ROME – On the eve of the conclusion of the Oct. 6-27 Vatican summit on the Amazon, one of the participants said he regrets that too much of the discussion has been about ordaining married men to the priesthood and women to the diaconate.

“Unfortunately, the insistence on the ordained ministries has taken some of the spotlight from other issues, which in my opinion, should have been developed further,” said Salesian Father Martin Lasarte from Uruguay, who was a special appointment by Pope Francis to the Synod of Bishops’ meeting.

Lasarte spent 25 years as a missionary in Africa before being appointed as coordinator of Salesian missionaries for Latin America and Africa.

“Undoubtedly, the issue of ministries is fundamental: The ministries of the laity, of the Church, service, subsidiary communities,” he said. “Some believe these go through ordination: We have to ordain the so-called viri probati and women deacons.”

Several synod participants, speaking on background, have acknowledged that, despite their own personal opinions, Francis himself seems to be concerned about the clericalization of the laity, more than once asking participants to present different solutions.

Respecting the confidentiality of the synod, Lasarte refused to confirm or deny this, instead saying the key issues of the synod are not ordained ministries, but evangelization and integral ecology.

What follows are excerpts of Lasarte’s conversation with Crux, which took place Friday afternoon before the more than 300 synod participants received the meeting’s final document.

Crux: What do you make of your first synod?

Lasarte: For me, it was a very particular experience. After 25 years as a missionary in Africa, being in a synod, coming into contact with so many people with so many experiences, with the cardinals who have so many responsibilities and with the Holy Father, for me it is a great novelty.

The experience is not over yet, as we don’t have the final document nor that last discussion. But I’ve learned a lot from many people during the general assemblies, from the experiences of pastors and lay people.

I was particularly enriched by hearing about topics I knew little about, like drug trafficking – a monster that moves across the borders of the Amazon countries – which is truly a parallel power to that of the state because of its economic and political influence. And drug trafficking doesn’t only pollute the rivers, but also the souls of the young people of the Amazon, corrupting them.

And sometimes, drug trafficking goes hand in hand with the trafficking of people, of adolescent girls. As a Salesian, we work with young people, so this affected me personally. But also, I found hope in many proposals already in place. The Archdiocese of Belém do Pará, for example, is doing a lot with prevention centers in each and every parish.

We can’t fight that monster; we don’t have the strength as a church. But we can create awareness, protect young people, generate alternatives.

I also learned a lot from the experience of traveling missionary groups and the concern of many pastors who seek, with the small means they have, to give a response for their territory.

With the work of the synod, the instrumentum laboris was very enriching. In my opinion, the preparatory document was very well informed on the issue of integral ecology, but from the point of view of evangelization, it was very limited and poor.

During the synod, the theme of evangelization was greatly enriched. So much so, that of the five parts of the final document, four are very clearly focused on evangelization, beginning with the centrality of Jesus Christ. We are missionary disciples and it is from there that our concerns come.

Various specific topics, such as youth, which did not appear in the working document, became central. As did the challenge of ministering in cities, which was peripheral in the instrumentum laboris: How to promote youth or indigenous pastoral ministry in cities. Also, how do we help migrants – those who escape from neighboring countries, especially from Venezuela – is an issue that is present in the Amazon and to which we have to try to give an answer, not only humanitarian, but also pastoral.

The issue of interculturality has also been touched upon as a respectful dialogue between cultures, one which doesn’t deny the Proclamation but learns from others, proposing an exchange of riches. Ours is the Gospel.

How do you feel about the level of the discussions?

Unfortunately, the insistence on the ordained ministries has taken some of the spotlight from other issues, which in my opinion, should have been developed further.

Undoubtedly, the issue of ministries is fundamental: The ministries of the laity, of the Church, service, subsidiary communities. Some believe these go through ordination: We have to ordain the so-called viri probati and women deacons.

And there was a bit of a controversy over the ordained ministries, because there was no agreement on these issues. But many of us believe that to create a leading, ministerial church, it is not necessary to start ordering everyone.

It’s important to make the point stressed by Cardinal Owald Gracias from India, who said that the Church already contemplates many of these things, including the dispensation of celibacy in some particular situations, for example. It is not something strange to the Church.

But stirring up so much dust with this issue of the ordained ministries has taken away from other larger issues, in which there has been a great consensus.

What are the great themes of the synod?

In my view, they are the ones Pope Francis identified in 2017: An integral ecology, meaning the application of the [2015 encyclical] Laudato Si in the Amazon context, and the theme of evangelization.

It seems to me that the discussion of integral ecology could have been much richer if we had spent more time on this. Much energy in the synod has been spent in an intra-ecclesial debate. It was the choice of the synod and we respect it, but this ecological dimension could have been more developed.

There are those who say that ecology is not something the Church should be concerned about …

Everything that is human is something the Catholic Church is concerned about. There is nothing, no problem in this world that escapes the Church. Christ became flesh, not a piece of meat. Christ became one of us, assuming our human nature, our reality. The Church has this challenge of caring for all aspects of the human person.

The danger is when we close in and focus only on one aspect, or reduce ourselves to one aspect. A church that is only a social assistant, a humanitarian services manager or an environmentalist, is an incomplete one.

Father Martin Lasarte, from Uruguay, pictured in 2015 in Angola, is a Salesian, appointed by Pope Francis as a synod father for the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon region. (Credit: Salesianas Angola.)

Benedict XVI says a very beautiful thing in [2005 encyclical] Deus Caritas est. The theme of diakonia is not an appendix; it is constitutive, essential to the Church.

Caring for victims of human trafficking, for the environment or promoting an ecology that defends the common good as an act of charity to our children and grandchildren are all elements of Christian ethics.

The Church in all its dimensions is one concerned with the world, prayer, the sacraments, faith. These are all instruments, and the Church needs to play them harmoniously and in unison.

Did the synod change your perspective on any subject or changed your mind about something?

Undoubtedly, knowing more about the rawness of some realities made me a little more understanding. I am very critical of a church that is only social and forgets the importance of the Proclamation. But knowing some realities such as child prostitution, human trafficking or drug trafficking a little more in depth has made me more sensitive to issues of human rights and the promotion of the human person.

There are places where the Church is the only one present and capable of raising a voice against these injustices, and we do so knowing that we put our lives at risk. To stand against drug trafficking is to risk your life. A lay person may think twice before doing so because they might have a family, a spouse, children. But a religious, if we have to give our lives, we give it.

In certain situations, in the Amazon, the Church risks the lives of its members for defending human dignity.

But in defending human dignity, we cannot forget the root of that dignity, which is Jesus Christ.

Knowing these realities has enriched me, and also allowed me to better understand some radical expressions that, even though I may not agree with, I understand arise from emergencies, from incredible violations to that human dignity.

Another beautiful thing has been to work in synodality. The Amazon has always worked in a very fragmented way, as if they were diverse worlds. Dioceses might have faced similar problems, but they have been solved in a very isolated way. The synod has allowed us to start thinking together.

The synod itself, I believe, has put in evidence the reality of the Amazon and the problems in the region, but at a human and an ecclesial level.

What do you think needs to be done, so that five or ten years from now, there’s a visible impact of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon?

At the level of CELAM (the organization of Latin American bishops’ conferences) or at a national level, it is important to create healthy coordination, perhaps create an ecclesial and human rights observatory. It would also be important to choose three or four priorities for the regional church to work on together, with a well-guided pastoral accompaniment process. It is essential that, at the CELAM level, practical paths can be marked out to accomplish this.

For instance, can we have a less propaedeutic seminary with students having some years of indigenous formation, one that is attentive to the cultural wealth, enhancing the theological, spiritual and cultural wealth of these peoples, and so that future pastors grow up with an enormous love for their people, who have incredible riches to share with others?

Universities can identify problems and give a more scientific contribution to the challenges of the communities, and from the theological point of view, there’s work to be done at a CELAM level to give pastoral answers.

These are all elements of collaboration that can help apply the synod in concrete ways, so that things aren’t reduced to a discussion in Rome or a document parked in a drawer.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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