Preparing for the Synod on Amazon: An interview with Cardinal Claudio Hummes


On October 15, 2017, Pope Francis announced a Special Synod on the Pan-Amazon Region to take place in Rome.

Its main objective is to “find new paths for the evangelization of that portion of the people of God, particularly the indigenous people who are often forgotten and often face a bleak future due to the crisis of the Amazon rainforest, a fundamental lung for our planet.”

The preparatory document was published on June 8, 2018.

The Synod on Amazonia is a major ecclesial project that seeks to overcome limits and redefine pastoral strategies, adapting them to contemporary times.

The Pan-Amazonian Region consists of Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana.

It is an important source of oxygen for the entire world as it is home to more than a third of the primary forestry reserves of the Earth. It is one of the largest areas of biodiversity on the planet.

Bishops chosen from all over the world will come to the synod, including all the bishops of the Amazonian Region.

Pope Francis has appointed as relator general Cardinal Claudio Hummes, archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo, Brazil and a Franciscan.

Another important figure is Jesuit Cardinal Pedro Barreto, the archbishop of Huancayo, Peru.

They are respectively the president and vice president of Red Eclesial Panamazónica (REPAM), the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.

This transnational network seeks to create a harmonious collaboration between the various components of the Church: ecclesial districts, religious congregations, charitable organizations and various associations, Catholic foundations and lay groups.

Among its main objectives is the defense of the life of Amazonian communities threatened by pollution, by radical and rapid changes of the ecosystem on which they depend, and by the lack of protection for basic human rights.

On October 31, 2006, Cardinal Hummes was nominated by Pope Benedict XVI as prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.

In May 2007 he participated at the Fifth Episcopal Conference of Latin America (CELAM) at Aparecida, Brazil, as a member appointed by the pope.

Today he is the president of the Amazonia Commission of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. Given his experience and activities we decided to have a conversation with him to explore the significance of this synod and its themes.

Your Eminence, the synod on the Amazon is drawing near.

It will be a great ecclesial event concerning a specific and particular part of the world, which is an enormous and incredibly rich and complex area.

For this reason, some people fear the upcoming synod might have repercussions on the unity of the Church.

What is your opinion?

Today, much is said about the unity of the Church.

It is of fundamental and utmost importance.

However, it has to be understood as a unity that welcomes diversity, following the model of the Most Holy Trinity.

That is, it is equally necessary to highlight that unity can never destroy diversity.

Concretely, the synod accentuates the diversity within that great unity.

Diversity is the richness of unity, protecting it against becoming uniformity, against providing justifications to control.

Is diversity important for the Church?

The Church is open to diversity today more than ever.

The Latin American countries of the Pan-Amazonian region are an expression of Latin American diversity, which has to be welcomed by the Church in Europe and the whole world without fear and with a great openness.

I want to underline this because this synod is a recognition of our peculiarity.

I see it this way: the Church of Latin America can bring new lights to the European Church and to the world, while the Church in Europe has to give us ancient lights, which are very important.

Initially, Christianity found a place for inculturation in European culture, and this good process has remained valid up until today.

But that one act of inculturation does not suffice.

The pope says that one culture alone cannot exhaust the richness of the Gospel.

The Church does not wish to dominate other cultures, but respects that initial European inculturation.

We have to appreciate the diversity of cultures: the Church will be enriched by this, not undermined.

Diversity does not attack the unity of the Church; it strengthens it.

It is important not to be afraid of these things.

So, if we speak among ourselves and manage to find new paths for the Church in Amazonia, this will be for the benefit of the whole Church.

But always starting from a specific reflection on Amazonia.

The REPAM network of Pan-Amazonia ecclesial organizations met with Pope Francis.

Can you tell us something about that meeting and the new things, challenges and hopes that the Holy Father places in the synodal process?

Last February 25, Cardinal Pedro Barreto, Mauricio Lopez (REPAM’s general secretary) and I met with the pope.

We told him about the process of preparation for the synod on completion of the phase of listening and consulting with the particular Churches of the Pan-Amazonian Region.

We told him about all the work done so far.

In this synodal process, our network has truly sought to “listen” and not only “see, judge, act.”

Listening comes before everything else.

To prepare a synod you need to listen, not just organize and make plans.

So the mark of the synod is its ability to listen and overcome the mentality of plans and frameworks?

To truly “see” you need to listen.

It is not enough to analyze what Amazonia is, or who the Church in Amazonia is and what it does.

The synod is not an abstract coming together, a generic idea.

For us, we need to listen above all to the very people of Amazonia.

Their real situations need to be listened to; their cries need to be heard.

Methodologically, this effort has greatly enriched our seeing, judging and acting. Our “seeing” has not been the detached analysis of those who examine a situation without being involved. We truly listened.

And your conversation with the pope?

We asked the pope if he had any recommendations for us.

He replied that, first, the specific synod objective should not be watered down.

This must not become an occasion for discussing everything, following an ancient Latin saying that states with irony: de omni re scibili et de quibusdam aliis (“concerning every knowable thing, and even certain other things”). Continue reading

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