the face of “the avalanche of consumerism,” the reduction of use of plastics, the promotion of “agro-ecological products,” and being on the side of those persecuted for “denouncing and repaying injustices” and who defend “the earth and the rights of the poor.”

The oath closed by recalling words from Pope Francis encyclical Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home), in which he wrote the Eucharist of the Covenant is “an act of cosmic love” that joins heaven and earth and “embraces and penetrates all creation.” In the bread of the Eucharist, he wrote, “creation is projected towards divinization” and is a “source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”


Participants’ Perspectives

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the synod’s relator general, celebrated the Mass, which was attended by about 250 faithful, including other synod participants, representatives of REPAM, the body running the Oct. 6-27 meeting, religious and local faithful.


In his homily, Cardinal Hummes said the location was a reminder of the “difficult times” of the early Church, marked by persecution. The Church, he added, “must always return to its roots here and in Jerusalem.”

Turning to the synod, he said it is a “fruit of the Second Vatican Council” and that “new ways are being sought to carry out the mission of proclaiming the word.” The great evils of the world are due to the money that feeds corruption, conflict and lies, and so the Church must always be “praying.”

Concelebrating the Mass were key figures of the synod, including Bishop Erwin Kräutler, one of the main authors of the synod’s controversial working document, and Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Ricardo Barreto, vice president of REPAM. Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, was also present, although he did not concelebrate but stood at the back of the church.

Cardinal Berreto told the Register after the Mass that the new pact was meant as a “renewal” of the Church and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, but he firmly rejected it was meant to signify any renewal of liberation theology.

Archbishop Fisichella said the renewal of the pact was “a beautiful sign” and also said it was not meant as a kind of resuscitation of liberation theology. “It is in continuity with what happened just after Vatican II,” and the original pact proposed a “deep engagement with the poor.”

He said the emphasis on the environment in the new pact was a “consequence of Laudato Si.” The engagement at this moment is with both “the poor and creation,” he added.

On whether people should be concerned about the new pact, given the criticism of what the earlier one led to, Archbishop Fisichella said: “No, this is something new — read the text, this is something very important, because in some ways this is a fruit of the synod.”

Franciscan Sister Sheila Kinsey, executive pro-secretary of the justice, peace and integrity of creation commission of the Union of Superior Generals (USG) and International Union of Superior Generals (UISG), told the Register that, for her, the priority for the Amazon was ensuring that indigenous people have the benefits of their resources, especially in mining communities.

On criticism that the synod has, for some, seemed to be more about politics and social justice than worship, faith and salvation of souls, Sister Sheila said it is important, “through faith, to find ways to work together.”

This is how those against the faith “destroy: They politicize issues that are really of our faith, and we get caught up in that,” said Sister Sheila, who is not taking part in the synod. “That’s how they co-opt our message — the two extremes, both on the left and on the right, on both sides.”

The answer, she said, was “to be clear: It’s about caring for each other and how we can do that” and putting “Christ at the center.”

It is about “bringing Christ’s presence to one another, the presence of Jesus who is within our hearts,” Sister Sheila said. “The presence of Christ whom we receive in the Eucharist needs to be our life, the center of our lives.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

Pope Francis celebrates the closing Mass of the Amazon synod Oct. 27.

The Political Pan-Amazon Synod

NEWS ANALYSIS: A set of ideological presuppositions, derived from the political left and also rooted in some strands of liberation theology, informed both the synodal discussions and the synod’s final document.