When the Amazon meets the TIBER

The opening days of the Amazon Synod have been marked by the familiar polar tensions at the heart of the Catholic Church: between center and periphery, universal and local; between the demands of the law and the pastoral needs of a particular people. But now there is something new, something that is tilting the balance in favor of the peripheral, the local, and the particular.

Austen reports from Rome on a remarkable synod

You could see it happening in the gentle battle over liturgical space in the run-up to the synod’s opening. On October 4 in the Vatican Gardens and on the following night at a church not far from St Peter’s, dozens of indigenous leaders and church workers led offerings and prayers, using objects and forms of worship from the region: a canoe, a mandorla, the image of a pregnant woman, as well as placards of Amazon martrys such as Sr. Dorothy Stang. It was joyful, generous, and unmistakably Amazonian: the faithful People of God speaking and praying and dancing in their own way.

Yet at the big papal Mass in St Peter’s the next morning, Amazonia was all but banished. If the pope in his zinger homily hadn’t invoked the Holy Spirit to “renew the paths of the Church in Amazonia, so that the fire of mission will continue to burn,” you would have had no idea the synod was even taking place. Indigenous leaders sat at the front and brought up the gifts but were silent: there were no intercessions for the region, no readings in an Amerindian language, and almost everything was Italian and solemn. The center was back in charge.

But not for long. The next morning the Amazonian people were in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis, along with the canoe and the martyrs and Our Lady of the Amazon. In a remarkable move, unprecedented at previous synods, the pope processed from the Basilica with the indigenous peoples, in their midst—el pastor con su pueblo—as they joyfully chanted, “The sons and daughters of the Forest, we praise you, Lord.”

Read on at Commonweal.

In Rome for the canonization of St John Henry Newman