ROME – One of three prelates tapped by Pope Francis as co-presidents of the Oct. 6-27 Synod of Bishops on the Amazon has urged participants to fear neither blazing new trails nor blowback for doing so, saying critics of the synod’s agenda deserve prayers but not a veto on change.

In an audio recording sent just before the synod opened to a select number of journalists, including Crux, Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru, 75, said “a great challenge” in the synod will be to listen attentively to “the cries of the earth and the poor” and to seek “new paths” to respond.

One of three president-delegates to the synod and the vice-president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), which is playing a leading role in organizing the synod, Barreto called the gathering a “strong period of spiritual discernment.”

Barreto stressed that the synod’s role is to make proposals to the pope, who “takes them into consideration and gives us guidance as the Bishop of Rome with solidarity and collegiality which, at the same time, he wants to make us feel.”

Noting that many “discordant” voices have criticized the agenda as being more political than spiritual, including objecting to discussion of married priests as a maneuver intended to eliminate priestly celibacy, Barreto said, “We should respect the warnings they are giving us.”

However, he insisted that the only agenda for Francis and the Catholic Church in calling the synod “is to highlight the dignity of the human person, their values, their rights and also their duties so that we are all aware of the responsibility we have as administers of the creation of God.”

“We must not be afraid of difficulties. Jesus also taught us to be strong in front of adversities, the lack of understanding and the criticisms,” he said, noting that St. Francis of Assisi, Francis’s namesake and a patron of the synod, also faced criticism.

Titled “New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” the Oct. 6-27 synod will draw some 300 Catholic leaders from the Pan-Amazonian region to discuss issues including the rights of indigenous populations, land rights, migration, corruption, the Church’s missionary efforts in the area, local liturgy and sustainable development.

In his comments to journalists, Barreto stressed four key points.

What are your expectations?

Barreto: We can say there are four fundamental expectations.

The first concerns the indigenous populations of the Amazon. There are 390 communities with more than 240 languages who have lived for thousands of years in the vast Amazonian territory, seven and a half million squared kilometers. It’s a history of grace, because they have been artisans of the great richness of biodiversity as administers of this land which God has offered to them. The ancestral wisdom of their cultures’ care for life, care for nature and our common home [is valuable.]

They are waiting for us to give an answer to each one and to everyone, especially from the Church, about the care of life and the greatest respect for their cultures for their territory, and above all, to shelter the hope of a dignified life and wellbeing.

The second expectation is that of those who were not born in the Amazon, but who live there. There are more than 30 million brothers and sisters sharing [the space] with their brother indigenous. They too are expecting to see what this synodal experience means.

A third, fundamental expectation, is that the Church as a whole will assume responsibility for living in harmony, in the care of life and these people, who are our brothers [and] who historically have been, and who are now, invisible. They’ve not had a response of justice, of love, of peace on the part of the states and investors.

Finally, there’s an expectation that [the synod] be like a mirror for a humanity that cries for environmental justice, which means a common life respecting each other and above all, caring for our common home [and protecting it] from the ravages of what we call climate change. Everyone can hope that this synod will be the answer from God to the great needs of the people and also of our common home.

What about the Church in the Amazon?

The Church, which includes all the baptized, especially the Church which lives and serves in the Amazon, has a great challenge, of searching for new paths for the Church and its evangelizing mission. This is a strong period of spiritual discernment. We have listened, through territorial assemblies, to the urgent needs, the hopes of the indigenous people, and from this reality we want to discover what God is calling us to do and the way in which we can do it.

We should not be afraid to see new paths of evangelization. This is what the synod is posing with some suggestions which have been mentioned in the working document. But definitively, the special synod on the Amazon is going to make visible proposals so that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, takes them into consideration and give us guidance as the Bishop of Rome with this solidarity and collegiality which at the same time he wants to make us feel.

So, new paths for the Amazon are the novelties that God is going to give us through this synodal process.

What’s meant by ‘integral ecology’?

This is a very important aspect Pope Francis wanted to propose for the reflection of the synod fathers. The term, integral ecology, is from his encyclical Laudato Si, in which he speaks to us of a harmony of the people with themselves, with God, with brothers and with creation. Everything is connected, which Pope Francis has affirmed at various moments.

Integral ecology for the Amazon means, in some sense, what our brothers and sisters of the Amazon are already living…It’s going to be a great challenge not only for the Amazon, but for all of humanity, and for the Church. We must be faithful to Jesus, and we must be very clear in affirming that this proposal of integral ecology is also a response for all of creation, all of humanity, believers and non-believers, so that they can live in this world.

We must respond to the great challenge which is climate change. Climate change, as Pope Francis says in Laudato Si, is caused by an irrational attitude of exploitation of natural resources, whether in the Amazon or any other part of the world. We ourselves must avoid a predatory attitude, which the current technocratic society is showing.

What about criticism of the synod?

It’s undeniable that from the beginning of the convocation of this special synod on the Amazon in October 2017, some discordant voices have arisen which have manifested and are manifesting their opinions from a doctrinal perspective and from the political and social perspectives. I think we should respect the warnings they are giving us.

But we have to be very clear, the only interest of the Catholic Church and of Pope Francis in convoking this special synod on the Amazon is to highlight the dignity of the human person, their values, their rights and also their duties so that we are all aware of the responsibility we have as administers of the creation of God.

We cannot look at the earth, which is our common home, as a type of dispenser for natural resources for economic interests. We must be very emphatic in stating clearly that our only interest is serving God, serving our brothers and sisters, and serving our common home.

We are here for this: to serve, not use others, not to serve ourselves with natural resources for personal interests. The earth belongs to everyone, natural resources belong to everyone, not for a privileged group…We have to care for this marvel of God, which gives us our life and our common home.

We must not be afraid of difficulties. Jesus also taught us to be strong in front of adversities, the lack of understanding and the criticisms, just as St. Francis of Assisi experienced in his own life. He was faithful to the Lord despite the difficulties he encountered, above all from those who were close to him, his own Franciscan brothers…As Saint Theresa says, we must trust. God exists, and that is enough.

Follow Elise Harris on Twitter: @eharris_it

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