SÃO PAULO – The post-synodal apostolic exhortation published by Pope Francis on Feb. 12 generated mixed reactions from the Brazilian episcopate. While some expected more radical transformations, other bishops believe the document reaffirmed the paths for change that had been opened with the preparatory works for the October 2019 Pan-Amazon synod.
The exhortation Querida Amazonia deals with the social, cultural, ecological, and ecclesial transformations – presented as “dreams” for the Amazon – that the pope says must be carried through in order to answer to the current challenges of the Church and of the society in the region.
However, the document failed to address in a direct way the synodal debates concerning the possible ordination of married men – the so-called viri probati – and the creation of women deacons, frustrating many people who expected rapid changes in the Church.
“I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed. What we expected in a first moment was a kind of decentralization and more authority for the bishops to reorganize local structures – with all due respect to the canonical law, of course. Bishops are in charge of the life of the Church in our dioceses, but when we want to act there are so many barriers,” Bishop Meinrad Francisco Merkel of Humaitá, in the State of Amazonas, told Crux.
According to Merkel, requests such as granting permission to a few individuals who have been recognized as excellent permanent deacons to celebrate Eucharist should be a “simple matter.”
“We’re not impulsive people. I’m 75 years old, with almost 50 years of priestly life. Why shouldn’t we be able to have collaborators to take Evangelization ahead?” he asked.
In Merkel’s opinion, Francis “worked hard” on the synod and on the exhortation, but he expected more.
“The document brings answers in the form of dreams. We worked hard and we dreamed, but we wanted to wake up and see free paths to act with more courage and confidence,” he said.
Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho, in the Amazonian State of Rondônia, says the papal document “doesn’t close any door” concerning the synodal debates.
“He confirmed the Church’s path toward a commitment to life, to the poor and in defense of our common house,” he told Crux.
Paloschi stressed that Querida Amazonia couldn’t be a reiteration of the synod’s final document, so the pope chose to bring his own views, but without leaving aside the spirit of the debates.
“The Church doesn’t have magical solutions. It’s always a matter of continuity. The pope didn’t avoid the more pressing issues, but strove for unity,” the archbishop said.
For Bishop Adriano Ciocca Vasino of São Félix do Araguaia, in the Amazonian State of Mato Grosso, the denunciation of the social and ecological devastation in the Amazon that undergirds Querida Amazonia represents a step further for the Church in the struggle for a new model of life.
“The Church is in the vanguard of such effort, considering its perception of reality and its strategies,” Vasino told Crux.
But there seems to be, he adds, an incongruity on the institutional side.
“Regarding the Church’s capacity to assume this role concretely through the force and the actions of its pastoral agents, I’m not so enthusiastic about it,” he said.
For Vasino, it’s not the pope’s job to provoke ruptures and drastic transformations in the Church.
“It’s the living experience of the people of the Church that leads to new perspectives and changes the reality. The pope is doing his part,” he said.
Bishop Flávio Giovenale of Cruzeiro do Sul, in the Amazonian State of Acre, said he read the apostolic exhortation with great enthusiasm and wasn’t frustrated by the absence of concrete answers to important points of the synodal debates.
“Pope Francis’s document is a reflection based on the synodal suggestions and discussions. It’s not a juridical document, it’s an exhortation. Concrete changes will certainly be carried out through future documents, in the form of a motu proprio, for instance, and administrative acts,” he told Crux.
Giovenale says the part of the exhortation dealing with the Church’s ministries – particularly the chapter Communities filled with life – suggests a real “Copernican revolution.”
“Pope Francis affirms that the Amazonian Church – and all the Church – has to be radically lay. He advocates a distinctively lay ecclesial culture. In this sense, the priests have to work solely with activities that are essential. He’s really saying that they should leave administration and share their power,” Giovenale explained.
He said this is much more important than the possible ordination of married men.
“The viri probati are not the only solution for our problems. We need a mix of solutions. And it’s really revolutionary to suggest a church that is centered on the lay people and not on the clergy,” he said.
For Archbishop Zanoni Demettino Castro of Feira de Santana, in the State of Bahia, Querida Amazonia represents the apex of a very important process of collective debate and listening to the people, one which can demonstrate to the Catholic Church in other regions of the world the importance of seeking its roots.
In his archdiocese, which is in the Brazilian northern coast – very far from the Amazonian reality – many people have African roots, which he said is not always properly considered by the Catholic tradition.
“In our Church we’re always questioning how we should announce God’s Kingdom in the adequate ways for the Afro-descendant people,” he said.
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