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Five Keys to Understanding the Synod on the Amazon According to a Vatican Insider

By Sr. Nathalie Becquart, xmcj, Consultor to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops

September 5, 2019 — The Synod on the Amazon, which will take place in Rome from October 6-27, is “our synod of urgency,” said Pope Francis. Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology will focus on a strategic and vital region for the future of humanity, especially relevant and prophetic as record numbers of wildfires currently rage in Brazil’s rainforests.

Pope Francis is greeted by a member of an indigenous group from the Amazon region in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Jan.19, 2018. The upcoming Synod of Bishops on the Amazon is an "urgent" gathering, Pope Francis has said. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)

I was recently named a member of the first group of women to serve as consultors for the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops and I am eagerly looking forward to the gathering in October. Here are five things to keep in mind as the Synod on the Amazon approaches.

Sister Nathalie Becquart at a news conference on the synod on young people. She is consultor to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

1. The synod is focusing on the Amazon, but it concerns all of us no matter where we live.

The pope chose to focus on Amazonia because this huge region that includes territory belonging to nine nations is imperative to the survival of the planet. “Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from there. That's why deforestation means killing humanity,” Pope Francis said. Thus, this synod concerns all of us — especially religious and Jesuits and their collaborators who have a long tradition of social commitment and are increasingly engaged in the care for our common home.

Firefighters near Robore, Bolivia, walk where wildfires have destroyed the forest Aug. 19, 2019. (CNS photo/Department of Santa Cruz via Reuters)

The working document for this upcoming synod was released in June and is the result of a strong listening process. It began with Pope Francis' visit to Puerto Maldonado, Peru, in January 2018 and has continued with many consultations and gatherings throughout the Amazon region with a particular concern to listening to the indigenous populations.

2. Even though last October’s synod focused on young people and this year’s is centered on a geographic region, there is a great deal of continuity from year to year.

The synod on the Amazon will take place a year after the synod on Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment. If these two synods seem rather different in appearance — one focused on young people from 16 to 29 years old, the other concerns a specific geographical region — in fact many topics and issues are similar. Indeed, through these two major church event processes, we can discern the same call for an inclusive church, the same missionary challenge to be a creative, close presence among the people to answer the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth and the same primary issue of inculturation. (Inculturation is adapting the Catholic Church’s teachings to local cultures in ways that are compatible with the Gospel and introducing these cultures into the life of the church.)

Sister Kathryn "Katy" Webster, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur from the United States, hands out a calendar that promotes the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon to farmers in the countryside near Anapu, Brazil. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

I believe there is a true continuity between the two synods that one might call “missionary synodality”: We are called to be a church that listens, a church in dialogue, a missionary church, a welcoming church, a participatory church, a creative church, a harmonious church, an enculturated church, a church engaged with the poorest that fights against injustices.

3. Pope Francis sees synodality as a key to strengthening the reform of the church.

Synodality is a form of collegiality that involves a process of communal discernment — common listening to the Spirit in pursuit of consensus around mission-based goals. Since Pope Francis was elected, he has emphasized synodality as a strong call of the Spirit: "The world in which we live, and which we are called to love and serve, even with its contradictions, demands that the church strengthen cooperation in all areas of her mission." In a way, synodality is a constitutive property of the church, deriving from the church’s nature as a communion that is rooted in the Trinitarian mystery.

The instrument of the Synod of the Bishops was created by Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council, but Pope Francis clearly wants to stress it as a key to strengthening the reform of the church. The aim is to implement the urgent missionary transformation of the church so that we might be more focused on reaching out to the peripheries.

4. Synodality is not about conversations that lead nowhere. It’s all about mission.

Synodality, because it is fundamentally missionary, is to be developed not primarily for reasons of internal organization but to respond to the calls coming from reading the "signs of the times" through a process of "see, judge, act." Pope Francis says a synodal church is “like a standard lifted up among the nations (cf. Is 11:12) in a world which — while calling for participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration — often consigns the fate of entire peoples to the grasp of small but powerful groups. As a church which ‘journeys together’ with men and women, sharing the travails of history, let us cherish the dream that a rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and of the function of authority as service will also be able to help civil society to be built up in justice and fraternity, and thus bring about a more beautiful and humane world for coming generations."

A girl in Anapu, Brazil, holds a poster distributed by Catholic sisters that announces a church-sponsored event focused on the environment and femicide in preparation for the synod on the Amazon. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)

5. Due to their emphasis on communal discernment, Jesuits and their lay colleagues have a major role to play in promoting synodality across the church.

Pope Francis accepts a letter from Yadira Vieyra, a delegate at the synod on young people and a graduate of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago and Georgetown University. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Being particularly attuned to these characteristics of the synodal church due to their charism that emphasizes communal discernment, Jesuits and their colleagues have a major role to play in the implementation of synodality at all levels of the church. It is not surprising that Jesuits have been called to take an active part in the recent synods’ processes. Every Ignatian partner is called to share the gift of discernment with the people of God so we might chart a course through these changing times and complex world.

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