Venezuelan cardinal: Synod document strong on ecology, weak on ecclesiology

Venezuelan cardinal: Synod document strong on ecology, weak on ecclesiology

Venezuelan cardinal: Synod document strong on ecology, weak on ecclesiology

Cardinal Jorge Urosa Savino of Caracas, Venezuela, is interviewed near the apostolic nunciature prior to the start of Pope Francis's meeting with the executive committee of the Latin American bishops' council in Bogota, Colombia, Sept. 7, 2017. (Credit: CNS photo/Paul Haring.)

According to Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa, the preparatory document for the upcoming Vatican summit of bishops on the Amazon region is “flawed, weak” because Christ is misrepresented.

ROME – According to Venezuelan Cardinal Jorge Urosa, the preparatory document for the upcoming Vatican summit of bishops on the Amazon region is “flawed, weak” because Christ is misrepresented.

According to Urosa, archbishop emeritus of Caracas, the document known as the instrumentum laboris is wrong in referring to Jesus Christ as “the good Samaritan.”

“Jesus Christ never presented himself as the good Samaritan,” Urosa told Crux Sept. 23. “The good Samaritan is the person we have to imitate by helping others. Jesus Christ presented himself as the Redeemer, as the Way, the Truth and the Life, as the Resurrection, as the Light of the World. This is a flaw, a weakness of this document that is the instrumentum laboris.”

During the interview, Urosa highlighted two “main objectives” of the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region: “The first is to promote an integral ecology for the Amazon area. And the second is to propose new paths for the Church in that area.”

The defense of the Amazon is very important, Urosa said, “and thank God the Church has taken a very valuable initiative” to protect it. “However, the problem of the Amazon from the ecclesiological point of view has not been well addressed.”

Moreover, he argued, most of those who speak of the synod “touch only on the ecological and socio-cultural aspects, and very little on the ecclesiological and pastoral aspects. There is an imbalance, because the main work of the Church is evangelization, bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, to all populations.”

Urosa will not be taking part in the synod. However, eight prelates from Venezuela will attend, including Cardinal Baltazar Porras, Urosa’s successor as archbishop of Caracas. Porras was tapped by Pope Francis to be one of three delegate-presidents of the synod.

This is not the first time Urosa has voiced concern over a synod. Back in 2015 he was reportedly one of the cardinals who signed a letter addressed to Pope Francis raising questions regarding matters being discussed in the Synod of Bishops on the Family.

During his interview with Crux, the cardinal also spoke about the situation in Venezuela, saying that President Nicolas Maduro “has to leave” the leadership of the country.

Urosa also addressed the criticism Francis has received from some quarters regarding his unwillingness to challenge Maduro openly: “The pope has acted and is permanently concerned about the situation in the country, but it is not the political line of the Vatican to confront governments directly.”

According to Urosa, “the pope has supported the direct attitude of permanent criticism of the government by the Venezuelan bishops because the pope knows that we really grasp the situation.”

Describing the position of the bishops, the cardinal said that it’s one of “confrontation” against Maduro because “there’s no other solution.”

What follows are excerpts of Urosa’s conversation with Crux.

Crux: How is the situation in Venezuela?

Urosa: It is very bad because the government is unable to run the country and the administration of Venezuela’s resources is getting worse. Something that demonstrates the awful progress of the economy is that just over a year ago, a dollar cost 60 sovereign bolivars. Now a dollar costs 21,000 sovereign bolivars. This indicates that the economy is being handled badly and those who suffer most are the poor.

This explains why there is a continuous emigration, especially among young people, and of all social classes. People leave Venezuela because unfortunately they cannot survive.

The situation is very, very bad.

You spent several days in Rome. Did you talk to someone in the Vatican about the situation in your country?

With [Archbishop Edgar Pena Parra] the Substitute [of the Vatican’s Secretary of State], who is Venezuelan. He is very worried, but we are fully aligned, thanks be to God. The pope has supported the direct attitude of permanent criticism of the government by the Venezuelan bishops because the pope knows that we really grasp the situation.

There are those who criticize the pope for the fact that, although he’s supported the bishops’ conference, he is not direct in his criticism of Maduro …

The Holy See, the Vatican, and the pope don’t usually adopt direct positions against governments. Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI did not take a confrontational position against the government of Cuba, nor will the Vatican do so against Venezuela.

The pope has repeatedly given very clear messages, both in public and privately, to the government. I know of at least two private letters in which the pope demanded from Maduro concrete changes in relation to the country’s progress.

The pope has acted and is permanently concerned about the situation in the country, but it is not the political line of the Vatican to confront governments directly. And I think it’s important to know this.

The Church in Venezuela is run by the bishops, in full harmony with the pope, and we are, it must be said, against the government. There was a time when our attitude was critical but not confrontational.

At the moment, [the bishops’ attitude] is confrontation because there is no other solution. The government is bad, the government must cease, it must withdraw, because every day that passes the situation of the people is getting worse. This regime does not have the capacity to govern Venezuela. You must leave.

The bishops recently said that the dialogue between the government and a minority opposition does not help Venezuela. What would help Venezuela today?

It must be said that this new dialogue is a farce. A difficult dialogue among the groups that represent the majority had been undertaken and it had progressed, even if it was difficult. But Maduro decided to withdraw from the dialogue and chose instead to invent a tailored dialogue, with the participation of opposition personalities who have been very important and have had a valuable performance at other times, but who now have no representation.

It is a hollow dialogue, that has no representativeness.

In a few weeks the synod of the Amazon begins. Venezuela is part of that synod.

Yes, there is a part of Venezuela that is in the geographical area of the Amazon.

Do you see the need for a synod on the Amazon?

The synod has two main objectives. The first is to promote an integral ecology for the Amazon area. And the second is to propose new paths for the Church in that area.

From the point of view of the ecological, sociological and cultural issue, a synod would not be necessary. The pope has nevertheless wanted to convene a synod for the Church to reflect on this and make a contribution. And there is the other part, ecclesiological and missionary, which is properly speaking, the ecclesial part. But of course, everything will have a synodal development.

There are several aspects that are important to highlight and have been touched upon in the so-called instrumentum laboris. I would like to distinguish between the synod and the instrumentum laboris prepared for the synod. It is a document that goes through both lines. It addresses the ecological and sociocultural issues, and also addresses the missionary and ecclesial issues.

From an ecological point of view, it’s pretty good. But as for the ecclesiological and missionary issues, it suffers from many failures. That will be a problem for the synod, because the instrumentum laboris somehow sets the tone [of the discussions].

The ecological aspect is interesting and makes a necessary defense of the Amazonian territory, the environment and the Amazonian populations that are not only indigenous. They are being subjected to an extractive exploitation of raw material that is damaging the ecology of the region which has an impact on the entire world. An unfortunate fact has been the terrible fires that occurred this year. The defense of the Amazon is very important, and thank God the Church has taken a very valuable initiative.

However, the problem of the Amazon from the ecclesiological point of view has not been well addressed. Moreover, most of those who speak of the synod touch only on the ecological and socio-cultural aspects, and very little on the ecclesiological and pastoral aspects.

There is an imbalance, because the main work of the Church is evangelization, bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, to all populations, both the indigenous and the urban population in the Amazon – there are millions living in cities like Manaus, Belen de Para, Iquitos, not only the indigenous in isolated areas.

These people require a direct, explicit, open evangelization of Jesus Christ. And that is little touched on in the document.

The document presents an almost idyllic Amazonian population, the perfect man, the noble savage of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They are normal people, human beings with the same problems, virtues and defects as all people in the whole world. And to them too we have to bring the Gospel.

The text talks a lot about accompanying, following, understanding and dialoguing with, but little about the need to announce the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that, in some ways, explains the reality of the growth of the Pentecostal and Evangelical churches in the region, while the Catholic faith in the Amazon is not growing with the same force.

We must make a serious study, a good examination of the ecclesial reality of the population of the Amazon. We must ask ourselves why Evangelicals and Pentecostals grow, and the Church does not. That should call the Synod Fathers to reflection.

The instrumentum laboris has to be very well reviewed because it has many flaws and omissions, and we must insist on the true objective and mission of the Church, which is to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. We are not asked to bring Western culture to native peoples. We are asked to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all cultures. It is not about supplanting one culture with another, but about taking the Gospel to the original peoples of the Amazon.

It is about a strong and intense evangelizing effort in the Amazon region.

How can this effort be carried out? I was recently in the Amazon region in Ecuador, and one person told me that if you cannot give the sacraments to a person for lack of priests, then that person can decide to leave and the Church has to give them the blessing to do so …

We have had in Venezuela, from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, a situation of a great shortage of priests in much of the territory, however the faith was lived and maintained. It is not just a matter of receiving or not receiving the sacraments, but of the experience of the faith that was had, that arrived through the catechists to the families, that communicated them to their children.

The problem is not in the shortage or not of priests, but in the evangelization that can be done, not only with priests but through catechists. And that was the salvation of the Church in the plains and in eastern region of Venezuela.

The problem of the lack of priests is not the cause of the lack of growth. The problem is that perhaps, and I stress the word perhaps, there has been little emphasis on evangelization, on catechesis, on the experience of faith in families.

There is a Uruguayan Salesian missionary, Father Martin Lasarte, who will participate in the synod, and he points to these realities. Missionary work must fundamentally be directed to evangelization. Because while it is true that the missionaries have done laudable work from the social and economic point of view in the defense of the Amazonian peoples, it is also true that, in those same towns, which have been favored by the missionaries, the Evangelical churches are growing and the Catholic Church is not.

There is a problem there and it must be addressed: It is about announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those peoples, with the culture they have, but not inhibiting Catholic missionaries from announcing the Gospel out of respect for the Amazonian culture. If that had been the case between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Catholic Church would not have grown. It grew because the missionaries announced Jesus Christ to the indigenous and mestizo peoples of Latin America.

You mentioned that in the instrumentum laboris, the ecclesiological question has omissions and failures. What do you mean?

I refer to the fact that it doesn’t specifically insist on the evangelizing and missionary issues. There is no analysis of the reality of the Church [in the Amazon]. There is an analysis of the ecological, economic and cultural situation, but not of the situation of the Church. Jesus Christ is not spoken of as the one who gives the explanation of the reality of man, as the Second Vatican Council says.

Jesus Christ is referred to as “the good Samaritan.” Jesus Christ never presented himself as the good Samaritan. The good Samaritan is the person we have to imitate by helping others. Jesus Christ presented himself as the Redeemer, as the Way, the Truth and the Life, as the Resurrection, as the Light of the World. This is a flaw, a weakness of this document that is the instrumentum laboris.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma


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