ROME – Soon-to-be Cardinal Michael Czerny, one of Pope Francis’s top aides who serves as both the public face of Francis’s agenda for migrants and refugees and who is also playing a key role in organizing next month’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon, has said he’s not worried about the criticism the summit is generating.
In Czerny’s view, the global attention the synod is getting, even if at times negative, is a sign of how important its agenda is.
Speaking to the press during the Sept. 20 presentation of a new “Amazon: Common Home” project, Czerny said, “We welcome the interest in this synod,” adding that the buzz over certain talking points, such as married priests, is “already something interesting.”
Currently one of two undersecretaries for the office for migrants and refugees – part of the Vatican department for Integral Human Development, which reports directly to the pope – Czerny will be given a red hat by Francis on Oct. 5. When he speaks, therefore, it’s presumed that listeners are hearing the pope’s own thinking.
Though it hasn’t yet begun, the Oct. 6-27 Amazon synod – which coincides with an extraordinary missionary month called for by Francis – has generated controversy from critics who argue that the agenda is more political than spiritual, and that the possible ordination in the Amazon of the so-called viri probati, or mature married men, would be a threat to priestly identity.
Arguments that the geographic, political and economic topics up for discussion – ranging from environmental concerns to women to indigenous rights – amount to a distraction from the Church’s spiritual mission, Czerny said. “There are many dimensions” to the synod he said and insisted that “it’s a fundamentally human topic which above all involves the Church.”
He noted how what happens in the synod hall is often far different than what happens in the media, and he said the discussion shouldn’t be reduced to a few hot-button news items.
“Members of the synod are all mature and I don’t think there is any danger of confusion,” he said, adding that whatever happens, in his view, “can only make the process richer.”
Touching on the issue of climate change and those who are not on board with the Vatican’s position as outlined in Francis’s 2015 environmental encyclical Laudato Si, Czerny said climate skepticism is a factor to consider, “but it’s not decisive.”
“How to move forward on these issues is a good question,” he said, praising the youth climate movement launched by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, whose “Fridays for Future” student strikes have turned into an international sensation.
Young people, Czerny said, “have a very important and existential answer to the danger, whether the response is sincere or just a farce.” Noting how youth typically speak from their own experience, he stressed that “this is a very important testimony to listen to.”
He also praised initiatives such as the “Amazon: Common Home” project, which he said can serve not only as a key resource for the synod, but for the poor and vulnerable populations of the Amazon region.
Launched as a response to the Amazon synod, the project is an initiative drawing together a collection of different groups, organizations and institutions who will be organizing events throughout the synod, including the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which is playing a leading role in organizing the synod.
Some 130 events are already on the calendar with the presence of some 50 indigenous leaders. The schedule includes moments of prayer, photo exhibits, talks and debates. A website for the project has already been launched in Italian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Speaking to journalists over Skype, Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, vice-president of REPAM and one of three president-delegates to the synod, said the gathering has roots in the 2007 general conference of the Episcopal Conferences of Latin America (CELAM) in Aparecida, Brazil.
At the time, then-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was charged with drafting the closing document of the meeting, which Barreto said “spoke of a need to raise awareness in the Americas of the importance of the Amazon for humanity, not as a geographical space, but as the lung of the world.”
He pointed to two key Francis documents – his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and Laudato Si – saying they both “contain much of what Aparecida meant to us Latin Americans.”
Speaking of the Church’s role in the region, Barreto said its primary task is to listen to the people who live there, and to try as best they can to meet their needs.
Barreto recalled how a woman living in the Amazon had told him that “politicians don’t have time to listen to us, businessmen even less. But Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have time to listen to us with pleasure and with attention.”
“What happens in the Amazon, the joys and sufferings, also happen to humanity,” he said, voicing his conviction “that this synod is already giving fruits.”
Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it
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