Speaker Brings Amazon Synod Importance to Diocesan Employees
By Sharon Boehlefeld, Features Editor
October 3, 2019
ROCKFORD—In an area of the world that produces 20% of its oxygen and holds 20% of its flowing water, there are few Catholics among the indigenous population.
The missionary needs of the Church in the Amazon region of South America is just one of the topics to be considered at the Oct. 6-27 Amazon Synod in Rome, says Peruvian journalist José Antonion Varela.
He made a stop at the Diocesan Administration Center Sept. 23 to talk about the synod with some diocesan employees.
The Amazon region includes four large South American countries — Brazil, which has the biggest share of the area, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, as well as five smaller nations.
The population of 35 million is about 70% urban and 30% rural, and includes about 3 million indigenous people in the forested areas.
The key objectives of the synod, Varela says, are to consider its pastoral situation, ecological problems, and new ways to evangelize, especially in the indigenous areas.
River transportation, the main link among the forest communities, means missionaries may travel 3-5 days between villages.
“The river is their highway, their resource (for food) — and their pool,” Varela says as he nods toward his final slide. It shows a father and child splashing in the waters of the Amazon River.
Varela says the synod, while not directly concerned with North America, is important to all members of the Church.
While the history of the Church in much of the Americas began 500 years ago with the first Spanish explorers, Church history in the Amazon itself is much shorter.
“There is a Church of 100 years (of age) in the Amazon,” he explains. “We must develop a lot of the logistics for a strong Church in that place.”
Vocations are difficult, he says, because families are reluctant to lose sons to the priesthood when it means they “lost a pair of hands for the work” at home.
“José ably presented the enormity of the Amazon territory, which will be a challenge for the synod’s participants and focus,” said Patrick Winn, director of diocesan Catholic Charities. “It is humbling to consider the pressures the Amazon and its people face in a rapidly changing part of the world that is dealing with competing moral and economic pressures.”
John Jelinek, director of Religious Education and Formation, said, “It is exciting to hear about the missionary Church in the Amazon region and to see the bishops work with the indigenous people.”
“Any synod presents an opportunity to pray for the Church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit with a renewed focus,” said Jennifer Collins, director of the Life and Family Evangelization Office, after the presentation.
Elements of the synod’s working papers are creating concern among some Church leaders, for two reasons: first, because of proposed discussions of ecological and political problems facing the area and its people, and second, because of some pre-synodal consideration being given to expanding the priesthood, perhaps to women or married men, in the area.
Varela suggests people in the Rockford Diocese can participate in the synod’s work through prayer, conversation and learning about the challenges the Church faces in the Amazon.
He encourages people to get “real information” about the synod from Church sources.