ROME — Some 54 years ago, 42 bishops participating in the Second Vatican Council signed what’s known as the “Pact of the Catacombs,” committing to living simply like the poorest of their parishioners.

Early Sunday morning in Rome, some of the 180 bishops participating in the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon will make a pilgrimage to the Catacombs of Domitilla on the outskirts of Rome to renew that promise.

The information was first published by the Brazilian news site Dom, and Crux confirmed it Saturday with Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimenez, who said the gesture is not about “renewing the Pact of the Catacombs, but about renewing the path of the Church with Jesus, with Mary, in poverty, in humility, as he lived it.”

“The Pact of the Catacombs is to go back to the joy of the Gospel to which Pope Francis calls,” Barreto said Saturday. “We’re going to renew that same spirit of the Gospel” embraced by the original group of bishops, led by Archbishop Helder Cámara of Olidna and Recife in Brazil.

This time, the driving force behind the catacombs declaration is also a prelate from Brazil, though of Austrian origins: retired Bishop Erwin Kräutler of Xingu, Brazil, which is located in the Amazon. Sunday’s Mass will be celebrated by Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the relator, or chairman, of the Synod of Bishops on the Amazon.

The original pact influenced Liberation Theology in Latin America, as it was explicitly critical of capitalism and amounted to a promise from the bishops to give all their time and means to pastoral service.

The catacombs were chosen for their association with early Christian martyrs. According to tradition, two Roman soldiers were executed in this place for converting to Christianity.

It’s unclear how many bishops will be taking part in the signing of the pact. Dom claimed 150, but sources told Crux the number could be lower. Some prelates, sources said, see the gesture as ideological, while others see no need for it because they’ve long been committed to a life in service of the poorest.

According to Barreto, who “was approached in recent days” and who will sign the pact, this agreement “is not the most important thing.”

“The most important thing is Jesus,” he said. “The novelty is Jesus. He’s who gives us the possibility of living with joy and hope amidst so many internal and external difficulties that the Church faces.”

Speaking about the synod, Barreto said that “we’re living an experience never seen before: who would have thought, even a few years ago, that we would have a synod on the Amazon in Rome.”

Addressing the criticism that the synod has received, the Peruvian prelate said that “we have to be very clear with the charity that Christ asks from us,” noting that the synod fathers are “walking with the Church, in the path of Jesus.”

“And if we walk with Jesus, we have a very personal experience of criticism,” he said. “The criticisms that Jesus received, and those were much stronger than the ones we are receiving, coming from small groups.”

The criticism, then and now, Barreto said, came from people who “represented” religion, “those who knew perfectly well that Jesus would come into the world, but they didn’t recognize him because of his simplicity. And this simplicity is very visible in the Church today with Pope Francis.”

The Amazon peoples, Barreto said, call Pope Francis “brother,” and appreciate the fact that he “has time to listen to us, understand our spirituality and our cultures.”

The cardinal also noted that St. Paul VI too spoke about the need to look towards the Amazon, and to do so not with eyes of contempt but “with the eyes and heart of Christ.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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